Author has a new book out
Thursday, April 14, 2005
By CASANDRA ANDREWS
Southerners, author Deborah Ford worries, may be losing touch with their roots.
These roots have more to do with the quiet decline of regional traditions than with the lack of Miss Clairol touch-ups over the bathroom sink.
Though, to be sure, both situations can be vexing.
"I just feel like we are moving too quickly and we aren’t taking our time to do the things that are really important, like Sundays together," Ford said.
So, the author of the best-selling "GRITS Guide to Life," decided to take action, penning a primer on how folks from below the Mason-Dixon line put on the dog — or parties — big and small.
"People, I think, look to Southerners for our sense of home and sense of place," she said. "You come down South and you know you are going to get a lot of hospitality. I think the South is a comfort zone."
A former school teacher from Birmingham, Ford may be best known for transforming the acronym GRITS — for Girls Raised in the South — into a multi-million dollar merchandising business. She still sells T-shirts and caps on her Web site www.GritsInc.com.
The mother and entrepreneur continues expanding the brand, looking to share her own Southern heritage with those who weren’t born under a blooming magnolia or near a bramble of honeysuckle.
And why shouldn’t she?
Girls raised in the South and anywhere else should know the difference between a high-falutin’ affair where heavy hors d’ouvres will be served and a hootenanny where flip flops are optional. One requires pearls and the other a proper pedicure, thank you.
"Puttin’ on the Grits" includes discussions on how to be the kind of guest who gets invited back and the kinds of food to serve at a funeral.
After all, Southern women, bless their hearts, can’t help but be gracious hosts. It’s Ford’s assertion that Southerners love to please others.
"That’s what we do best in the South," she said. "It’s all about hospitality and making others feel better about themselves."
The first stop of her new book tour will be at Fairhope’s Page & Palette, April 21, from 6 to 8 p.m.
Years ago, she took a shine to the small town’s flower-lined streets and friendly residents. "I’d love to move to Fairhope and I thought that would be a great place to start."
She said the idea for the new book emerged while writing her first book about Girls Raised In the South with friend Edie Hand.
Ford spent about eight months working on the newest 288-page hardback, out this month at a bookstore near you or from Amazon.com.
The mother of two twenty-something daughters, Ford said she’s trying to keep several traditions alive in her own family.
"My daughters and I write letters to each other," she said. "We send each other thank you notes and we talk quite often on the phone. I’m trying to teach them some things I’ve learned over the years."
Some of those things include saving family recipes and the simple pleasures of a shared meal, be it pizza from a box or ice cream churned on the front porch.
For her, throwing a good party means more than making sure everyone’s glass is full and the food trays replenished.
"You certainly want to serve wonderful, beautiful food," she said, "but just as important is conversation and the feeling guests have when they are in your home."
In the book, Ford offers a few tips on what to do when an awkward silence breaks out at an otherwise gregarious get-together.
"Everybody should have one great story or joke in reserve to share when things get quiet," she writes.
Her personal just-in-case conversation-starter involves a surgery performed on her by her ex-husband.
"I was confident he would do a good job. I was even more confident this would make a good story (especially at a party!)"
She also advises that a good guest can keep conversations afloat by inquiring about others’ families, complimenting outfits and asking for recipes.
"We love to be with other people," Ford said of why Southerners throw some of the best parties. "We love to make others feel good. That’s part of who we are."
She’s hoping her book helps others keep their family traditions alive, saying that she wants readers to "slow down and enjoy the small things in life, (like) sharing a glass of iced tea with your friends.
"The nicest gift you can give someone is to invite them into your home and to share a meal or a conversation."
Along those same lines, Ford said she’s thinking of opening an etiquette school in Birmingham. She holds two master’s degrees in education and taught high school before her apparel business took off about a decade ago.
"I think it would be really neat to have (an etiquette school) laced with all of our traditions," she said. "When I go to nursing homes, these ladies will say, Will you please teach my granddaughter how to dress?’"
Ford said she envisions having events such as sharing tea with relatives and reminiscing hours interspersed with lessons on manners and other etiquette protocol for students in elementary through junior high.
The school is just the next step in her GRITS empire.
While Ford may be from a part of the country where the pace of life is a little slower, that fact isn’t slowing her entrepreneurial spirit. She’s already at work on a third book, this one on Southern men.
After that, she may even begin publishing a magazine for Girls Raised in The South, and those who wish they were, which would be "a vehicle to keep our traditions alive and to keep our roots firmly planted in Southern soil."