The Trials and Tribulations of a West Coast Southern Belle 

 Chapter 1

 I was always destined to be a southern belle.

Didn’t matter a hill of beans that I’d lived in California most of my life. Mama insisted and when Mama insisted dogs rolled over to show their bellies and the strongest males meekly said, ‘Yes ma’am.’

My mother was a true southern belle in every sense of the word, even though she’d left the south shortly after I was born and hadn’t been back until after Daddy died. She took pride in her heritage and made sure I did too. She had a harder row to hoe when it came to indoctrinating me in southern belle wiles. At almost six feet, I towered over most of the boys in school--still do mostly.  Plus, my hair had a mind of its own until I grew it long enough to beat into submission, and still it couldn’t decide if it wanted to be blonde or red. It ended up looking insipid. Made it hard to act like Scarlett, all flirty and coquettish. I mean, it would look plain silly.

Mama left the frenetic and sometimes downright peculiar life in Los Angeles after Daddy passed. She moved back to her roots in Charleston, but out of sight was not out of my life. Quite the contrary. Cellphones might have been invented with Mama in mind. Time zones meant nothing to her, so unless I turned my phone off, the calls started around four in the morning and might continue all day, depending on what Mama was up to at that particular time. Recently--since my best friend and roommate, Mira, had moved out and shocked the hell out of us by eloping with an unknown-to-me male--Mama had been threatening to come visit, to comfort me in my loneliness.  “Not only is Mira gone from you, TL darlin’, but you’re lying in a virgin bed,” she said more than once.  Mama did like to be dramatic.

In other words, unlike Mira, I had no male to give me what I wasn’t getting. I don’t know why it worried her so at this stage of the game. She should be used to it. However, Mama always looked at the glass as being half full and never despaired of hooking me up with a gentleman of her choice.

I blamed one of those early morning calls for my subsequent involvement with Mama and her cohorts. They were scattered all over the country now, so they were less of a menace than they used to be, but when my friend Mira and I were growing up we didn’t stand a chance. There was always a complimentary aunt to spoil our fun.

They called themselves the Belle Rive Belles. I don’t know why and it’s probably best that I never do. It don’t even translate proper--beautiful bank beauties? Mama’s French always was sort of iffy and Lord only knew the Belle’s state of mind when they came up with it. They probably got it off a wine bottle. I was in no condition to fend off any of them, especially not Mama, because I’d just suffered through a truly debilitating bout of insomnia that seemed to last forever. I’d been sleeping badly since Mira got a promotion and moved to San Francisco. We’d known each other forever, seemed like, even roomed together when we finally started our working lives. Mira was more than just a friend. She was like a sister. Together, we managed more than once to outwit the Belles.

Finally I’d dozed off, only to be awakened by the thump of a Sousa march which scared the shit out of me. I grabbed the phone with shaking hands and answered before I had time to think. I really had to change my ringtone. It was dangerous to my health, but it sure did catch a person’s attention.

“Baby girl, I have such news,” Mama trilled before I could even get a cuss word out.

“Mama, I was asleep.”

“You were? Oh, darlin’, I do apologize, but I’m so excited. I couldn’t wait to tell you.”

“Tell me what?” I resigned myself. It was easier to listen than to argue.

I made allowances for Mama. She’d been devastated when Daddy died four years ago. She couldn’t live in the house they’d shared for most of their married life, and completely lost interest in her successful business. Fortunately, she recovered.

Unfortunately, she recovered by taking an interest in my affairs.

She gave her Goldie Hawn giggle. “Guess who’s gonna be in your neck of the woods?”

I sighed. It’s hard to take a mother who looks and acts like Goldie Hawn and thinks the old South never died seriously. Scarlett Goldie O’Hara should have been her name. Instead it’s Mary Haskett Bodine Everly. Haskett was Gran’s maiden name. Southerners seem to think it will be lost to the ages if they don’t use the wife’s maiden name to name a child. Instead of Mary Jo, or Mary Sue, my mother is Mary Haskett, said all together so it sounds like one word.

Still, it’s better than mine. I never had forgiven Mama for naming me what she did. I never used my full name, or even thought of it, because it put images of Daisy Dukes and cleavages in my head. What I’d always said was a person could like country music and adore some of the singers, but please, don’t name a child after them. I'd managed through the years to whittle it down to TL and that suits me just fine.

