At the beauty shop one day, I was flipping through a magazine and half-listening to the local happenings.
I always say, “If you hear it at the beauty shop, it’s the gospel.”
Banter bounced from one chair to another. The local funeral home was “overrun with bodies,” including a woman who finally died at 105. There was news of Waffle House and Kroger coming to town.
When one woman started to opine about the possums who eat the cat food every night on her back porch, I tuned out and focused completely on the magazine. After all, I don’t have to hear about possums eating cat food at the beauty shop. I live it.
In Garden and Gun, I stopped on an article written by a senior editor named Jessica Mischner. Her bio said she grew up in Camden, S.C. My brain started twitching. This column runs in Camden and the publisher is Mike Mischner.
“I wonder?” I thought.
I shot off an email to Mike and within minutes, his reply came.
“Jessica is married to my youngest son, Will,” he wrote.
In the South, these things matter. A lot. We like to know who you’re kin to, who you’re married to and who you dated in high school. A woman’s maiden name tells as much about her as does her husband’s name.
One night at dinner, a friend was telling us a story.
“Do you remember Irene?” he asked. “She was married to that Coker boy, then they divorced and she married that Yankee, but that didn’t last long. Finally, she married a boy from down around Atlanta and that lasted. They’ve got three grown kids. He’s a big executive at Co-Cola, I think.”
This kills my husband. I’ve told you, he’s a Yankee and his folks don’t care who’s married to whom or what happened to any of ‘em. His proper New England raising teaches him to mind his own business. That was not the way I was raised.
Every week at Sunday dinner, my sister tells her stories by running down the lineage of each person involved. And quite often I find out someone is kin to someone I didn’t know.
“You Southerners,” my husband will say with a comical roll of his eyes. “Why do you have to detail the entire family tree in a story?”
Here’s why: You oughta know who you’re dealing with.
As you may recall, my husband, Tink, grew up in Connecticut. But he, his brother and father wound up in Los Angeles working in the television business.
It amazes me — because I am a proper Southerner — how many people in Hollywood never connect Tink with the rest of his family in the business.
One day, Tink was forwarded an email by a colleague. It was an author’s request to interview him for a celebrity biography he was writing.
The colleague asked, “Am I to infer from this email that Mary Tyler Moore was your stepmother?”
I was a kid who grew up in the rural South, 12 miles from the nearest town. In those days, phones had party lines and no one knew anything except what they read in the newspaper or heard at the beauty shop. Even as isolated as I was, I knew who Grant Tinker was and he was married to America’s sweetheart. The day my future husband introduced himself, my first words were, “Grant Tinker?”
“My father,” he replied in the most modest tone unlike the South where we would have said proudly — even if he were the town drunk — “My father.” Actually, we’d say, “Daddy.”
Perhaps kinfolk don’t matter in a town that makes up stories. But in the South, it’s the people and who they’re kin to who make the stories.
It matters a lot.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.