“With the loss of honor the depths to which we may sink are unfathomable.” – Tertiam Quidd, 1972
In the Old South, ladies are prohibited by custom and by fashion from crawling under trucks and buses just to have a look around and assure themselves that everything down there is just the way God intended it to be. My lovely daughter in law, Ms. Trisha, was born in the South and born a lady. A genuine Southern Belle and native of Charleston, South Carolina is what she is, with two handsome sons and a truly gorgeous daughter who is also well along the pathway to becoming the family’s next example of refined Southern ladyship. Isabel Rose is her name and there is no doubt in my mind that she will be a lady of such grace and grandeur that by comparison the Queen of all England will appear no more genteel than just another Cockney redneck freshly fallen from one of those mechanical bulls that still draws bawdy crowds into the Dew Drop Inns back in the swamp waters of the Okeefenokee. You can count on it.
Now my heart, as many are aware, is no longer the model of masculine strength and endurance it once was. There has been a mechanical contraption implanted into my chest whose function is to save me from the jaws of death should some traumatic shock or stress prove too much for me to bear. Such things still happen and they are more likely to happen in the Old South where much of the animal nature of life, so familiar to the inhabitants of the northern states, is prevented, by century’s old traditions of fine Southern manners and brandy, from ever being seen, heard or talked about in the presence of a Southern lady. And I dare say I was never more grateful for having this contraption in my chest than I was just one day before Thanksgiving when I heard of the dreadful circumstances our dear Trisha was compelled to endure.
In a city like Charleston, the job of a tour guide is nothing more than an extension of the role of the Southern hostess which every Southern Belle has been schooled in and mastered by the age of sixteen. Isabel is only eleven; but with the exception of an occasional mischievous mimicking of a New York Jewish princess describing an aging Fran Dresher as still having skin “as smooth as buddah;” Isabel has already picked up, no doubt from her mother, the politeness, charm and deportment required of every proper hostess on the downhill side of the Mason Dixon Line. In fact, Miss Trisha has said that young Isabel is just like her except that “Isabel gets less food on herself when she eats,” than Trish does. That little piece of information is somewhat of a family secret. No one has actually ever seen or said they had seen Trisha spill food on herself because her husband, Charlie, has trained their two gallant sons to spare their mother any embarrassment by immediately rushing to her side, apologizing profusely and feigning that the spillage was entirely the result of their unforgivable teenage clumsiness. It always works. Like their Uncle Kevin of Virginia, young Luke and Jared will become the Sir Walter Raleigh’s of this modern new century.
That Trisha knows all about being a gracious hostess is as much of a given and as obvious as her perfect Charleston drawl. Becoming a Charleston tour guide seemed as natural to her as living on James Island. And the fact that her mother owned a tour company gave her no reason to even consider working in one of the ladies fine millenary shops. Trisha had learned her history, and passed her tour guide tests. That came as no surprise whatsoever, and my heart was safe and satisfied until she recited the dreadful ordeal she had been put through in order to receive the commercial driver’s license required for her to operate the tour bus.
To begin with, it would have made perfect sense to have a nice retired gentleman with at least a slight resemblance to Colonel Saunders in a white suite and white straw hat driving the bus. My daughter in law would have looked just perfect standing at the front of the bus in a nice long, flowing summery dress with a corsage and a ribbon in her hair welcoming the tourists aboard and immediately charming them with her sparkling eyes and big smile. As the tour began she could have kept her position at the front of the bus and, with the aid of a small microphone to broadcast her sweet, soft voice; purely fascinated her audience with her knowledge of history while delighting them with anecdotes that they could have heard nowhere else on the face of this earth. And when the tour was over they would certainly have tipped her generously as she saw them safely off the bus and wished them a most pleasant stay in her fair city of Charleston. That would have been fine.
But no! She was required to drive the big motor bus all by herself which meant wearing something so ordinary it would give the tourists nothing to envy or to talk about, and strapping a harness over her perfectly coiffed hair in order to hold the microphone up for her while she manhandled her rig through narrow streets and crowded highways where Yankee teamsters sometimes forget to use their inside voices and best manners. One could almost hear those tourist’s wallets and purses snapping shut at the startling lack of long bosomy dresses, wide flowered hats and a couple of hair tossing “fiddle-de-dees,” as she easily overcame any unforeseen obstacles to the enjoyment of their tour. Appalling, you may say; but the real heart stopping news which nearly put me in a prone position permanently and necessitated one of my grandsons to fetch me a reviving glass of cool water and a cold damp cloth to lay upon my forehead came when Trisha, our dear Trisha, detailed how she had been forced, at the point of a socket wrench I have no doubt, to crawl underneath that hot, greasy, smelly old monster of a diesel tour bus and identify its parts. She did this unescorted by her husband, father or any male relative who might defend her honor if need be. Shocking, yes, but consider next the question of what a belle might wear for such an occasion? A long man’s shirt or some ill fitting jump suit in an unflattering if not completely hideous color could not have distressed me more. How does someone who’s every move has been a perfect expression of feminine modesty and grace put herself onto her back on a dirty garage floor then find herself forced to do something as rude and indecent as, dare I say it, positioning herself under the coarseness of so many unseemly motorbus parts? It is no wonder that with a filthy, grimy steering box hanging only inches above her face, she frantically and desperately cried out wondering what horrible thing she could ever have done to make God want to punish her in such a manner. Every miserable moment must have been simply horrible for her. Identifying and touching things like shock absorbers, muffler, drive shaft and cotter pins may be fine for men whose very nature wants to make them rude and offensive; but it is highly indecorous to force such upon a lady. Oh, it might get overlooked from time to time in New Jersey or around Pittsburgh, but certainly not in the Carolina’s. It’s the kind of thing scandals and rumors are made from. And don’t kid yourself, no man can know or understand the agony and humiliation this sweet daughter of the South endured for the sake of that commercial driver’s license. It’s something that, within our family, we have made a solemn promise never to speak of openly again. Perhaps, with the passing of time and a few generations this blight, like many other family secrets in the Old South, will disappear forever beneath sun and salt marsh, and all our memories will be pure and innocent once again. We only hope and pray for such a blessing.