I Ain’t Doin’ It
CHAPTER 1 SOUTHERN CHARM
The South—Tennessee, to be exact. Could there possibly be a more endearing place on the planet to grow up? The place where everyone says “Yes, sir” and “Bless her heart.” Where sweet tea cures whatever ails you and where charm bracelets and monograms make up the DNA of women everywhere.
No. There could not be.
I mean, I, for one, question your salvation if you don’t have a monogrammed handbag and at least twenty charms on your Pandora bracelet.
Who are you, even?
Oh, you don’t have a monogrammed purse but you do have monogrammed boots.
I guess you’re excused.
Monogrammed boots?!? WHAT, EVEN?!? Some of you reading this right now are asking the question—Is this even a thing?
Yes, my friend. Yes, it is. And it makes me want to die a thousand deaths.
Just last year, my friend at work sent me a picture over Snapchat of her new tennis shoes that she had monogrammed on the tongue. I swear on all things Southern, I dropped what I was doing, marched straight over to her office, phone in hand, opened her door, showed her the picture and said, “Umm . . . no.” She laughed and said, “Umm . . . yes!”
Not the tongue!!!
Are we that bored? Do we really need to reinvent the monogram wheel? I mean, what difference does it make anyway? Do you think that if I see your monogrammed koozie out at the ball field I’m going to look at those initials and say, “Oh, look. Brittney left her cup”?
NO!! I am still clueless as to who you are. The only thing I question is maybe your middle name. But who even cares?!
And why in Lord’s name is it plastered on the back windshield of your car? This one gets me every stinkin’ time! I am about as bewildered by this one as I am the little sticker-families on folks’ back windows. Lady, you cannot even see out the back, your monogram is so big! WHY? Don’t you know obscurity is the name of the game, girl? Remain a mystery! It’s more exciting that
way! Leave us something to wonder about. Good grief! Your monogram cleavage is hanging out there so big that you have left absolutely nothing to the imagination! Was that your goal? Is your giant window monogram the new low-cut V-neck? The daisy dukes of vehicle décor? If so, then well done. At least now we know exactly what kind of woman you are.
And you’re not off the hook, men. Same goes for you and your giant business decals.
We see you!! Okay? We see that giant home you plastered across the back of your windshield, Smith Residential. And your phone number is so big I recited it all night in my sleep. We get the point.
(Insert eye-roll here.) The side of your truck just wouldn’t do, would it? We get it. At least you had the decency to spell it out and not make us guess with a business monogram, I suppose. Before we know it, monograms will be the new identification code for Southern women—monogrammed tramp stamps to identify their bodies. What happens with those second and third marriages, huh? How exactly does that work? I’d love to know. I’ve lived in the South nearly my whole life, but the whole concept of monogramming still raises doubts in my head to this day. Never mind that monogram tattoo I got on my right wrist with my ex-husband’s initial smack-dab in the middle. Don’t you worry about that. This is about you, not me. At least I
did mine with permanent ink on my body and not on the tongue of my shoes. (Dear God. What have I done?)
Look, sometimes you can escape it. Other times you drink the Kool-Aid. It was all I knew. Southern girl for life. A charm bracelet, though, I do not have. And I’m pretty sure I’m just about the only one. Women in the South love a good charm bracelet. At least this leaves just about zero work for you guys when it comes to gifts for major holidays. When in doubt, buy a charm. You don’t know what could possibly be significant in her life right now? Just buy a heart. How can you go wrong there? Some women in the South have so many charms on their bracelets that you can either hear them coming a mile away or you could throw them into the pond a mile away and their bracelets would carry them all the way to the bottom and hold them there until the man of the family comes to their rescue in his really big jacked-up truck.
Is this just a Southern thing, too? I don’t know, but I promise you this: I only dated one boy growing up who drove a car, and yes, I went out with more than one boy. All the other guys drove trucks. This was the norm where I come from. Never mind that these boys weighed a buck fifty sopping wet and their need for an extended cab was about the equivalent to me needing a new set of weights and a yoga mat. Although, there had to be someplace to house all their guns and waders, so I kind of get it. My
dad never needed to worry about me ending up in the backseat of some ol’ boy’s truck. Not only because I was a good girl, but because it was never an option. Coolers are big and boots are muddy and guns are dangerous, and all these things covered the faded upholstery of their backseats. The front was the only place for me. There was literally no other room.
