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Reflections on a Southern Mother


The first voice to caress my infant ears rolled with such lyrical beauty that I am offended by other accents to this day. It soothed in its quicksilver fluidity, lacked hard edges, and whispered in promises so compelling it could turn the most resistant of souls into a willing adherent. I know now that sound travels queerly and can reach back through time. I often hear the voice of my Southern mother when I least expect it; it comes to me more as reminder than recollection, and carries truth along the lines of a template so firmly etched by her feminine hand that its imprint is resounding, guiding, indelible.


There was a time in my youth when I resisted this influence in pursuit of my self-sufficiency, but life is an ironic circle, and the process of maturity tempers to the point where my mother’s voice has victoriously come back around. It calls from the shelter of a wrought iron and stucco portico in my mind’s eye, where she stands saturated with the scent of magnolia blossoms and shaded from the summer sun that filters through Memphis’ oppressive humidity. I can barely hear her calling over the late afternoon’s deafening chorus of cicadas, yet she is there as the voice of reason, rising up as the music of consciousness, whose lines are now so blurred I can no longer discern which is hers, or which is mine. But I measure my life from the parameters of her spectral inflection; I am thoroughly capable of standing in witness of myself as I walk out to meet life’s vagaries.


It is a gift to be bestowed with a standard so certain it shines like a beacon from the otherworld in the darkest of hours. Because my mother’s Southern ways were never overt, she held firmly to the cultural aversion to histrionics and wielded the power of suggestion like a finely tuned instrument that only sought the high notes of beauty in this world. And so it is for myself and my Southern contemporaries. We are the scion of the last of the great Southern belles, the daughters of a confederacy of women so regal and refined they left an impact that reverberates through the ages, beckoning us to hold on tight enough, strong enough, fast enough to a way of being in the world they found safe in its civility, even as the world around us changes. And what’s funny to me is realizing that the shadow these grand dames cast was so weighty; there’s a part of me now that waits for permission to step into any one of their delicate shoes. But too many are gone now, and there will be no rite of passage, so I will stand tall and rely on this voice in my head that reaches through the veil of time to offer guidance; a place from which my mother calls softly, ceaselessly, unerringly, in a dance that has become a perfect circle.

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