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Traits of a true Southern woman

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I'm going to admit something that others may be reluctant to admit publicly.

I am a "come-here." I wasn't born in Richmond, or even in Virginia. In fact, I haven't even lived here long enough to be considered an honorary "from-here."

Nonetheless, no one can question my Southern roots. I was born in Tennessee and lived there until I was 18. And I returned there to live several times as an adult. Much of my family still lives there.

So I officially can claim to be a Southern woman even though I've spent a lot of my life in places that are not below the Mason-Dixon line.

I'm guessing that a lot of you were not born in Richmond, either. Heck, some of you aren't even from the South. That's OK.

True Southern women are gracious enough to welcome folks from all over the world as long as they're willing to abide by some basic rules. The standing rules of Southern womanhood have changed a bit with the times, but there are some that are as constant as summer humidity.

I conducted an impromptu survey at a recent women-only event, asking, "What are the traits of a true Southern woman?"

The women I spoke with quickly listed traits such as hospitality, kindness and grace.

"The most important thing about a being a Southern woman is being nice, considerate, sweet and being a genuinely caring person," Mary Catharine Kolbert said.

I'd be willing to bet that those are some of the traits that you have on your list as well.

Even if you're not a Southerner by birth you probably have a similar image in mind. It's an image you've seen portrayed again and again in literature and popular culture. And even though it has been updated to reflect the changing times, the dominant image remains true.

Just think of Sandra Bullock (who by the way is from Arlington County) in her Oscar-winning role as Leigh Anne Tuohy in "The Blind Side."

She was so kind, so caring and so gracious that she adopted a homeless African-American teenager and raised him alongside her two children. If that's not Southern hospitality, I don't know what is.

It is interesting that none of the women I spoke with mentioned strength, another often-cited attribute of women from the South.

That's strength as in the steel magnolias kind of strength portrayed by women in the popular play and movie of the same name. That's the strength that Bullock/Tuohy showed when she faced down a thug who threatened her adopted son.

In a Scripps Howard News Service story, writer Terry Mattingly called Tuohy a "steel-magnolia matriarch."

Annie Magnant, another "come-here" who relocated from the North, mentioned grace under pressure as a trait that she admires in Southern women.

I suppose grace under pressure could be another way of saying strength. Lord knows it takes a lot of grace to handle all that's thrown at women these days.

One last bit of practical advice about how to be a true Southern woman came from actress and businesswoman Daphne Reid.

Another Southerner by choice, Reid was the keynote speaker at the Extraordinary Women's Exchange sponsored by the Greater Richmond Chamber.

Reid said that in addition to being graceful and kind-hearted, a good Southern woman needs to make sure she knows how to bake a good peach cobbler.

Well, perhaps my Southern roots aren't as deep as I thought. I'm still working on the grace under pressure thing and I couldn't bake a cobbler if my life depended on it.

Perhaps you real Southern ladies will allow me to keep my membership card anyway if I ask politely.


Sundra Hominik is a Senior Editor at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Contact her at (804) 649-6765 or shominik@timesdispatch.com.

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