What you’re looking at in the picture above- is a gen-u-ine Southern Spitfire. You would have to know one to understand exactly what we mean by that in the South. Under a thin veneer of Southern charm, my grandmother Betty Jo Sparks Holmes was a Southern Spitfire. I’ve been told her mother was a beauty who rode fast horses sidesaddle! It’s her birthday, if she was alive she would be well over 100. We can’t know her true age for sure, because-well, a Southern lady generally shaves a few years off. Even tombstones of Southern females may not reflect the actual age. Here’s what I know for sure-She came from a long line of warriors:
a Daughter of the American Revolution
a Daughter of the Confederacy
and with the papers to prove it, a bonafide descendent of Davy Crockett!
Her husband served in World War I, guarding Woodrow Wilson’s White House, living in tents on the grounds- he was a very handsome man. My grandmother tickled him to death with the things she said- particularly when her green eyes were flashing! Her son, served as one of the youngest pilots in the Navy during World War II, flying off of aircraft carriers in the Pacific. She adored him, caring for him most of his adult life as a disabled veteran. He had a lot of problems, but Mimi never allowed any criticism of him, at all. She was a fiercely patriotic American who loved FDR and his First Lady Eleanor, admired John Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, probably because they served in the US Navy, like her son. I’ve inherited her favorite novel, Gone With the Wind, purchased when it was considered a very racy book! Scarlett O’Hara is the best representation of a Southern Spitfire in literature. My grandmother looked nothing like Vivian Leigh except for the flashing green eyes! However, some of the things Scarlett said could easily apply to Mimi-
‘War, war, war. This war talk’s spoiling all the fun at every party…I get so bored I could scream.’
‘Don’t be a goose, Melly!’
‘Great balls of fire! Don’t bother me anymore, and don’t call me sugar.’
Betty Jo Sparks Holmes raised her family, including her younger sister Mary Sue, her younger brother Charles, my Uncle Chig and my mother, Betty Gene- during the Great Depression. She was one of the finest cooks I have ever known. She learned to cook, not because she had to, but because she loved to be in the kitchen with the household cooks. They humored the feisty Betty Jo, by letting her make biscuits, which she would load into a small wagon, take across the tracks and sell to laborers for pennies, knowing when she gothome she would be in a mess of trouble! Only to do it again, the next time she got close to the kitchen!
She became a florist at age 55, when most women were homemakers, her income was necessary. She had a great sense of style and good taste, but wasn’t uppity. Her life could be described as ‘grit with grace’. I loved that about her. I can still hear her now- the impression of her strength, wisdom and strong sense of humor inform me all these years since we lost her. She was a Spitfire but she was one of the most generous people I have ever known. ‘As God is my witness’…No one ever came to her door and left hungry, empty handed or without comfort. Like most Southerners, she engaged in a bit of ancestorworship. Mimi didn’t tolerate weakness in me. My older sister was probably her favorite- however, she gave me large chunks of her time and the best advice I have ever received- ‘Stop crying, hold your head up and don’t ever forget whose child you are!’ Now, if that is not advice from a Southern Spitfire? I don’t know what it would be. Happy Birthday Mimi, I’m a better person because of you.
Love y’all, Camellia
Photographs are mine. The top photograph was taken in the 1920s with Mimi’s bob and scandalous short dress holding her son and baby brother J.T.. The photograph on the right was for my sister’s high school graduation, the photograph on the left- Mimi is holding me at Christmas on her lap. The photograph of Vivian Leigh- the indomitable Southern Spitfire- Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind by that great southern author, Margaret Mitchell, is public domain.
It’s Fashion Week here at Camellia’s Cottage! This is our second installment of Tacky or Tasteful? Every Southern Mother despairs of her children looking Tacky- it reflects badly on her and of course can send her to bed with a case of the vapors. We discussed the basic solid Tasteful colors of Black, White, Gray and Red, however there are Tasteful Fabrics and Prints which are suitable for a Southern lady’s wardrobe. The most highly prized fabrics are natural or natch-ral as we pronounce it.
Cotton– We know cotton, we raise it. Think thread count and fine gauge here. The heavier the cotton fabric, well-the more coarse and common it is. While we have made allowances for Denim- because let’s face it, Denim helps our economy; it should be noted that Denim was considered the Fabric of Laborers. No Southern Lady worth her salt wanted anyone to actually know that she even broke a sweat, much less owned a pair of Denim Jeans. We have evolved on this point, now a good pair of Dress Jeans and a pair of White Jeans make up a part of the must-haves in the Southern Wardrobe. Though, let’s leave off those Denim Overalls once you get out of Kindergarten.
