Not crossing the line

Published 2:00 am Saturday, September 5, 2015

Around this time of year in 1980, we moved above what storyteller Bill Harley calls the “rude and stupid line.”

Everybody below the Mason-Dixon line thinks everybody above the line is rude.

Everybody above the Mason-Dixon line thinks everybody below the line is stupid.

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True Southerners consider anywhere above the Mason-Dixon “the North,” whether it’s the Pacific Northwest or the Midwest. So, we were up North in Ohio … and stupid.

I didn’t expect to be immediately welcomed into the hearts and homes of the folks from small town Ohio, but I did think that somebody would bring over a casserole or a potted plant.

But, when newcomers move into a neighborhood driving a van with a cactus painted on the side, an Alabama tag on the back and an “Eat More Beef” tag on the front, that was, evidently, reason enough for folks to close their windows and lock their doors – much like Mama did when the Gypsies came through town.

No one came to visit except the woman on the Welcome Wagon. She seemed reluctant to step inside and was jumpy and jittery like she was expecting me to offer her a dip of snuff or for one of the boys to stick a double-barrel shotgun under her nose.

I became visibly acquainted with some of the mamas whose children were in the same grades as mine and took heart in that bit of familiarity.

When I met them in the grocery store, which was bigger than the entire town of Brundidge, I would smile and put the brakes on the buggy, expecting them to stop to visit. But they pushed their buggies right on by me like I was coated in vanishing cream.

They had not learned Southern shopping etiquette.

After a week or so, my next-door neighbor introduced herself. Her courage came from the fact that we had not yet hoisted the Confederate Flag nor had we turned a coon dog loose in the yard.

Peggy and I became fast friends. She talked so fast I didn’t know half she said, so I alternately nodded, smile and sighed.

One day she invited me to come see her new dining room furniture. As I lifted my foot to go into the room, she let out a blood-curdling scream that would have stopped a runaway train.

“We don’t walk on the carpet!”

I surveyed the jump from the doorway to the nearest chair and tried to imagine how her dinner guests would be seated. Maybe a pulley could be install that would fly them like Peter Pan over the carpet and into the chairs.

Being new in town and friendless, I looked for any opportunity to win friends and influence people. When I heard the Presbyterians were sponsoring an art show, I asked Peggy if she would like to go.


She offered no good and valid reasons why she couldn’t go or any deep, heartfelt regrets. Evidently, she had not read Miss Manners’ “Etiquette for Southern Belles.”

I bumped into our across the street neighbors quite by accident. One of my children released the emergency brake on the car, and it rolled across the street and hit our neighbors’ ornamental “twig” tree.

I apologized and offered to pay. He presented me with a $600 bill. I found him rude and, evidently, he thought I was stupid.

Then, the tables turned.

The school principal called to say my 8-year-old daughter had been involved in an “altercation.” I was from the South. He should have said, “fight.”

When I arrived, my daughter was in the office with a girl I assumed to be a teacher’s aide. But the girl was the sixth grader my little daughter had punched in the eyes with both fists.

The “bullie” (feminine gender) had drawn a line in the sand and dared the younger girls to cross it. On her side was all the playground equipment. So, my daughter socked her and crossed the line with a flock of friends following behind her.

The principal said, with a frown, such behavior was not the way things were handled at his school.

“How then?” I asked. He didn’t answer.

That afternoon, several mamas called to say how proud they were that someone had finally stood up to the “bullie.”

Rude vs. Stupid.

After that, no more lines were drawn in the sand and I, one from below the line, was accepted into the moms’ social circle.