I was in eigth grade when I realized there was no possible way I was going to pull it off.
My mother brought home A Southern Belle Primer: Or Why Princess Margaret Will Never Be A Kappa Kappa Gamma by Maryln Swartz and when I came to the part about The Twelve Patterns of the Southern Silver Zodiac I was fascinated.
You were supposed to look at the pictures of all the different silver patterns, pick the one that most appealed to you, and then find out what your preference said about you. So I looked at the silver patterns, determined that all of them but one were so gaudy I wanted to vomit, and settled on the one simple pattern without any wild curlicues, fruit, or flowers. It was called Acorn.
And then I read on...
1. Francis I
Reed and Barton
The Belle who chooses Francis I is a girl who wants it all. There are twenty-eight pieces of fruit just on the knife handle. It’s showy and opulent and so is she. A Francis I girl is likely to want a husband, children, a place on the board of the Junior League, and a full-time career. There is no end to what she can buy in the Francis I pattern. It comes with pickle forks, tomato forks, shrimp forks, lobster forks, grapefruit spoons, dessert spoons, ice cream spoons, even half olive spoons. Francis I girls are always compatible with mothers-in-law who have Grand Baroque or Burgundy. Their styles are similar.
2. Grand Baroque
This is Francis I with roses instead of fruit. Grand Baroque girls also have a sense of the dramatic. But they often also have a literary bent. That’s why you can buy a sterling silver bookmark in the Grand Baroque pattern. Grand Baroque girls often date boys whose families have the Acorn pattern. But they don’t marry them. It’s just a youthful rebellion.
And I'm thinking "Uh oh..."
Reed and Barton
This is Francis I without the fruit. Burgundy girls tend to be somewhat shy. They have dreams of being splashy, but they just can’t let go. Louisiana girls love Burgundy. It shows up on a lot of tables during Mardi Gras. They do well with friends who have Buttercup. They are not made to feel too competitive.
4. Rose Point
Old-fashioned girls pick this pattern. It’s very popular with girls named Rose. Sentimental mothers who have chosen patterns like Old Master and Eloquence sometimes name their daughters Rose just so they can have a legacy all their own.
My grandmother's pattern, who's very sentimental. That was uncannily accurate.
Belles who choose Buttercup are always cheerful. They even choose the pattern because it’s so uplifting. Buttercup girls have friends with every kind of pattern. They are usually followers rather than leaders, but they are just so upbeat it really doesn’t matter.
This pattern wasn't so bad, but it was still too froufrou for my taste.
Belles with Chantilly tend to be a bit prissy. They do best with men whose mothers also have Chantilly. Never put a Chantilly girl with a man whose mother has Francis I or Grand Baroque. They will always be upstaged. Don’t let all that sweetness fool you. Chantilly girls were often fast in high school.
Strasbourg girls are traditionalists and just a bit formal. As good Southern girls, they are entranced with anything that’s festive and use their good silver almost all the time. Southern men love girls who pick Strasbourg because when Strasbourg girls bring out the good silver, they also bring out the good food. They don’t mix well with boys whose mothers have Buttercup. They will both always fight for control.
Beware of the Acorn girl. This pattern is lovely but foreign (it comes from Denmark). Girls who pick Acorn are rebellious. They march in parades and sometimes have been known to go to colleges in the East and drink beer straight from the can.
So here I am... the Acorn girl, surrounded by Strabourgs, and Chantillies, and Buttercups all over the place, because this is South Carolina ya'll, and the girls here know how to "Belle" it.
And when I talk about Southern Belles, I do so with enormous respect, because it's not an easy thing to pull off. Southern Belles walk out of the house every day looking like a Miss America contestant. They wear adorable outfits with cute matching accessories. The words "sweetie," and "sugah", and "darlin'," and even expletives like "Oh, my heck!" trip beautifully off their tongues. Their houses look like the latest photo shoot out of Southern Living. Their children, in their heirloon-inspired smocked dresses and john-johns, look like toe-headed cherubs. And as they stand around in their pastel twinsets and pearls, sipping iced tea (out of a glass) in their pink monogrammed koozies, talking football and bible school and pedicures, this Acorn girl, in her jeans and ratty t-shirt, gulping my beer straight out of the can, wants to commit hari kari by Lemon Fork (Yes, Francis I has one of those too...).
I have lived in the South most of my life, and I have faced facts. I lack the Southern Belle gene. I frequently roll out of the house in wet hair, paint-stained yoga-pants, and snot-covered t-shirts. My children have been photographed in smocked john-johns, which they wore for the approximately 30 second duration of the photo shoot, but are more commonly found in stained playclothes. And this only bothers me a little. (I wish my yoga pants were new and my t-shirts were clean.)
One of my earliest memories is of my aunt following me around my grandmother's house with a hairbrush, pleading with me to let her curl my hair. I must've been two or three at the time, and I finally had to hide from her under the bed.
A few years later, when my Acorn tendancies were becoming even more apparent, my grandmother tried to bribe me (with a patent leather purse and white gloves) into attending a "charm school" at Belk's department store. I wanted neither the purse, nor the gloves, nor the charm. I thought the whole thing was ridiculous and categorically refused to go. And to this day, I am still both traumatized and deeply offended that she even suggested the idea.
I was talking to one of my friends the other day (one who's much more of a Belle than I'll ever be), and stated offhand that I couldn't be friends with a true Belle, especially the really cute ones with the monogramed-everything, which I'm sure came across as snobby or disdainful, but that wasn't how I meant it. It was more an observation about the type of women who are my friends and the enormous gulf that exists in the South between true Belles and those of us with Acorn leanings (We are avoided like the plague, as if our rebellious ideas might rub off.).
I'll admit it, I'm rebellious (for South Carolina, anyway). I frequently have to bite my tongue when the conversation turns to religion or politics. I don't have to bite hard because neither of these things is too terribly important to me (which is part of the problem, actually). I am always in the minority here--that small percentage of born-and-bred Belles who went Yankee. My friends are all, for the most part, people who grew up somewhere else and who weren't born with the ability to pull off grosgrain-ribbon-bedecked-palmetto-and-moon flip flops. But I have some who were, and they make me feel intensely insecure. Around them I feel like I should be trying harder.
But I know who I am, and like the Silver Pattern Zodiac explained, I am "lovely but foreign." It's taken me a long time to realize it, but I do have lovely qualities, even if I don't own a single monogrammed dishtowel. I may not be a Southern Belle, but the South has rubbed off on my nevertheless.
I say "please" and "thank you," and have already trained my three-year-old to open doors for and call all women "ma'am." I can brew a mean pot of iced tea, and can whip up a congealed salad in my sleep. I may be off in my own little Acorn world, but I know where I come from and I know that my Southern family and friends are more important to me than anything. So maybe there's still hope for me after all. :-)