The other day I was digging through a box for one thing or the other, when I ran across a picture of my best pal, Karen, and me when we were in junior high and on the student council together.
Oh, there we were in all of our dewy youthfulness, both scrubbed-faced, freckled and greatly amused. She was always way too skinny and I was never close to that but despite the difference in our poundage, we were friends and eventually blossomed into bosom buddies.
It reminded me of all the years that we’ve spent being honest with each other. It takes a mighty close friend to say the things we’ve said to each other.
"I know you don’t want to hear this," she’ll begin, then launch directly into what I don’t want to hear.
"Why on earth did you ..." I’ll ask when I think she’s misjudged something. And though she is a sensitive soul, she’ll listen like a big girl and even agree if she’s made a miscue.
For great and strong friendship can do that, you know. As long as there’s love and well-meaning intentions, you can point out the flaws.
That’s why I didn’t hesitate when I noticed that my beloved buddy, also known as a Grammy-nominated Southern gospel music icon, was breaching the rules of Southern womanhood. Or maybe it’s just Mama’s rules she was breaching.
She was taping a television show at the Grand Ole Opry house and I was watching from the edge of the stage.
As soon as the gifted songbird finished her last note and the director called "Cut!" I marched over to her. I folded my arms imperially and cast downward a disapproving look.
"Karen Peck, I cannot believe that you’re gonna be on national television, bare-legged!" I shook my head in woe. Then my words echoed in my head. Bare-legged? Where on earth did that word come from? Oh yes. I remember well. Mama.
"You’re not goin’ to church bare-legged," she would proclaim during my teenage days. "It’s a shame and a disgrace. Go put your stockings on."
Mama and her generational cronies don’t believe in decent women going bare-legged. They also staunchly believe that every woman in the church choir should wear a slip. I’ve heard quite a few interesting conversations about that one over Sunday lunch.
But I’m a renegade even though I wrote in my first book about the elegant importance of silk hosiery.
These days, I go bare-legged more often than not, except in the winter. For it is the new "in," the latest trend. And, Southern women while holding to the hand of propriety also believe in staying on edge of the latest trends.
One thing I can declare loudly about Karen: She is always "in" before the door has barely opened.
So, there I was, being hypocritical. For a brief second, astonishment covered her face but she recovered quickly, winking and laughing in that ever joyous way of hers. She lifted the full ankle-length skirt she was wearing and stuck out her foot.
"Peep-toe shoes." She nodded triumphantly as she laid down her ace. "You can’t wear hose with open toed-shoes."
She also knows me well. She stopped, tilted her head and eyed me suspiciously. "Do you mean to tell me that you’ve never gone on television without hose? Ever?"
She had me.
I nodded meekly. Not long before, I had taped a show in Los Angeles, bare-legged. And I wasn’t even wearing open-toed shoes. I was wearing Manolo pumps.
And, unlike Karen, I wasn’t wearing a long skirt that hit at my ankles. Mine came just below my knees.
She smiled victoriously. I furrowed my brow and whispered, "But please don’t ever tell my mama that I went bare-legged in public."
And knowing my good friend, I know my secret’s safe.
Now, don’t you tell, either. You hear?
Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)."