Once in a while, I take a Facebook test. Which iced coffee drink are you? Which Gone with the Wind character are you? Which Steel Magnolias character are you?
The one that intrigued me the most is “Which classic novel describes your life?” My answer was Pride and Prejudice.
In a previous life as a high school English teacher, I actually taught this novel to tenth graders. One day a football player raised his hand and informed me that all the people did in this book was sit around and talk to each other. I applauded his brilliance and used it as the teachable moment to explain the novel of manners, a work that focuses on the conversation and social behavior of a certain setting. (His grades needed a moment of brilliance.)
I have always fancied myself as the main character, Elizabeth Bennett, somewhat plain but intelligent, well-read and capable of some dry wit. I could play that role as long as Colin Firth is cast as Darcy and I get to participate in the scene where he takes his shirt off in the water. I also fancy my father as very much a Mr. Bennett, a patient man with a special fondness for Elizabeth and an ability to go with the flow. My mother loved me dearly but she was tough and controlling- very concerned with appearances (What will people think?”) as was Mrs. Bennett. Daddy went behind her, apologizing and explaining her behavior and slipping me money.
For my first marriage, my mother announced that since I would be having a big wedding at Christmas time, there would be nothing under the tree for me. I am sure that my Daddy saw my facial response. He bought me an iron and told me he wanted me to have something personal from him. I treasured that iron and used it until it simply died. My Mr. Bennett was my hero. I miss him every day!
I also identified with Elizabeth’s refusal to be defined by the expectations of her day. In my early life, I succumbed to my mother’s suggestion that I become a teacher so that I could have three months off with my children. I let her plan my first wedding to keep the peace. When I became the first female high school principal in my school district, her response was that “Women didn’t do that.” When I finished my PhD, she said, “I guess you think you are smarter than me.” My generation of Boomer Southern women was very much a transitional generation. Older and wiser now, I see these things and have very much become my own person as Elizabeth Bennett did.
Finally, I am sure that in my life, many times, I allowed my pride to influence my prejudice, especially in my younger years. I realize that as I have grown older, there are so many diverse and interesting people in the world. I may not understand them or agree with them, but I respect who they are. I would like to think that as a Southern woman, my job is to be gracious to all. “Come on in. Sit a spell. You are a sight for sore eyes.”