Wool – Southerners love wool, at least the idea of wool-the problem is the heat so we have to go for fine gauge wools and menswear fabrics, that have a nice drape. A nice pair of slacks, a sharply creased pleated skirt or a well cut pencil skirt. A cashmere or camel hair dress coat- now you’re getting the Southern territory. Whole conversations and exclamations have occurred about wool-
‘Now honey you know you can’t wear that boucle jacket – it makes you look thick’
‘Why in the world would you get a Harris Tweed jacket? Did you get accepted to Harvard?’
Get the Heather Sweater, you’ll look like one of the Von Trapps in it.’
So, think fine gauge in boucles, tweeds and more rustic wools that are strengthened with good silk linings.
Silk– just don’t get me started here…Shirtwaist dresses, blouses, suits, scarves and silk linings. Silkseemed like the ultimate luxury fabric to our Southern Mothers. Lingerie drawers full of silk gowns and undergarments. We especially love raw silk- which is nubbier with a stiffness that is appropriate for suits and sheath dresses. We do love silk- though there is rarely a mention that one stain and the whole garment is ruined for life.
Velvet– Southern women have always loved cotton velvet. We love the feel of it- go for lightweight as it can add bulk unless you are skinny as a rail. Jackets, Sheath dresses, hostess skirts, collars or piping on wool coats, vests and even in our homes- Where do you thinkScarlett got the idea to make that devastating velvet dress when Tara was a broken wreck?
Linen – is highly prized in the South. Even though it wrinkles beforeyou walk out the door, sit down or bend an elbow, Linen wrinkles but a Southern Mother will tell you- ‘Whyhoney, that’s how folks will know it’s real linen.’ Women have been known to use up a case of Spray Starch getting the wrinkles out of linen, only to get it wrinkled just in the act of buttoning it up. We love our natch-ral Linen. I have a friend who gets so excited when she ‘gets outher linen’ We want to have our Linen from Easter to September.
The truth is most of our Southern mommas preferred solid colors as classics, however there are some classic Patterned Fabrics-that can be either Tacky or Tasteful-
Cotton is our top fabric of course- we have an ancestral attachment to it. Gingham is tricky though. Our mommas thought a baby must be six months old before wearing gingham and then it must be the tiniest possible gingham. Checks get gradually larger as Southern Women age…with a reasonable cutoff however. We don’t want to look like a Tablecloth ata Picnic! Gingham is perfect for picnics, field trips and going to the farmer’s market.
Houndstooth (as long as it is of a reasonable size) Big ol’ Houndstooth is never acceptable if the teeth on it are as big as your daddy’s hound dog. The one exception is a Bear Bryant Houndstooth Hat- go hog wild Bama Fans!
Plaid– Classic, especially if the plaid is your Family Tartan, real or imagined. Scale is important to tastefully wearing plaid. Don’t put on some big loud plaid that looks like the upholstery in an RV or a Recliner at the hunting camp. No seamstress in the state could match at theseams of a loud plaid. Now that’s Tacky. Tartans are tasteful, darlin’
Striped clothing is considered Nautical and therefore classic. Coco Chanel was inspired to design women’s clothing after she noticed some handsome sailors on shore leave. Chanel saw the potential and the comfort of striped knits- ever since Southern Women have loved our Stripes.
Animal Prints– a warning here: Southern Mothers reserved animal prints reserved for the more mature woman. We would certainly never want our southern daughters to look wild in any way.. use touches of animal prints- a scarf, a blouse, a collar or a cardigan. Animal prints can either look exotic or tacky- you surely don’t want to end up looking like the Flintstones. Now that would be Tacky. If you’re determined to walk on the wild side- do it Tastefully, like Jackie.
As Fashion Week continues at Camellia’s Cottage-Remember in all of these fabrics and prints- scale, weight and quality are what our Southern Mothers were trying to instill in us all. The Fashion Icons agree.
Love y’all, Camellia
Top photo is a photograph of a friend’s mother lunching with a friend at the Waldorf Astoria NYC- many years ago. Other images are from AOL images and may be copyrighted.
Southern women are sensitive about Southern Trees. We’ve been known to tell architects they cannot add onto that side of the house because, well- it would mean cutting down a beloved tree. Against all advice to contrary, Southern women have said a tree cannot be cut down- ‘ Just build the porch around it, and you better make sure the opening in the floorboards are bigenough for that tree to grow!’ Perfectly reasonable to me. Selling property in the South? The best selling points for Southern Real Estate are:
Double Wide Mobile Home with nice wooded lot
Lake House with great views of the lake and nice wooded lot.
Farm has pasture land and nice wooded area surrounding the farmhouse.
