A few years ago, I was in New York City to do a photo session for a book cover and found myself at the behest of a stylist and a hairdresser who also doubled as a make-up artist.
While the hairdresser, who had grown up in Dallas, attempted to do his magic, we chatted over Velcro rollers and curling irons when, for whatever reason, I commented, “You should see me when I’m doing yard work.”
He stopped, pointed his comb at my reflection in the mirror and said in what some of my redneck boy cousins would refer to as a “sissy voice,” “Honey, in the South, ladies don’t do yard work. They garden.”
As I have repeatedly said: You can take a Southern girl out of the country, drop her into a New York City high rise, surround her with designer clothes and uptown folks but you can’t take the country out of the Southern girl. We cling to it like red dirt clings to our cuticles after a day in the yard.
So, I laughed and replied, “Trust me, the work I do is not gardening. It’s back-breaking, hair-wringing yard work. It is not gentle enough to be called ‘gardening.’”
See, ladies who garden are the prettiest of us who labor outside. They wear lovely, floppy hats, matching gloves, nice little outfits reserved for “gardening” and they carry perfect little implements for digging in the dirt. More often than not, they have sweet little kneeling pads for softening their perch.
On the other hand, we women who do yard work — and please know I describe every woman in my family — we wear mismatched clothes, T-shirts so old that holes have claimed pieces of them, leather farmer’s gloves and a ponytail pulled through a baseball cap. We do, however, wear lipstick even if we pass on the mascara. When the day’s work has ended, we will be soiled, stained and sometimes so dirty that our bathwater will look like a muddy river after days of hard rain.
And boy, do we ache, our shoulders stretched from the bales of pine straw we carried and our backs sore from another day’s struggle with a patch of kudzu that is winning the war.
In the South, women and outside work can be fairly divided into three categories: Gardening, yard work and getting up hay. Occasionally, there is some cross pollination between these three but mostly you either do one or the other.
My friend, Dixie, is a dairy farmer, working side by side with her brother every day. She’s a tough girl when it comes to farming but she can run into the house, take a shower, change into a dress and heels and she’s just as feminine and pretty as any woman at the party. She is the only dairy farming Junior Leaguer that I know.
Last year when it was time to “get up hay,” a phrase known well to Southern farmers, Dixie wrinkled her pretty nose at the thought of yet another day in the hay field.
“What’s your job?” I asked. I’m enough of a farm girl to know that getting up hay consists of these primary jobs: cutting, fluffing, raking, baling, tossing and driving. A tractor cuts the hay, another fluffs it up, one rakes it and the baling machine ties it up. Then, if it is cut into square bales as opposed to big, round ones, someone drives the truck while laborers toss the bales onto the trailer.
“Raking,” she shrugged.
At the nail salon, I often face scrutiny. “Yard work,” I will offer as my manicurist eyes my hands with disdain.
“Why you not wear gloves?” she asks in a heavy Asian accent.
But for us yard-working, hay-gathering women, it’s just hard to keep a nice looking manicure.
Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Sign up for her newsletter at here.