By Cherimie Crane Weatherford
Like most growing up in the deep delectable south, pleasantries and poetic behavior is as expected as the humidity in the air we breathe. Not all standards of practice were enthusiastically enchanting, but intertwined deeply and artfully into all that I am nonetheless. The unspoken, unwritten laws of co-existence that were fiercely upheld by mothers, grandmothers and church leaders all over the Southern states.
One in particular still causes butterflies and post traumatic stress. The in-person apology, although completely foreign in today’s society, is the courtesy of choice by my gentle yet fierce mother. Slightly akin to a dead man walking, the longest mile or any other horrific showing of dread that is multiplied when forced to face your debts with the audience of your debtors. Regardless of offense, it was mandatory that all apologies be eloquent, sincere and in person. My life was forever impacted by the many merciless, collective mea culpa.
As if the in-person apology wasn’t harsh enough to win claim as the most difficult southern grace, the female ankle cross was a mighty contender. Often I wondered if Chiropractors and those that created southern customs were in cahoots. There is just no way a well meaning woman came up with this custom of contortion. It mattered not whether perched on a pew or teetering on a tailgate, my Momma could hear from 20 miles away even the slightest uncrossing of the exhausted ankle. No allowance was given for attire, function or injury, the ankle cross was necessary at all costs. Fear of the under arm pinch or the paralyzing ‘I will talk with you later stare’ kept ankles crossed stiffly in compliance all over towns and counties below the Mason Dixon line.
Not all southern manners were punitive in nature. Many have served me well. Like Mammaw’s cream infused grits,some things just stick with you. All the women in my family kept a Gift Closet. A small closet both highly regarded and protected filled with specialty soaps, delicate hand towels, crafted candles, beautiful note cards and always at the very top was chocolates and jams. As a child it seemed rather silly to imprison perfectly good presents for people and circumstances not yet revealed, especially chocolate. Purchasing these recipient-less presents was as high a priority as tithing on Sunday. The heart of a Southern woman knows well the importance of the timely gift. It never failed, it never ran low and it never discriminated. If one needed a gift, the closet was always ready.
What seems to be 100 years later, I open the door to my very own Gift Closet. One that I must constantly stock, protect from little hands and turn too when it is time. The gifts often go to an acquaintance, sometimes a stranger, many times a friend. It is always the perfect gift at the perfect moment. No matter where I am, I always seem to find something that belongs in my Gift Closet. Just as my Momma did with me, I shoo little hands away and explain the importance of the enigmatic custom. I wonder how many battles have been averted, hearts healed and days made by the simple contents.
What a difference we could make, if such a concept could be implemented in all aspects of our lives. Quietly tucking away, kindness, sincerity, generosity and thoughtfulness to have at the ready when life produces an opportunity to give.
I adore my Gift Closet and the simple humanity it represents. It is far less tumultuous than the in-person apology, far less uncomfortable than the ankle cross and far more important than even I previously understood. If you want to make your corner of the world a little brighter, keeping your Gift Closet stocked is a wonderful way to keep your heart open.