If the wooded lot you’re selling has a Magnolia Tree on it, that ups the value of the property immensely. We Southern ladies don’t talk about it much – but there are women who fiercely protect their Magnolia Trees. The pitiful women who don’t have Magnolia Trees have been known to beg,borrow or steal Magnolia Leaves especially during the holidays or for special occasions– a wedding, funeral or open house. The lucky women who own Magnolia Trees have been known to get put outand even stingy with their Magnolia leaves!
I guess you could say- we’re tree proud. I made a list recently of the different types of Southern Trees we have in our yard. Dogwoods, Redbuds, Glory Bower, Red Oak, White Oak, Pin Oak, Water Oak,Hackberry, Sweetgum, Poplar, Elm and Black Walnut- Southern Yellow Pines and the darkly mysterious common Cedar Tree. My grandmother always said to get rid of Cedar Trees because ‘When a cedar tree gets tall enough to shade your grave, you’ll die’…How she knew this I’ll never know- but I believed her. My husband thinks that’s an old wives tale but he did remove a Cedar Tree because it was getting in the way of a Dogwood I wanted him to save. Bless his heart.
South Alabama has the big bearded beauties, Live Oaks- Southerners have been known toexperience deep grief, especially when a Live Oak is damaged or dies. Live Oaks are the stuff movies are made of- the story has been told that a famous actress came south to do a movie and the setting was laced with Live Oaks- it was rumored the actress thought we did that just for her! We have renowned hospitality, but humans didn’t do that for her- the Southis just blessed with Live Oaks dripping with Spanish Moss.
What we don’t tell folks who aren’t from around here- If you want to collect Spanish moss as a souvenir- before you get home you’ll have chigger bites all over! Henry Ford once had the bright idea to stuff his car cushions with the abundance of Spanish Moss found in Alabama- only to discover those pesky chiggers were a big problem. For Southern folks who are still looking up North for their valuables…they think chigger bites are a fitting punishment for thieves who try to confiscate our Spanish Moss!
Southern women are more apt to forgive our Trees of theirshortcomings than we are of other infractions that come our way. We never forgiveHurricanes- male or female- for taking down our Southern Trees. Frederick, Rita, Ivan, and that hateful girl Katrina, we will never forgive you.
Yet if our Southern Tree roots break up a driveway or a sidewalk, well- ancestors have been known to break up and make things interesting too. It’s part of who we are- our roots are important. We make the necessary adjustments. If a tree grows crooked, lays an arm on the grass or we have to make a path skirt around a family tree- that’s what you do for your folks. You make allowances, you put up with a bit of a mess- pesky squirrels, tassles, colorful fallen leaves, prickly cones, burrs and bonafide Nuts. Southern Trees are like eccentric relatives, colorful kinfolks and outright Nuts- they’re the stuff our legends are made of
Some trees are clannish–
Pines stand together swaying and whispering
Dogwoods clump together in their lacy dresses like Sorority Girls
Redbuds circle up- conspiring to bloom where they are planted. Stubborn enough to bloom for just a brief few weeks in the Spring.
We love our trees. Southern trees bloom, Shade us from the hot summer sunshine, Spread their branches to cradle nests while the squirrels are acting like nuts. Hickory trees give their lives so we can have that pit barbeque we so love. Trees let us hang a swing or spread out quilts for a snooze, a picnic or a family photograph. We’re as tree proud as any folks I know. Our roots spread out and run deep. We like it that way, nuts, squirrels, skeeters, chiggers and all.
Love y’all, Camellia
Thanks to Jeremy Miniard for the photographs of beautiful homeplaces in Alabama. Thanks to Denis for her photographs of the hauntingly beautiful Live Oaks.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service!I feel blessed to have been a visitor at several of America’s National Parks- they are breathtaking! Yellowstone in winter looks like a movie set, when the sun shines on the snow it looks like glitter in a snowglobe! And Yosemite is so massive it is like seeing the Hand of God.
Did you know that ground where the Statue of Liberty stands is a National Park? The Statue, Liberty Island and Ellis Island were placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1966, even though it had been in the care of the National Park Service for over 30 years. The Statue depicts the Roman goddess of Libertas- her torch has been a source of strength and comfort to immigrants ‘yearning to breathe free’ since 1886- 130 years ago.
TwoItalian immigrants who came through Ellis Island became parents to a little boy who would become legendary only 9 months before the National Park Service began- his name is Frank Sinatra. Sinatra inspired Andre Rieu. The famous conductor offered a beautiful Tribute to Sinatra at Radio City Music Hall. The photographs of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island are so moving about half way into the video- it brings me to tears…I hope you will be inspired and thankful for the National Park Service, whose job it is to preserve and protect these areas of astounding significance and natural beauty in America. And please pray for the victims of the earthquake in Central Italy– after all she has shared some of her best with our nation.
