Ever think about what rules you and your actions or do you belong to the blissfully unconscious? Southern families have traditional standards, even if those standards don’t look much like other families. There are dos and don’ts instilled long before one has the opportunity to articulate a “why?” My mother said that I inundated my teachers with that word why. That was a word the youngsters rarely used when talking to an elder in my family. If you tried it you were usually met with the sentence: “Common sense ought to tell you why,” which simply ended the inquiries for most folks, but not me. Logic led me to challenge the family member that often said it, who was just as good as my mother when it came to swift, unflinching discipline. Discipline metered out either by the look, switch, belt, or anything proximate to their reach. It’s not that I didn’t realize I was standing before a fire-breathing dragon when I retorted instead of remaining quiet. It’s just that logic seemed most right to me at the time (not always a Southern trait). “But cousin ___________, there’s no such thing as common sense” I stammered, which was met by the preamble smoking and flaring of the nostrils. Who knows, maybe the reaction was because no one had ever questioned it in my family or maybe it was because I was eight years old and they were over 30. Maybe it was the act of defiance, which most of the world categorizes questions or logic within. I can’t admit to being the brightest of children because I actually stared back into the dragon’s smoking eyes and continued. “If it were common, that would mean everyone had the same knowledge and wouldn’t have to question it.” I knew that I should turn and run because my legs were starting to feel noodle like, but the phrase common sense still didn’t make sense to me and this was my way of asking for supportive information to sustain it. The dragon released a little fire, sucked it back in and left me standing there wondering why I wasn’t instantly crisped up. Great! It was another thing for me to be curious about and ruminate ceaselessly over. Clearly history was appreciated via my elders, but I didn’t always understand it, so habit took over.
Doing things just because they’ve always been done dictates the actions of people on a global level. People love to defer to the old adage “If it ain’t broke, it don’t need fixin!” Maybe “fixin’” ain’t what some of us are after. Hey listen I know how to knead bread by the heel of my hand and I have done it many times (hello Southern family at least this family knows how to cook. My older brother gave me my first homemade bread in fact). Still, when I go to refresh my sourdough starter, both my KitchenAid mixer and I co-create that bread thanks to that dough hook! That is a great example of something that wasn’t broke, but was gladly improved upon. I know my neighbors appreciated the results as they usually got the extra loaf. Of course there are many things in life that have yet to be improved upon, such as good stories, good conversations, and good pound cake no matter the ingredients used to make all of them. Citing a man-made item is ish-kabib-ble (grandfather’s word =It’s anyone’s guess or nothing much to do about it). Man’s blind desire to improve on things without taking the time to appreciate the milestones achieved is choking our way of life at breakneck speed. Just because technology improves upon a gadget doesn’t necessarily improve our way of life. Remember bread machines? I developed this inane fear of accidentally cracking all my teeth on the weird attachment that mixed the bread and kneaded it for baking. You have to remember to dig it out of the loaf after it cooks. I suppose I am the only one who got the creeps from that thing, but it always ruined the loaf in my mind. Are bread machines an improvement in society? Ish-kabib-ble! My opinion is clearly affected by my outrageous imagination.
Habit has benefits and a dark side as well. Growing up in my family meant going to “beauty shops” every couple weeks to have our hair done even as a little girls. We have this family trait that has carried down from Lucy Berry my great-great grandmother. A tiny blonde woman, who never greyed when she aged. The hairs at the nape of her neck turned dark, but she died with full head of blond hair. Thanks to my mother’s submission of melanin, I am kissed with a nice color, but thanks to Lucy all Berry girl descendants have blond hair or steaks of it evident at birth. The coloring wasn’t common and women in the beauty shop used to fawn over it; I just wanted pigtails and to be anywhere but with a bunch of old ladies talking about each other, their husbands, and soap operas. I think I would have preferred the fiery dragon to that horrendous waste of time, but it was tradition. Allowing my hair to go au natural as an adult against habit was a freedom I still cherish. When I shave it all off (another Southern no-no), it’s like flying. Feeling the wind embrace your scalp without hair whipping you in the eyes is simply a delicious pleasure. Habits can lock us up unawares if we aren’t diligently watching. Habits such as is found with addictions of any kind: drugs, alcohol, food, or sex. Anything that ends up controlling us and preventing our ability to thrive is a master I’d rather not be enslaved to.
Hormones unfortunately are often masters of our actions. Most women that kitten up to someone are getting their strings pulled by their hormones (not that they don’t enjoy the likely outcome). Men love to jab us or explain away behaviors they don’t like or understand in their female partners by grumbling something about “that time of the month.” Newsflash gents, one doesn’t need to meet with “miss red” to be hormonally challenged, in fact we can easily point out times of the month you all seem to be hormonally challenged. We just don’t label it “Time of the month (TOM)” we think “Ah, there’s further confirmation he’s a man!” How does that line go “We are both too smart to ‘woo’ peacefully.” That’s passion, my father would say. My dad’s parents lived together on and off throughout my growing years. They remarried others, but still seemed to come together somehow and it baffled me. She’d call him Mr. Berry even when offering him a bowl of peas at the dinner table and he responded in kind. When I asked my father why (there’s that word again), he would say simply “passion.” Hormones have us waking up next to people we wouldn’t offer a drink of water, let alone allow to use our bathroom. Hormones make people realize how much they hate their spouses snoring, cooking, and chewing just before the surprise 60-year anniversary party for which everyone’s planning. I’d be hard-pressed to tell anyone to go against their hormones, especially when I find myself craving concoctions like fried clams pizza with a side of Sriracha sauce, but understanding we’re puppets stringed to hormones can help us explain actions that don’t seem or sound like us.
What rules me is a little bit of all three. I work at balancing the hormones to keep them quelled and from sending me next door for a cup of sugar. Then I decide if the other two are working for me that day before I put them to rest. After all, I’d hate to wake up one day in bed with a bread machine picking shards of my teeth off the pillow with a shotgun to my head, and family standing around demanding I marry the danged thing.