And did you know that boys in the South also love charm bracelets? Southern-boy charms are “purchased” upon the kill of a duck. The charms (also called duck identification rings) are located around the ankle of said duck, and upon death and removal, the charm is then placed as an extension of the Southern boy’s duck call. Said duck-call charm bracelet is then hung on the rearview mirror and worn like a crown on the head. It is a symbol of manhood—of a good shot. The sign of victory—of his ability to conquer. For Christmas one year, I even bought my favorite boyfriend all things hunting, including a fourteen-karat-gold duck ring on a chain. He wore it proudly around his neck everywhere we went like it was an engagement ring. Looking back, I didn’t even know I was proposing. I guess I should’ve gotten down on one knee, but he didn’t seem to care. It was his favorite gift, second only to his new Remington box that I gave him to house all his shells. I am probably the best Southern girlfriend of all time. Listen and learn, fellow sisters. I’ve spent more money on hunting gifts over the
years than I’ve probably spent on my own kids. Just a few years back, I bought my guy-at-the-time a new scope for his gun and new razors to skin his critters. More about deer hunting in another chapter. Just know, ladies, that when it comes to giving gifts to your Southern hunter-man, you will never run out of ideas.
Did you know that Southern boys who hunt are also good listeners? They are trained to be quiet, to listen for the limb to crack, for the duck to call, for the wings to flap. I always loved how my hunter-man seemed to listen so intently as I would empty out my soul and heart’s deepest desires over a romantic catfish and hush-puppy dinner. I’m not sure if it was his training, his genuine love for me or the fact that repeated gunshots had created a temporary threshold shift in his ear canal resulting in hearing loss, but whatever the cause, he made me think he was listening. Well done, fella. Southern boys for the win!
And those catfish dinners would not be complete without at least a gallon of sweet tea.
“Would you like some tea with that sugar?”
This is how sweet tea is made in the South. My mama made it all during my growing-up years. Two cups of sugar to one pitcher and two tea bags. And I wondered why I was overweight till my junior year. It is a staple at the dinner table. It is such a given even when you eat out at restaurants that you have to intentionally ask for UN-sweet
tea. Otherwise, you will receive a giant glass of colored sugar-water with endless refills. Then you’ll wonder why you’re not hungry for dessert. It’s because you just drank it.
“Eating out” is also a relative term in the South. We can do fine dining all day long, but sometimes when we say, “Let’s go out to eat,” we mean to the gas-station-turned-restaurant on the edge of town. Careful not to turn your nose up to these fine establishments. Clenny’s has the best sausage and biscuits around. And summers at the lake afforded us the privilege of eating burgers at the corner grocery store on the daily. Best burgers on this side of Big Sandy.
See, when I was growing up, we practically lived at the lake during the summers. And living at the lake meant a few things for sure—tan legs, cutoff shorts and firing up the grill. If you’re a Southern boy and you can’t grill, I question your true heritage. You must’ve been born in the city and your mama just didn’t tell you. Your daddy must not actually be your daddy. You’ll have to hash that out in counseling. I just know that it’s on my list. You know “the list,” girls—the THINGS I’M LOOKING FOR IN A MAN list. Right along with a possible short-trimmed beard and an ability to go from rugged to classy faster than you can say “Hey, y’all!”
Southern lingo is its own thing, too, in case you didn’t know. Apparently, I have a bit of a drawl, myself.
And just in case the phrase “I ain’t doin’ it” didn’t give it away, I am partial to a few other favorites that seem to follow me everywhere I go, as well. It doesn’t matter if I’m drinking coffee in the Midwest or sipping tea in London, I will never be able to shake the faulty, unconventional articulation that spews from my mouth like soybeans from a deer gut. To some it’s endearing; to others, appalling. I get it. No offense taken. Sometimes I can dial it back to at least sound like I graduated high school. Other times it is as obvious as the monogram on your back windshield.
“Y’all,” for example, is a phrase that I will never be able to shake. To actually divide this contraction would be like taking the sugar out of tea, and what God has joined together, let no man put asunder (Holy Bible).
“Holler” is another one of my personal favorites. “Holler at me.” It’s simple—self-explanatory. And listen here, Urban Dictionary, “holler” was around long before “holla” (which I also use). Never mind. We have more words that will forever and always be ours and not yours, general public. You can try and take the word out of the South, but you will never be able to take the South out of the word.
