DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Oct 26 2012

Bless Her Heart

by Veronica W

In the movie Steel Magnolias, two middle aged southern women, Clairee and Truvy, are at a wedding reception, watching one of their peers dance. Her “form fitting” dress shows all her curves and extras, in rolling, gyrating splendor.

Truvy: Clairee, you know I’d rather walk on my lips than criticize  anybody…but…Janice Van Meer…

Clairee: I know…

Truvy: I bet you money she’s paid $500 for that dress and doesn’t even bother to wear a girdle.

Clairee: It’s like two pigs fighting under a blanket.

Truvy: Well, I haven’t left the house without Lycra on these thighs since I was 14.

Clairee: You were brought up right.

This movie remains one of my favorites. It gave me an insight into a type of womanhood which I, growing up in my Yankee environment, would never have experienced otherwise. Although my mother was from Richmond, Virginia, there was little, if any, venom in her and she would have considered the above conversation in questionable taste. Then again, she had spent much of her adult life in the icy north.

There are so many books with southern women as main characters that I will only give you books or authors with whom I am personally familiar.  One of my favorite authors is Anne Rivers Siddons, whose Homeplace and Low Country delve into the lives of women returning to their southern roots.  The Secret Life of Bees, Cold Sassy Tree and Saving Grace are also good choices if you want to explore the hearts and minds of Dixie women. For pure fun, read the Miss Julia series by Ann B. Ross.

One of the most intriguing books I ever read was Kindred by Octavia Butler. In the story, a modern day, young African American woman goes back in time to live on a post civil war plantation. Without much warning, the young woman disappears from her current surroundings and reappears on the plantation. Only extreme, life threatening danger brings her back to her current time. On one such trip her husband, who is white, manages to hold onto her and he goes back with her, which causes all kinds of other problems. The premise is a fascinating one and a lot of insight is given into the relationship between black and white southern women.

For non-fiction fans, Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg’s All Over But the Shoutin’ is an incredible paean to his Alabama mother, who “went eighteen years without a new dress so that her sons could have school clothes and picked other people’s cotton so that her children wouldn’t have to live on welfare.” It is the story of the “steel” that is not always evident beneath the slow, southern cadence or the often slower, rather deliberate movements of southern women. While I confess that much of my reading involves escapist fiction, I was enthralled by this book.

Two middle aged women sit in the crowded waiting room, their soft, honeyed drawls in big contrast to the litany of faults they obviously found in a mutual acquaintance. I unashamedly eavesdrop, my unread book in my hands.

“Poor thing,” one says with a sigh. “She just can’t seem to get her life straight.” Shaking her head, the other lady tacks onto this final assessment, the benediction “Bless her heart.” I smile to myself. Magnolias in full bloom.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy October 26, 2012 at 11:33 AM

Great blog! I love Cold Sassy Tree and Secret Life of Bees. Both are on my top ten list of favorite books.

Leigh P. October 27, 2012 at 5:50 PM

I’m from Richmond, VA and cannot tell you how many times as a child I heard a conversation like this: a snippy comment directed at another woman in the room (in a hushed voice, of course), a nod and a snarky comment returned, sighs all around, and “Bless her heart.” Oddly, this blog entry is now bringing back warm memories of Grandma. The South is a land unto itself.

Patricia D October 30, 2012 at 4:21 PM

If you were enthralled with All Over but the Shoutin’ then you must read Ava’s Man, which is Rick Bragg’s tribute to a grandfather he never knew. Bragg is an amazing storyteller and he makes all those folks just leap from the page, especially Charlie Bundrum. In addition to “Bless her heart” I’ve noticed that “Ah, but she’s sweet,” covers a lot of ground too.

Leigh P. October 31, 2012 at 3:32 PM

This has been in my head for the past few days because the memory of Grandma has, too. She used the power of that phrase for a modicum of good, too. I remember one particular neighborhood bully pushed my brother around at the beach one day (she lived on the water and we spent summers with her). After she stopped him and sent him on his way, she explained to us that some folks just didn’t know how to properly raise children how to respect one another and that one day he’d learn. “Probably the hard way. Bless his heart.” I remember softening towards him and feeling like maybe his parents weren’t as enlightened as mine. It planted a seed a compassion. It may not all be attributable to that phrase but the phrase does evoke the feeling on some level.

Veronica W November 3, 2012 at 9:32 AM

Patricia, I agree. Rick Bragg is wonderful. I’ve read everything by him and own a copy of Ava’s Man.

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