I've known this for a long time and, out of respect for the citizens of that state, I've kept my distance. They don't need me timidly attempting to pull out onto freeway or holding up the line at the coffee kiosk asking the lady how she was today.
But there comes a time where the longing to see loved ones trumps courtesy and, in this case, the gathering was a wedding.
John Boy did all the driving, thus preventing traffic snarls as I white-knuckle my way in front of an 18-wheeler. And my early morning exuberance at the coffee counter resulted in a confused stare on the face of the barista. I realized I had this simpering smile on my face that is the requisite "you must like me" prelude to any public discourse in the south. But to her, I probably looked like I'd already downed way too many venti lattes along with half a bottle of Dexedrine.
In spite of my insistence that I would never be assimilated by southern customs, I've slowed down considerably over the past 34 years. I've lost my edge.
After walking the halls of my hotel looking for the ice machine, I finally gave up and called down to the front desk. The clerk gave me directions, yet I still could not find the machine, in spite of checking all three floors. So I called again and got a different clerk who told me they'd taken out the one ice machine in my area of the hotel to have it repaired. Oops! She forgot to tell the other clerk, she said anxiously, anticipating the anger that was sure to be coming her way.
I apologized and thanked her. Even as I said it, I hated myself -- that cloying, "thaaank youuuuuu!" that ends every southern conversation ensuring that, had there been any misunderstanding during the previous discussion, it was unintentional and that all is well between the participants. It's a good way to keep the atmosphere laid back and friendly.
But it doesn't get you ice at 10 o'clock at night in Morristown, NJ.
Then there was the matter of my wardrobe. I'm afraid I've gotten a little behind in the wardrobe area. And I share the late Gilda Radner's idea of clothing: "I base my fashion taste on what doesn't itch." This has so far served me well because of my rural Virginia surroundings and complete lack of a social life.
Now, though, I was facing a weekend in New Jersey. There was talk of dinner at a real restaurant where people come to your table and serve you. Plus we would be seeing my Aunt Marie, who at 94 makes my wardrobe resemble that of Gladys Ormphby.
...and a wedding.
I could pull together something for most of the weekend, but a wedding requires grown up clothing. A wedding was going to require...
One of those dresses that require panty hose and nice shoes and nice shoes means...
Heels. Remember Heels?
I have not worn any of those for over a decade. I used to brag about that fact and now it was biting me in the butt. Normal, responsible grownup women have at least one dress. They have dress shoes and do not groan at a 1-inch heel.
Now here's the thing about buying a dress at my age and figure: you balance a very, very, very...I cannot exaggerate how very...fine line between going too far and not going far enough. Let me illustrate.
Not far enough:
Because either extreme is rather disrespectful to the bride. Too loud and it's like you're trying to draw attention to yourself (I emphasize the word "trying," because nobody can really do that; but we pathological people-pleasers are very focused on making sure no one thinks we think that we think we can). Too low-key and it's as if you just didn't care or, worse, have gone into mourning for the event.
At this point, I can tell you, I know what you are thinking. How? Because it was at this point in my thought process, which manifests itself in my stalking about and muttering to myself, that Dirtman summed it all up with the phrase, "You may be over-thinking this."
And so I bought a dress that wasn't black and didn't itch.
And I brought along a back up pair of flat sandals to slip on at the reception.
And my Aunt Marie and I were too happy to see each other to even consider anybody's apparel.
And I was too busy stuffing my face with really, really, really...I cannot exaggerate how really...good Indian food and enjoying my cousins' and brother's company to even think about my ensemble.
And the second morning when I visited the coffee kiosk, the same barista greeted me with a big smile and said, "How are you this morning?"
Never did fill the ice bucket, though.
And I'm still not ready to return to New Jersey. And I won't be ready when I go back.