Like, “fixin.’?” Oh, Lord, yes. This is my go-to. I don’t mean to do it. It’s just engrained into my knower like the alphabet. I can’t unhear it. I can’t unknow it. Just like that one time when that little boy wet his pants sitting
beside me in Mrs. Harrison’s second-grade class. I felt so sorry for him. I will never not remember his face, his name, his shame. I will never be able to unsee that, or unsmell it, for that matter. It’s forever a part of my makeup. I digress . . .
“I’m fixin’ to.” Fixin’ to what?
You can be “fixin’ to” just about anything you want. “Fixin’?” and “fixin’ TO” are TWO different things, just so you know. I ain’t “fixin’?” anything. Let’s get that straight right now. I’m not handy. That’s what boys are for. But I’m “fixin’ to” run to the store. You wanna go? I don’t see the problem here. Southerners get made fun of so much for this. It’s as normal as Canadians saying “a boot” when they’re really trying to say “about.” It’s as normal as a lift kit on a Chevy. But that’s a whole nother story.
A “whole nother.” What even? I don’t know, but I say it. It just feels abso-stinkin’-lutely right to divide a word with a whole nother word. Doesn’t that feel right to you? No? Hmm . . .
Well, you just don’t know how to speak Southern then.
Bless your heart . . .
Oh, the good ol’ “bless your heart.” This phrase has multiple meanings to exemplify the many personalities of the true Southern woman. This phrase is about as backhanded
and sarcastic as they come, but it can also be used in the most genuine sense of the word, depending on the occasion. Now, there ARE some Southern women out there who are soulless, who can cut you to the bone if you step over onto their side of the tracks, talk to their man, take their parking spot. But most Southern women have some sort of chip reader that was dug deep into their skin at birth that really can sincerely tap into the feels of other women. It’s called empathy. But make no mistake—if we don’t have it, we can at least make you think we do.
“He walked right out and left you? Bless your heart . . .”
You don’t know, do you? You don’t know if I mean it or if I’m secretly thinking that you deserved it. You don’t know and you never will.
“You mean you got arrested for beating the crap out of your boyfriend’s wife, but it was self-defense? Bless your heart . . .”
Still don’t know, do you? You don’t know if I’m on Team Mistress or Team Boyfriend’s Wife (yes—that one).
And you’ll never know, bless your heart. Because being a Southern woman means we don’t necessarily want to hurt your feelings unless abso-stinkin’-lutely necessary, but make no mistake that we can if we need to. We are fierce, cunning, smart and sly. We can bless your
heart but trip you walking down the runway of the Miss Milan No-Till Pageant so fast you won’t know what hit you. Because you see, we Southern women know our pageants. Don’t we, gals?
Pageants are as common as fried okra where I’m from. They are a public form of Southern entertainment intended to celebrate beauty and poise, talent and grace. But let’s get real—just as often, we end up with tumbles and tears and missed notes and “I’m just not pretty enough” to the point that we could’ve taken the money we spent on all that hair spray and those tap shoes and bought a lifetime supply of “who gives a crap.”
I just made some enemies. Look, it’s fine if you’re a pageant girl. One of my best friends growing up was a pageant queen. I used to fix her hair for her pageants, okay? I’m not hating on your extracurricular activity. I’m just saying that sometimes we are more concerned with the bathing suit and heels and not concerned enough that Miss Sunny Side Up can’t even read her fishbowl question.
I’m not throwing stones, okay? I mean, how can I?
I was in Miss Milan No-Till.
The year was 1997. I was twenty years old and dating a hometown boy. He had the best family in all the world, which included twin sisters and a mother who still feels like my own. I loved them and they loved me and bless their hearts, they thought it was a good idea to con
me into entering our hometown pageant. A pageant representing my city’s adoption of the no-till production of crop growth—a method of farming where the soil is left undisturbed between the harvest of one crop and the planting of another (yes, I googled that).
I mean, it’s kind of a big deal, though. Who wouldn’t want to be the No-Till Queen? You could get all the way to Miss Tennessee and probably even get your chance at having your picture displayed on a tractor or something cool like that. I figured I should give it a go. Plus, if my people were saying I could do it, they had to be right.
“It’s a scholarship pageant,” they said.
“It’s easy,” they said.
“You can do it,” they said.
“All you have to do is put on this dress that we will pay for ourselves, and you may have to just answer a question or two, but that’s it.”
