Elevate Difference

Just Don't Call Me Ma'am: How I Ditched the South, Forgot My Manners, and Managed to Survive My Twenties with (Most of) My Dignity Still Intact

Who better, I ask you, than a Yankee like me who moved to Texas to review Just Don't Call Me Ma'am, a book by a Texas-girl who moved to the East? Considering how absolutely dead-on hysterical this “survival story” was, I couldn’t be happier about how fate brought us together.

The one thing Anna Mitchael didn’t like was people calling her "ma’am." Ma’am is reserved for your grandmother – or an elderly lady that a twenty-something man is holding the door for. But ma’am is unacceptable when aimed at a woman who swears (even though the crow’s feet might say differently) that she is a spring chicken in the prime of her life.

This wonderfully humorous romp begins with Anna making her way through a myriad of places before settling in Brooklyn. Now, New York City to a Texas woman is something of a high-fashion, fast-moving, cement and glass world of cynicism, and as the author states, it wasn’t a full-on romance for her right away. NYC was an acquired taste.

From a breakup, Anna brings us back to the first time love bloomed; she was twelve years old, gazing at the neighborhood boy with the bright blue eyes who was bound to be the next All-American quarterback playing at Texas stadium. All the girls were massively in love with the young man and wanted to spend the summer trying to get him to notice them. But Anna was tempted by the one person she loved more than life to leave town that one fateful summer… her Grandma.

Grandmothers always know the right bribe to dangle, in order to get their grandchildren to come for a visit, and Anna’s was no different. She bribed her granddaughter with the soap operas that she’d taped all year long, and Anna salivated at knowing that she could spend a couple of weeks in front of the television learning all about high-fashion makeup hounds who spoke with a hoity-toity accent and slept, well, with pretty much anybody, anywhere. Unfortunately, when the two week excursion of sin was over, Anna got a call from her friend to let her know that the guy had found himself a girlfriend. Life lesson learned.

From there, the author takes us on many journeys, offering knowledge about her Southern background, such as how the summers in Texas can actually kill; Southern desserts that Yankees just don’t understand, like bourbon balls; and, being a bridesmaid two hundred times and having to wrap yourself like a horrible Christmas package in pink taffeta and pretend to cry at the “I do” part. She lets us know that you can’t spit in Texas without hitting four hundred churches, and that vegetarianism is a much frowned-upon activity in the world of meat, poultry, and that white gravy. She brings us with her as she tries to adapt to mysteries like Brazilian waxing (which is so painful that I’m sure Hitler used this on his enemies at one time); trips to Las Vegas with the girls; and other topics I met head-on when words went from “get” to “git.”

I laughed out loud as she put a Southerner in Yankee-ville. It took me back to the times when a Texan smiled at me like I was a complete moron when I said “you guys” instead of “y’all.” And when I had, without thinking, told a Southern lady that I was from New England and her response was, “Really? You don’t sound British.”

What I realized while reading Just Don't Call Me Ma'am was that the accent that may frame our words, or whether our grandmothers cooked grits or mashed potatoes, simply doesn’t matter. In the end, we’re all people who are making our way through life the best way we can—whether in the backyard of our own upbringing or setting a course for adventure and moving into an unknown world.

I applaud Mitchael and hope that, like the great Erma Bombeck, she continues her foray into the wonderful – true – world of life’s humor. And, a special note to her, my Grandma was absolutely fantastic, too. It was so nice to read a story about one of the really great ladies the world had to offer. We become much better people when we are lucky enough to have those wonderful women in our past.

Cross-posted at Book Pleasures

Written by: Amy Lignor, June 10th 2010