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A Southern Daughter's Rules

Unspoken, Never Broken

By Alyson Kate LongPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 4 min read
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A Southern Daughter's Rules
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

It's 40 degrees and I'm packed into sheer pantyhose. It'll be 63 when church lets out. 6 minutes in the backseat, cross-eyed from carsickness. Don't sweat — your hair goes frizzy.

Drive 4 1/2 hours to be home and up in time for church on Easter Sunday because so-and-so won't show. Your presence is as much a gift as it is a sad reminder of those who can't be bothered.

You might show up late but you will always have on lipstick.

Cook, clean, fix, smile and make strangers feels welcome. Be nice to people you don't like. Laugh and joke and ignore the heartsick phone call — "Hey, baby! It's Mama. I just wanted to call and see how you are. Son, you better go to the doctor ... then come over here and let me look at it! Alright, well, I won't keep you any longer." — grit your teeth when her mood turns dark and she decides not to eat. Okay, you only cooked all day.

Every Christmas, every birthday, every Every Easter, every Mother's Day; three decades of excuses every Sunday.

I'm hot, I have a headache and I have to pee. Bite down on the thoughts that are impossibly true and impossible to say. It's still there in your heart — wonder what God thinks of that?

It's not yet 9AM with sunlight streaming through the windshield. A voicemail, "We urgently need to speak with you about your bank account." Explain in detail — after fibrilliating while driving — that I am only on Mama's bank papers to ensure that we can pay to put her a box when the time comes. A peaceful morning splintered by the ineptitude of an automated call system. Yes, I am on her account. No, Sheryll, we will not be transferring her savings to your new nonsense.

There's a picture of my grandmama holding her baby. It was right before she passed away. The lauded "4 generations of smiles". She quit college, did the housewife and mom bit. I graduated early, made a name for myself, built a life with a loving husband, worked toward financial stability before a kid ... and she gets a photo of that moment that I never will. It's on Facebook. I doubt she's bothered to look at it once. I feel those toxic, green, licking flames in my gut every time.

It's an August morning, slick with dew and humidity. Sit on the basement steps and zip on Daddy's motorcycle boots. Climb in the back of the work truck. Load up ladders, saws and electrical cords while wearing sleep shorts and a tank top. Ask about his knee. Worry about the roof job, the tile job, the fence job. Sigh about the absolute lack of helping hands — too busy holding them out for a paycheck.

Mention a CPA. Again. Excavate a fistful of receipts from the floorboards and between the seats. You'll need them when you do the taxes in April.

"Remember the butternut squash pie? I reckon that's the best tasting pie I ever had." Yes, Daddy, I remember the pie Papa used to make after Granny died. I can taste the exact measurements of 1 teaspoon of vanilla, a pinch of salt.

I was 5 and we've talked about it countless times for nearly 30 years. Try several times to make it for him — you'll never get it right. Talk about it countless more times. Not because the story ever changes but because Papa had cataract surgery so he could read storybooks to me. When the January wind takes its chill, smile and smell the wood smoke from his fireplace.

Be the only one "smart enough" to be added to everyone's important papers — stare through the ceiling at 2AM thinking about all their last wishes. A final affairs genie to turn a tear-stained farewell into a comfortable, colorful celebration of life.

Give them room to greive. You'll feel about it later. Smile; get someone a glass of tea, a cup of coffee, a plate of dessert. Your plate is cold; pick at it with soapy hands as you wash up and lock up. Everybody already left.

We're halfway through 1,296 miles and driving headlong into a stress fest masquerading as a memorial service. A bad wife makes her husband attend. A bad daughter-in-law hears his emotions and books a hotel 10 minutes away from the fray. There's plenty of time in traffic to suss out which you are.

"Your hair was prettier last time we saw you."

It's December. My dress is hiked up to my waist and I'm wading into 50-degree ocean water. Past the breakwater. Carry a kiss on a yellow rose for a soul-saddened mother saying goodbye to her eldest son. She's walked, on my husband's arm, over a field of sand spurs and endless expanse to wish him rest; her eyes fill with unspoken thoughts as hidden hurts are washed out to sea.

The house is a little more cluttered and a little less kept with every visit. Their vision is going. Take a broom and knock down cobwebs in every corner of the house. You'll pretend "I'm just sweeping."

It's a curious mix of make-do attitude and blood-borne burdens that cement your status as the "Couldn't do it without you." girl coupled with the tiresome gender norms that got you detention in high school for punching a patronizing bully square in the face.

"Now, y'all know you can get whatever you want. There's plenty of snacks and stuff in the kitchen."

"Hey, while you're up ..."

Smile.

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About the Creator

Alyson Kate Long

I'm a small business owner by day; a Kindle junkie by night. I love Indian food, MacGyver reruns, breaking grammar rules for the sake of sentiment & my tattoo of falling into a really great book. There is always time for coffee or a nap!

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