Well, how hard could that be? Okay, then.
I wasn’t really pageant material, but I was fairly cute, and I could put my hand on my hip and walk a straight line. Knowing that I had no other means of paying for my schooling and nothing to lose but my dignity, I decided this could potentially be achievable.
What started as a simple yes, then turned into weeks upon weeks of intense preparation for Dirt Day.
We rented a dress, then another dress, then bought
makeup and pantyhose and hair spray and we even bought a suit because, “Oh hey! Guess what? You have to go through an interview process with a panel of judges but you are gonna do GREAT!!” And then we bought a cassette tape with music to accompany me as I sang in the talent portion of the contest.
And then the day came.
I will never forget.
My heart races and all the blood drains from my face even as I type this. My sensory nerves remember and they send signals to my central nervous system right this very minute as if I’m reliving that nightmare all over again. The nightmare where I was awake and had to wear a . . .
BATHING SUIT!!!! (Southern for “swimsuit.”)
WHAT?!? No freaking way am I wearing a bathing suit with pantyhose and heels on a stage in front of hundreds of people, maybe everybody in my whole town!! No. No. No.
It’s hard enough for me to wear one at the lake!
I sadly withdraw my name from consideration.
I’m sorry, but I must remove my name from the ballot.
I regret to inform you that I will no longer be running for Miss Milan No-Till. I have suddenly come down with a case of “You have got to be smoking crack to think I am wearing a bathing suit on a stage.”
I sincerely hope I have not thrown off the lady who is
making the sparkly numbers for us to pin to the outside of our garments. Tell her I’m sorry and that I’ll reimburse her for the glitter.
Red welts covered my chest and neck when Mama Bear told me the news. Trapped in the car with nowhere to jump out, I had to sit and listen to all the reasons I could and would, in fact, wear the bathing suit and do the thing. She was smart to tell me while we were in a moving vehicle on the way to the wherever-you-go-to-rent-pageant-bathing-suits, because she knew I would be outta there faster than you could say “Contestant #3.”
Somehow, some way, I calmed down and even found a royal-blue one-piece that not only covered most of my parts, but really made my eyes pop. And it looked killer with those nude heels.
We were back in business.
Judgment Day was finally here. I had won Miss Milan Tiny-Tot when I was five, and I beat out a lot of girls to do it. Surely this would be a piece of cake. And if possible, maybe I could even eat a piece of cake when it was over, because I was starving. My friend Emily had also gotten talked into drinking the Kool-Aid, so having her by my side would be my consolation should I walk away empty-handed.
This was an all-day event. I was like a bride preparing for her wedding day, but with a lot of other brides, and with only the possibility of a groom. We were all preparing
ourselves like Esther for the king (Holy Bible), but only one of us would get the honeymoon.
Well, I didn’t win the groom, but I am pleased to announce that not only did I make it down the runway in my gorgeous white evening gown, strut my stuff in my royal-blue bathing suit, sing my song to perfection and tell the whole town how I planned to end world hunger, but I also walked away with the second-place title and a $400 scholarship to my local community college—which I cashed in that very next semester for fourteen hours of music courses.
I may not have taken home the title of Miss Milan No-Till, but I did walk away with a trophy and a scholarship, a really proud squad and some really great material for that one time that I wrote this book called I AIN’T DOIN’ IT. I grabbed myself a milk shake on the way home, then made myself a hot bath and an inner vow that I would never grace the runway again. I know a lot of people out there are shocked and disappointed, but I plan on keeping my promise.
I’m sure the remains of anything we purchased for the pageant were sold in some yard sale years later. I think that’s a Southern thing, too. When I lived in Colorado Springs we had garage sales, and we even had neighborhood garage sales. In the South, though, we don’t really care about preparation, or about keeping it a surprise—keeping it under wraps till the big day. We
aren’t at all concerned about getting our junk stolen or protecting it from wind, rain or animals. We also believe in keeping the whole experience purely authentic, meaning if we decide that we are broke or sick of all our junk, we will not hesitate to throw that mess on the front lawn at any given moment without the fair warning of a yard sale sign tacked onto the nearest light pole.
“I’m sick of this couch.”
