Southern Belle

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Danielle Steele was briefly mentioned on the radio, and I recall when I was only nine years old and I had taken a liking to her work. Upon returning to school after a long summer we had to write a book report on what (if anything) we had read; I wrote mine on Star and Wanderlust. The teacher called my mother informing her that my reading material was deemed inappropriate. My mother tersely replied “at least she is reading,” which ended all such conversation, and the next time when I turned in a book report on Kaleidoscope, no one said anything.

I remember reading Star, hoping to one day live on the Wyatt plantation. At that age I thought I would grow up to marry a rich plantation owner and live the rest of my days as a Southern Belle somewhere in Georgia, or South Carolina… all places that sounded extremely exotic because I had never been.

I was going to wear dresses that had been out of style for almost two hundred years, and like Scarlet O’Hara, make them out of curtains. I would feverishly go to church every Sunday, carry a little gold leaf bible with me, attend all the picnics and society functions, and spend my weeknights sewing with the other women, and drinking a little too much sherry while we played bridge. Then we would all fret about the war. I have no idea what war I was expecting to take place, but my early twenties seemed centuries away, and I was sure by then the south would be at war once more, and I would be ready. Wide eyed with heaving bosoms at the least mention of it. I assure you, I was as flat chested at nine as I am now, but in my fantasies  I was constantly heaving.

All of my babies would be paraded around town in cosmopolitan buggies in the southern heat as I fanned myself with fancy kerchiefs, ready to faint at the slightest provocation because my bustle was on too tight.

I decided fainting was the lady like thing to do, and very dignified. As I day dreamed of the veranda that would surround my plantation home, I also dreamed of afternoon walks carrying a small parasol in my white gloved hands. And of course, fainting some more. Heaven knows why I would faint, but I could just picture it… a startle, perhaps an over exaggerated “Oh Loooord!!” a sudden intake of air, and down I would go.

By the time I was ten I had decided consumption was even more lady like, and a proper disease for a dainty upper class woman to have. Just think of all the beautiful hand laced and embroidered handkerchiefs I would need if I had consumption! I would wave the light patterns around until I needed to use them, and then ever so gracefully cough up a little blood as I tucked them away. Enough of it and my skin would be fair enough to rival any pure born British woman. The only color would be introduced by pinching my cheeks and biting my lips, or of course if I startled and flushed before fainting.

By eleven I had decided the only man I would ever marry would be Rhett Butler (later played by Clark Gable in the movie version). Yes, I knew he wasn’t real, but I figured there would be others like him. And I also figured that I could never do that if I wasn’t a proper Southern Belle. So I took to practicing my fainting. The last thing I needed was to swoon in front of the likes of Clark Gable in an ungraceful fashion. Proper fainting was a skill, and I was determined. Whether it was consumption, or just a sudden shock, anything that landed me on the ground was sure to be a good thing. However, I had to get there in the proper way and couldn’t just fall over like a new born lamb unsure of its legs. I had to make certain I landed on my side, with my head perfectly tilted over my outstretched arm, and my legs would, on their way down, rearrange the folds of my gown, just so. Not to mention my hair would have to slink down my shoulder in impeccable ringlets. Yes, my fainting would have to inspire portraits.

This is also coincidentally when I started wearing corsets. My mother was at first hesitant to buy an eleven year old a corset, but I assured her it was a for a good cause – I had to marry Clark Gable you see. Besides, dress-up was a favorite childhood pass time, and if other little girls were running around in princess dresses, then why couldn’t her daughter have a corset?

Well, as luck would have it, I never had a chance to practice my fainting techniques in real life, nor did I marry Clark Gable. The closest I got (to fainting, not Clark), was in my late teens at a blood drive. They warned me I had to be at least 110 pounds to give blood, but I really wanted to do something charitable (for the war! … in the south… that may still happen one day, because I will support no other war), so I lied and said I was 110, when I was  in reality only about 98. Needless to say as soon as they took their pint of blood and I got off the table I passed out. I don’t remember how it happened, but judging from the bruise on my forehead when I came to, I had fallen flat on my face. There went grace.

I guess I wasn’t meant to be a Southern Belle after all.

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