I was in no mood for guessing games and besides, it didn’t take the intelligence of a gnat to realize Mama was planning a trip. Still, I didn’t realize the scope of it. The gut wrenching depth of it. The Belles were having a mini-summit and they were planning on staying with me.

“No,” I said emphatically.

“Sweetheart, it’s just for a few days, then we’ll be off to Vegas and you know, I just had a thought--wouldn’t it be nice if you came too?”

“Mama, the house is up for sale, I can’t be having company right now and I can’t be taking trips to Vegas.”

“You’re selling your house? But why, darlin’? You love that house.”

Damn. Well, she had to know one day. “Harry P. and I came to a parting of the ways. I’m now one of the unemployed, although I still have running water so I’m not unwashed. I’m sure I’ll find another job soon, but the house payment is a bit much and I need the money.”

“I never did like Harry P. His eyes are set too close together.”

“Maybe so, but he can find a penny and pinch it ’til it screams. He even counted the stamps. Nothing gets past that man. How are you supposed to manage an office when you have no authority? If he’d tended to his business and let me tend to mine--but that’s neither here nor there. It could have been a good office, Mama, if only Harry P. had trusted me.”

Mama made a disparaging noise. “Didn’t impress me much when I met him. I knew right off he was one of those little men that make up rules to make themselves important. He’d cut off his nose to spite his face.”

“He ended up cutting mine, but I have to tell you, I was planning on leaving anyway. Been sending out resumes for some time now, but no one bit. Everyone’s downsizing. I just hope the house’ll sell. I’ve lowered the price twice.”

“That Harry P.’s gonna miss you. He’ll be sorry he let you go. As for the house, you need your mama, baby. I know I can help.”

“No, I don’t, and I don’t need the Belles either. I’m sorry, but you all will have to stay at a hotel or something. Or how about Aunt Idle? She has a very nice house.”

“Monty said no,” Mama said sadly.

I imagined Uncle Monty did. I always did think him a sensible man.

“Doesn’t Joanne have a son around here somewhere?”

“He went off to Australia with someone named Sheila. Darlin’, I can help you sell that house, you know I can. I had no problem whatsoever with my boutique.”

“I do know Mama, and I appreciate the offer, but I don’t think I could take all the Belles at once, not right now. I’m just a little depressed, what with Mira eloping with Andrew and all. I always thought I’d be her bridesmaid.”

“Just as well, Lil says Andrew’s family thinks her sadly undereducated. They were expecting a lawyer or a doctor for their son, not a deli worker. Lil says they’ve taken to calling her a sandwich specialist.”

“She is a sandwich specialist,” I said hotly. “She’s a lot more than just a deli worker. Either you or Aunt Lil is being catty, any family would be lucky to have Mira, she’s a sweetheart.”

“You never can tell about people, TL, you remember that. Did I ever tell you the joke about the snobs? Seems you could use some cheering up, darlin’.”

“That’s okay, Mama, I just need to get some sleep.”

Of course she ignored me. I could practically see her lining up the joke in her head, but Mama never could tell a joke and always messed up the punchline.

“It was at a country club, these three old witches--you know the type, all leathery and wearing diamonds for tennis--they were boasting to a sweet young thing whose husband was new money, telling how much their husbands loved them, how much the husbands had given them to show their love… Myself, I think it was all a bribe to shut them up. But anyway, after each lady spoke the sweet young thing said, ‘That’s real nice.’”

“Mama…” By this time I was in the bathroom putting a cold cloth on my head.

“And then.” Her voice got louder. “They asked the sweet young thing what her husband had done to show his love. She said he’d sent her to school and she’d learned to say ‘That’s real nice’ instead of ‘fuck off.’”

She went into a peal of laughter. I thought she was going to choke.

“That’s it? That’s the joke?”

“Oh, honey, you’re just too tired to get it. You need some sleep, you always were a light sleeper. I’ll let you go and we’ll see you in a week. I love you, darlin’.”

"Wait. You can’t..."

It was too late, she’d hung up. I stared at my ugly self in the bathroom mirror. Bed head, swollen eyes, pale skin. Maybe I was coming down with something. Hell, I was coming down with something.

A bad case of the Belle Rive Belles.



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