Done. Name your price. What would YOU give for a twenty-year-old, sunken pleather couch with three legs missing? Never mind that, because we will throw in the books we’ve been using to prop it up for free. We have no shame. Social media is even taking a liking to yard sales. A girl I know put some colostomy bags up on the Facebook yard sale and sold them for a pretty penny. I hear that these are expensive and as long as they’re unused, this would be the place to buy your bags. Still, though, I’m sticking with a solid no on this. On the flip side, probably nobody is going to be asking you where you got your colostomy bag. Your Louis Vuitton bag? Yes. But not your colostomy bag.
This mirrors the likes of selling your used underwear at a yard sale. You just don’t do that. Except that in the South, people do. There is no limitation on the items you can deem as sale-worthy.
Half-used bottles of salad dressing.
Christmas lights that don’t work.
A taxidermy squirrel.
People will buy just about anything.
Sometimes our Southern yard sales prove to be a pretty lucrative side gig. I once made $600 at a yard sale, only to find out later that I accidently sold a box full of all my children’s homemade Christmas ornaments. I cried and told myself “You can’t take it with you when you go,” but I was devastated. And what kind of person doesn’t return that sort of thing? If you or someone you know hangs my daughter’s homemade Rudolph ornament made out of an egg carton or a picture of my son in a beaded wreath on your Christmas tree every year and you are reading this right now, shame on you. I’m going to be praying for you (not really). That’s for another chapter. Still, I don’t know how you sleep at night. Probably very well, since I think I also sold you a top-of-the-line mattress for about $20.
Whatever. At least I made a little cash to help buy Halloween costumes and all the mess my kids had to have for school that fall. And at least we got in one final sale before it turned off cold. (“Turned off”—not only used to describe my current state of being regarding disgusting men, but also used to replace the word “got,” as in “It suddenly got cold”—“It suddenly turned off cold.”)
And what also happens during prime yard sale season?
Now, this may not be a regional or geographical phenomenon. Maybe other gals partake in this aggressive act of servanthood as well, but I can tell you with certainty that women in the South love to mow yards. Some women. Not all. Mostly all, but what I’m trying to say is, NOT ME.
My mother is an avid lover of mowing lawns. It’s somehow some sick form of therapy for her mind, body and soul. She will get out there and nearly stroke out from the heat, but come in satisfied. I will never understand it. I have mowed a yard a grand total of zero times, and I plan on continuing my run until I draw my last breath. Beat that streak, Snapchat. If my only accomplishment in life is that I never mowed a yard, I will consider it a victory on my deathbed. I would rather cut my nails with hedge clippers for the rest of forever than cut grass.
I AIN’T DOIN’ IT.
Although, my mother does always get a nice tan—that other thing that Southern women love to do.
My mama introduced me to the tanning bed at the ripe old age of thirteen. Tanning beds were just making a splash and I was curious, but I was scared. I didn’t want to lie in that coffin, but I didn’t want to remain milky white, either. Why? I don’t know, because girls who work the Paris runway are whiter than the driven snow, but in my teenage years, having a tan was where it was at. So I
went, and I got hooked. And I tanned the life outta my skin well into my twenties. Not only did I get in the beds, but I moved away to Florida for my college years and stayed lobster red for about nine months out of the year. I am reformed and try to take care of my skin nowadays, but in the South, I can always tell who lies in a tanning bed, nay, OWNS a tanning bed, and who doesn’t. I almost put my wallet and car keys in a lady’s mouth at Walmart one day thinking it was my leather purse. She was standing way too close.
I have put my roots down in other parts of the country. I have made other states my home at various times throughout the years and I may do so again, but at the end of the day, I still hang my hat in Tennessee. At the end of the day I am still a Southern girl. I may not mow yards and monogram my car, and I may not have a Pandora bracelet that could put the hurt on Floyd Mayweather, but I am Southern through and through. I may secretly wish that a British man would come and sweep me off my feet and take me to London to live in his flat, but the truth is, a good ol’ Southern boy is just fine, too. Nothing beats a burger from the gas station and a good ol’ worn-in purse from a yard sale (but seriously, y’all, if you’ve seen my Christmas ornaments, holler at me).
The South is special, and not in a “bless its heart” kind of way. It’s nostalgic. It’s hot dogs and the ball field and team spirit. It’s monograms and sweet tea and country
music. It’s my people, my heritage. It’s hospitality on a whole nother level. If “I AIN’T DOIN’ IT” was a geographical location, it would most definitely be the South. It’s home, and with all its mosquitos and imperfections, it’s abso-stinkin’-lutely perfect.