All She Wrote: Southern charm


Me: Be careful of elastic waistbands in the South in the summer.

David: Why is that?

Me: Because that’s where chiggers and ticks seek residence.

David: Duly noted.

When I was little my mother had a friend named Birdie who always wore a girdle. I loved giving her hugs and feeling that taut hide beneath her waist-flaunting dresses. It was solid and assuring and somehow lent Amazonian strength to my teetering toddler consciousness.

So it was with love that on a sweltering summer evening, across a country club lawn filled with well-heeled folk that I watched her emerge from a long, black car, adjust her mid-section and yelled out, “Look! Birdie’s got a chigger in her girdle.”

Well, suffice it to say, I didn’t get many more of those comforting hugs from Miss Birdie. I believe I was also sent to bed without any supper and without getting to stay up — as previously promised — for the dancing.

I was very uncertain as to what I had done wrong.

Fast-forward to age 8 and our annual summer trip to Ocean Isle Beach. I was so excited when we pulled up to the classic A-line cottage that we always rented because I spotted the vanity plate of a familiar brown Mercedes convertible. I was thrilled because Mr. Mercedes had a daughter close to my age — a fellow aspiring ballerina — and this meant pirouettes in the sand, jetes into the jetty and not the usual, lone sandcastle architecture of an only child’s vacation.

I leapt like Nureyev across the scramble of maritime forest and bourreed my way across the long, wooden walkway to the sliding glass to find a gorgeous creature with Crystal Gayle hair slinking in the doorway in the kind of bikini I wasn’t allowed to wear.

I was in the throes of backtracking and admitting my case of mistaken identity when my parents’ friend emerged from a back room in a silken robe of Hefner proportions.

“Hey kid it’s just us two down,” he said, rattling ice cubes, “tell your parents to come over for a drink.”

Again, I was thrilled! It was him! I wasn’t wrong!

I got over the loss of my ballerina playmate easily once I locked onto the exotic newcomer. She was a flight attendant. She lived in New York City. And get this: She had a pet monkey.

Their groovy rental house also had chic leather butterfly chairs, a modern sectional sofa and a steam room. My architectural triumphs of sand were washed away as I lounged in front of the mod fireplace, ate cherries from a bowl and was regaled with tales of celebrity passengers and first-class flirtations. I could also get my hair French-braided and my toes painted crimson by the exotic lady of the air and watch her make bouillabaisse with one hand and conduct rock and roll ballads with a cigarette in the other. To me, it was vacation nirvana. To my parents’ friend, not so much. His little love nest had a new chick settling in and there wasn’t much anyone could do about it.

I remember my parents’ delicate phrasing as we pulled away from the fragrant dunes. They reminded me that Mr. Mercedes’ new friend was just his friend and that she was not friends with Mrs. Mercedes nor their ballerina daughter, so it was probably better not to discuss our vacation with them.

“It’s a lot like Birdie and her girdle isn’t it?” I said.

“You got it kid,” said mother, rattling her ice cubes.