Tuesday, November 3, 2009
True Tales of Growing Up Southern: A Lady Named LaVerne
My middle name is Laverne. Save your LaVerne and Shirley jokes, I've heard them all. I wasn't named after a TV star, I was named after my mother's mother, my grandmother, my only grandmother, the one named Ma. The lady I think of when I think of ladies.
Ma was the original Southern lady. Always appropriately dressed, never flashy, just classic. A purse (or pocketbook) to match. Sensible yet attractive shoes. A little jewelry, not too much. Ma had her hair done once a week and slept on a satin pillow case to make the style last. In the mornings she would fluff it and give it a coat of hair spray. If it was windy, she would wear a scarf over her head, but a nice one. If it was rainy, she would wear a rain bonnet, a nice one.
Ma wore Estee Lauder perfume and slathered Jergen's original cherry almond scent lotion on her arms and hands. This is how she always smelled, like a woman meant for luxurious scents but practical enough to stock up on Jergen's. When I was little I liked going into her closet, putting on her shoes, adding a necklace and then I would sit at her vanity. She would allow a single spritz of Estee Lauder and then all the lotion my small hands could absorb.
Ma's car was a big Lincoln Town Car. Boat-sized in length, pale blue in color. When I got my driver's license, Ma asked me to drive her on some errands. I was nervous navigating that boat through the narrow streets of our small town but I liked being with my grandmother and was pleased she let me play chauffeur once in a while. Ma had all of her errands planned out, no gas would be wasted. We stopped in stores and she would make her selections while visiting with people she knew, always proud to introduce me as her granddaughter. At the register, Ma would have her wallet ready and would pull the necessary bills from their place. Flat, crisp bills, kept in order of value. Coins were ready in the zippered pouch. No digging for change, no attempting to smooth out crumpled bills found at the bottom of a purse. Not this lady.
Before Martha Stewart, there was Ma. I remember her in the kitchen making chocolate pies and coconut cream pies. She knew just how to beat the egg whites to make meringue that peaked. She knew just when to pull those pies from the oven, right after the meringue turned golden but before those peaks turned brown. On Halloween she'd make homemade popcorn balls using a recipe that required a candy thermometer which to me was the sign of a real cook. Those popcorn balls were a delicious mix of firm, salty, popped kernels and gooey Karo syrup. Of course they were wrapped perfectly and arranged on a tray along with other assorted treats. And then my sisters and I were encouraged to dig in.
Ma was soft-spoken and kind. I never heard her raise her voice. She cared for friends and strangers alike. Ma shared her love for God with others by her actions and words. She always looked for the good in the day, the place, the person. However I did hear Ma say one not-so-nice thing, once. She said, "My, that Ted Koppel has large ears." I couldn't believe what my small ears heard. She immediately retracted the statement saying, "I shouldn't have said that."
Twenty-two years ago today Ma died, on my sister Chantel's sixteenth birthday. Funny how life schedules happiness and crushing sadness on the same day. Ma would have come over that morning bearing a beautifully wrapped gift for my sister. There would have been a carefully chosen card and she would have written in lovely penmanship something precious.
I keep my bills flat and smooth in my wallet and it makes me think of Ma. I plan my errands so as not to waste time and gasoline. I like to be appropriately dressed and sparsely jeweled. That Jergen's cherry almond scent is the best on the market. I can make a mean chocolate pie, one that Action Andy claims is the best ever, and I use Ma's recipe. On rare occasion I whip out the candy thermometer and make some popcorn balls. I like presents to be purchased well in advance and I have a hard time simply signing my name to a card. There's always a message.
The "soft spoken and kind", well I'm working on it. And the voice level too. Still finding my way on sharing God's love like Ma did. Got some work to do, too, on saying nice things. Of course I've made strong comments about someone else and it wasn't about ear size. But when I lose my way, I think about how a lady would act, I think of Ma.
When I was much younger, I would dread answering the "middle name" question. "That's a funny name," they'd say. "Hey Laverne, where's Shirley?" So original. But now that I'm older if anyone asks my middle name, I say with pride, "It's LaVerne, I'm named after my grandmother who was a true Southern lady."
I had intended to share another Southern tale today about a trip to the dump and then realized today's date and the connection. Next Tuesday I'll tell you all about the city dump. I'm almost ashamed to mention the word "dump" after describing my lady-like Ma. I'm sure she never went to the dump.