My niece, Nicole, was saying the other day how a quick, sharp tongue is built into our DNA and how we need to watch what we say and how we say it.
If you haven’t already read between the lines that was her attempt to be subtle and encourage me to watch what I say. Of course, it was a waste of her sweet breath, but I pretended to pay attention and agreed with what she said.
The truth of the matter is that I’m much better than I used to be. Though I watch my tongue a lot more than in previous times, I have decided that it would be professionally irresponsible to watch everything. It would be career suicide, in fact.
Supposing I minded every word that proceeded out of my mouth then you would stop reading me before long. “Used to be interesting,” you’d say to your best friend. “But something’s missing. It’s just not what it used to be.”
Nice is boring. A little of it goes a long way. Now, I believe that the world, as a whole, is mean and we should all be kinder. But a little spice sprinkled on our words now and then make them more interesting.
Take Mama, for instance. She was basically a nice person, loved by many. After she died, dozens of women came forth to tell us how Mama was their best friend.
“I could tell her anything,” every one said. “She was my confidant. She gave me the best advice.”
We were amazed as to how many folks Mama had served as confidant. Obviously, she kept their secrets because we never knew anything about it. But, still, nice as she was, Mama’s mouth was tart and it never said anything that she regretted.
One day, she saw a woman she liked very much. “She’s the sweetest thing,” Mama always said about Linda. “I just love her to death.”
But Mama’s love did not spare Linda from Mama’s quick, sharp tongue. Mama took her face in her hands once and said, “Linda, you are the prettiest girl.” She smiled admiringly. “You have the prettiest face.”
She paused for a moment. “But I want to tell you something. You don’t need to gain any more weight. You’re big enough.”
To Linda’s credit, she belly laughs when she tells that story. It’s her favorite “Mama” anecdote.
See? Mama wasn’t intentionally mean. She was helpful. At least that’s the way she saw it. And since she didn’t watch every word she said — she didn’t even watch one word she said — she was interesting; so people are still telling Mama stories.
A couple of years ago, I did a speaking engagement for a bunch of high society women at an exclusive private club in Nashville where the waiters served in white gloves. It was all far above my raising, though I tried to hold my own. I was sitting next to the hostess, who requested the salt.
Though I never have had formal etiquette training, I somehow knew to pass the salt and pepper together. Not just the salt. When I gestured to hand it to her, she primly replied, “Please place it on the table so that I may pick it up. I am from a very old, elite Southern family and I have been taught proper table manners.”
Every face at our table reddened, except mine. I smiled sweetly as I obeyed. “I’m from a very old Southern family, too,” I replied, still smiling. “I’m from 10 generations of Southerners, nine of those in Georgia.” She nodded stiffly as I continued. “But my people were from the foothills of the Appalachians and they were very poor. They were just happy to have salt to pass.”
Sometimes a quick, sharp tongue is a girl’s best friend.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should).” Visit www.ronda-rich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.