‘Friends are like the pillars on your Front Porch…Sometimes they hold you up, Sometimes they lean on you; Sometimes, it’s just enough to know they’re standing by for you…’
Yes, welcome to the Porches of Alabama… ‘How do you do’, ‘Y’all come up and set a while’ or ‘Tell me all about it, we’ll figure out what to do’…
We’ll sip a glass of sweet iced tea, sit and watch the sunset, blink with the lightin’ bugs and hear the crickets sing. Softly sing a song or two, a stolen kiss, a sweet embrace, a gentle breeze to chase the blues away…
‘We’re glad you came’- Are you sure y’all can’t stay awhile?’ with gentle hugs, a tear or two-‘Now don’t be a stranger’ or ‘Please don’t go we’ll miss you so!’ We’ll watch until you’re out of sight-from the Front Porches in Alabama.
‘Friends are like Front Porch Pillars, Sometimes they hold you up, Sometimes they lean on you; Sometimes it’s just enough to know they’re standing by for you.’
Love y’all, Camellia
A Heartfelt Thanks to Jeremy Miniard for almost all of these wonderful ‘Front Porches of Alabama’ – what would we do without him?? We have some more of them in the vault waiting! They do belong to him, and cannot be reproduced without permission.
I’d like to claim it as my own, but the Front Porch Quote is Anonymous.
Just when the heat of July slows me down to a southern drawl… a miracle happens. It sneaks up on me every year. When hydrangea blossoms look like tight pincurls, when roses sulk- fed up with the humidity; the front porch ferns whine for church fans and ice water; even impatiens lay down their heads and weep…that’s when the GloryBower trees quietly begin to bloom.
Hummingbird wings whir around her. Butterflies flitter on her pale green shoulders. Fat bumblebees stir slowly around her like plump fairy godmothers- coaxing the lacy summer ballgown onto Glory. Her ladies in waiting, the CrepeMyrtles, have on shocking pink and raspberry corsages. But Glory is a real Southern Belle, never breaks a sweat, not one bead of perspiration. Glory Bower trees put down deep roots- they are my sweet homebodies, staying close to the windows so I can chaperone and gaze as the Miracle of July unfolds.
When every other flowery thing begins to close up shop for harvest, the Glory Bower is just getting started; dabbed with honeysuckle fragrance, she’s a subtle reminder of another July Miracle– one that got her start, early one sunny summer morning in July. Like the GloryBower she seems to thrive on sunshine but her real secret is her deep roots close to home. A fifth generation southern belle of St. Clair County, she is named for her father and grandfather. She is a true miracle. Before her mother turned twenty the doctors said she would never bear a child. After seven long years of waiting…this child was born, a true blue miracle. Even the doctors said to her momma and daddy- ‘Take her home and enjoy her, you’ll never haveanother one.’ She was so tiny, her long name didn’t seem to fit so she was nicknamed for the southern sunshine she was born under. Her momma sang ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ as she rocked her miracle on the porch swing. Her daddy played his guitar and sang his baby girl to sleep to-‘You are My Sunshine’. The pediatrician noted the baby hardly had a hair on her head but made up for it by having the longest eyelashes he had ever seen; a neighbor said- ‘It’s a sign of good breeding when a baby is bald headed’…her momma just smiled and made batiste bonnets with ruffles and lace.
She could talk before she could walk at ten months! She was a born teacher-lining up dolls and stuffed toys, she would ‘teach school’ when she was barely three years old. Her teachers remarked that her ‘sunny name’ suited her just right! Always an honor student, with a beautiful voice that was rivaled only by her skill on the clarinet, she was voted, ‘Friendliest’ in high school, and graduated with full honors from college, before earning her masters degree in education. She grew up so fast her parents felt as if she blinked her long eyelashesand was all grown up! She has taught hundreds of school children how to read and to love school like she always did. She is a fine Southern lady and awonderful teacher! Camellia’s Cottage can’t imagine life around here without children in it- we’re glad she’s one of them.
If you everfind yourself wondering if God still performsmiracles just look to the Glory Bower tree, which miraculously blooms so cool and sweet in the heat of a July summer and remember our July miracle. Today’s her birthday, join us in wishing her a day filled with sunshine, the faint fragrance of honeysuckle and perhaps a gentle rain…
Love y’all, Camellia
p.s. Those doctors don’t always know everything… 21 months after this miracle?Another miracle baby girl was born on a sweet day in May! Believe in miracles, watch for them…they are allaround you! Can I get a Glory Hallelujah?