Thursday, February 9, 2012


This haunting angel is one of many photographed by Janie at Southern Lagniappe.   I was struck immediately by the name---straight out of Faulkner, and by the age of the young woman---just twenty-seven, and by the words “daughter of” on the stone.    My imagination jumped to several women I have known, forever known as daughters of, for they lived out their entire lives in the house they were born in, cared for by or taking care of, their parents. 

Some were not well from birth, in body or mind or both, and some were simply what was known as “dutiful daughters” to the people who had raised them.    Every small town seems to have one or more of these sweet women, home by choice or chance or need, and I remember well the ones who were my friends.     One dear soul, for forty-five years the teacher of Cradle Roll at her church, referred to her Mama as a “semi-invalid”---always; I assumed it was the family’s word, and certainly not a medical term.

I knew her mother, and understood the exact derivation---she lounged her days away on the daybed or the long metal porch "glider," watching her STOW-ries, receiving visitors with a wan smile and a limp hand, and enjoying having her meals brought on a tray, but became remarkably energized and able to sit upright at the Eastern Star luncheons, bridal showers, weddings and quite a few funerals and dinners-on-the-grounds.    Somehow putting on a pretty hat conveyed extra strength and vigor to her demeanor, and though she couldn’t possibly be expected to bring a covered dish, her enjoyment of the collations and buffets and prettily arranged "luncheon plates" was always remarked upon amongst the hostesses.   My Mason/Dixonary should have a picture of Mrs. Snow beside the word “Tolerable.”

In my little heart-town of Paxton lives Mary Calyx (CAL-ix) Diebold---her Mama thought "Mary Alice" was too plain, and she saw calyx in a book and thought it was some kind of flower, not a PART of one.  

Mary Calyx wears blouses and skirts---great wide gathered or gored ones, with plenty of room to get on and off her bicycle without her slip a-showin'. Her gray Soft-Spots and turned-down white anklets can be seen pumping that big Schwinn all over town, especially to the site of any local happenings.
She will never learn to drive a car---her nerves won't allow it. A thick headband holds her wiry browny-gray hair back from her face; a big ole shelf of it sticks straight out over the tight elastic where it touches the nape of her neck, and depending on when she trimmed her bangs last, a spiky ruff sometimes stands across the top of her head like a turkey-tail. 

We’ve all known them---these soft whispers of women.  The quiet demeanor and unobtrusive persona of many a Mary Calyx has graced the lives of almost everyone in the South.  They’re homebodies---not necessarily by choice, but linked to HOME by a physical or psychological thread which holds them like a magnet to the nest.   Perhaps they’re the last chick IN the nest, coddled for their late-in-life arrival or pedestaled as the baby-of-the-bunch.   Maybe Mama and Daddy chose THIS ONE for her domestic skills or shy manner or just because she coddles THEM, and will be an asset in their age.   In some cases, they exert a soft coercion to keep her close, uneducated, shorn of the capacity to choose her own way.

  Like Cousin Glee, hip-joined to her Mama, they go to WMU, Missionary Society, Club---where they murmur and sip and listen, sorting Scripture cards or quilt squares, sampling the tiny sandwiches and asking, "Now, did you use lemon or vanilla puddin' in the Bundt?"

Their hair, clothes, powdery skin---all seem to be made of dry fabric, as if they spend their days pinned on a line in the wind.    And their SELVES are as elusive---sweet and unknowable, like wisps of clouds disappearing as you gaze.


Patsy said...

We had some homebodies in our family. Three sister's after their mom and dad died. They lived with their brother until they died.One married a much older man when he died she went back to her brother.This was in the 1900's.Loved the stories of way back when.
I had a bike just like that.

Beverly said...

I haven't personally known anyone like this, but I have heard stories of sisters on my paternal great-grandmother that might have been "homebodies". Actually, from what I've been told the brothers were, too. I think my great-grandmother was the only one to leave home and have a family of her own.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Rachel:
We have absolutely delighted in these pen portraits of 'homebodies'. How well we can picture them from your vivid descriptions and we can ourselves identify a few 'homebodies' of our own.

One thing which you mention here and which we have always thought highly amusing is the way that many so called 'semi-invalids' spring to life when it is a question of getting to the head of a queue or being served with food. Strange that...!!!

Denise :) said...

Having grown up further North (but still south of the Mason-Dixon Line, barely) we didn't experience these women so much ... but having had relatives in the Deep South (and having gone to Ole Miss, myself) the idea is not unfamiliar. Much enjoyed your was almost like getting pulled into a good book! :)

steelersandstartrek said...

My fear of other someones following links from there to here prohibits detailed comment, lest they think I am talking about someone specific when I am NOT. BUT.... these creatures exist even among the young and semi-young. Wives and mothers and fathers and husbands who depend on spouses and children to assist them through their personal frailties & discomforts, gradually training one or more of their children to the eventual vocation of staying close to home and become a handservant. I'd be derisive about it, but I have come to believe that it's more complicated than givers and takers. It takes a whole family system, however defined, to create homebodies and those they dote on. Tacit permissions, passive choices, the acceptance of need and comfort and familiarity over the challenge of independence and adventure.

A passing thought..... "caregiver" and "caretaker" both have essentially the same meaning in current usage. What word properly refers to the person who is the beneficiary of such care?

Carolyn said...

I have known several homebodies and you described them perfectly.
We had sisters in our church who, until the day they died in their
80's, were called "the girls".
A beautiful and touching remembrance of these southern ladies.

Kim Shook said...

Some days I want to scream at these "Homebodies". Other days I want to BE one. I've been reading the Beatrix Potter mystery series by Susan Wittig Albert and Beatrix came so close to being a 'homebody'.

Alice said...

My paternal grandfather had three sisters who were collectively known as 'the maiden aunts'. Apparently their mother decided that there was no man on earth who was good enough for her daughters and discouraged every suitor. As these aunts lived all their lives in England, and I never met them, I don't know if they were happy or just resigned to their lot.

I have a new blog, Rachel, at

Southern Lady said...

I love the way you can bring your "heart town" characters to life, Rachel ... simply (and lovingly), with just your words. I can picture Mary CAL-ix in my mind as vividly as if she were on a movie screen, being portrayed by Joanne Woodward.