24 August 2016

a tiny tidbit

An old family friend of ours just wrote a book, which was based on a compilation of letters her mother wrote while enrolled at Blue Mountain College in the mid 20th century.

My family founded Blue Mountain in the late nineteenth century, and she thought it would be fun for me to write something for the book's dust jacket.

I had a bit of fun with it.  I am thankful for my strong mother and grandmothers, for my strong daughters, and for many southern sisters who have taught me, through many hard lessons, that strength is not about being the loudest or being perceived as important or right.  Strength is wisdom and joy, despite your external circumstances.  It says so right there in the Proverbs, and it says so right there in our lives.

It comes with opening your arms and home and welcoming people into your life - not with building walls to keep them out.

And, it comes with the carrying on of our traditions and our people and passing that on to the next generation.  We are not immortal.  But our names and our recipes and our traditions and our kindnesses will live on long after we are gone.

And that is strength.

Here is what will be on the book:

       Southern women are a particular breed. They smile and pour you something cold, but never let that fool you.  We know our strength, and we wield it expertly and often subversively.  This can be done both for good and for ill, but never underestimate a woman from the land of cotton; do not mistake our gentility for weakness.  There is a quiet, cultural matriarchy in the south, and while much could be said about it, the place to find it first is in the naming of our children.  Mothers in the deep south are committed to what we call a family name.  Rare is the southern woman who continues to use her maiden name as her surname, especially socially.  Many have made the mistake of seeing this as a surrender.  But, the southern woman knows that she has strategies beyond what is encouraged in the New York Times editorial pages.  Enter the family name.  
Our sons in the south are often given their mother’s or grandmother’s maiden name as a first name.  And since those names are often masculine, we have created a phenomenon for our daughters known as the “double name.”  A double name in the south usually consists of a first, simple, and feminine name followed often by a family surname that is more masculine.  Come to Mississippi or Alabama and meet a Jane Bradley or a Mary Mims or a Stella Gray.  And those women continue to go by both names - often into adulthood.  
Before she married, my grandmother was a Lowrey.  After serving as a general in the civil war, her grandfather, Mark Perrin Lowrey, founded a college for women in north Mississippi called Blue Mountain College.  His daughter, Modena Lowrey Berry, continued on as the vice president of the college until after her ninetieth birthday.  Both of their portraits hang in the state capitol building, as they are lauded for their contributions to women’s educational opportunities.  As you can imagine, with this heritage, the Lowrey name is precious to my mother.   
In the early 1980s there were a couple of young, southern women, living next door to each other in Jackson, Mississippi.  One was Kay Walker, whose book you have picked up.  The other was my mother.  They were both pregnant (Perhaps even barefoot.  It’s hot.  We’re resourceful).  But, though they could make you a sweet tea or a mint julep, and they were staying at home raising their young broods, they knew their strength.  They laughed together, shared meals, eventually had these babies, and they gave them family names.  Kay named her son Russell, using her maiden name as his first name.  My mother named me Ann Lowrey, a double name I continue to carry.  

Ann Lowrey Eason Forster 

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