Those who teach make it easier for all of us

Fri, Oct 1, 2004

Every decent diva, southern or not, has at least one good mentor. I have a few but the most powerful one, the one who throws her full heart into instructing me in the ways of proper southern womanhood is a tiny spitfire of a woman with hair the color of hot flames and huge, expressive green eyes the color of a tall southern pine. Her age is known to few but she’s a bit over 45, which gives her plenty of years of experience to draw from and wisdom that spouts constantly from her lacquered lips.

Virgie now lives in Carson City, Nev., a place she discovered by way of Pascagoula, Miss., which is where the most perfect southern woman I have ever met was born and properly raised. Carson City is a bit of an odd place for southern perfection personified but Virgie, who devotedly followed her husband, Bill, there, is spreading southern graciousness and hospitality throughout the western town.

It is working because her name is spoken in hallowed tones of admiration. This I know because every December I fly out for the weekend to attend a black tie event she hosts in her beautifully appointed home. Her guests are awed by her oozing charm, bountiful food (most of which she proudly prepares herself) and the little silver bell she daintily jingles to signify that dinner is being served. It is safe to say that Carson City has never seen anything remotely like this Mississippi whirlwind, which has captivated this place in the foothills of the Sierras.

In the tradition of true southerners, especially those born in Mississippi, Virgie is a storyteller of incomparable skill. I save all correspondence that I receive but Virgie’s delightful letters have their own folder so that I can quickly pull them, reread and find inspiration in the lilting lines that flow so beautifully. The other day, a box arrived from Virgie. I started digging through it to find everything required for a perfect afternoon tea — china cups, silver spoons, imported tea, antique napkins, scone mix, candles, crystal candle holders, various table props and invitations. The best, though, was a letter with complete instructions including recipes and hand drawn illustrations that demonstrated how to set the table properly and how to cut the sandwiches. I howled with appreciation as I read the words my favorite mentor had written.

"Decorate the tea room with tea books, Victoriana, tea pots, tea hats. Of course, you should ask everyone to wear hats and dresses. If they don’t have a hat, offer one of yours to wear during the occasion. If they won’t wear a hat, never ask them back, not your kind of girl."

I can’t count the number of times I have received a stern lecture from her in a honeyed drawl on upholding all things southern and carrying forth properly with our rich traditions. "Girl, you better not be letting us down. You’ve got to hoist that banner up and carry it high for all of us southern women."

I’m trying, Miss Virgie. I’m trying. To be honest, it’s much easier with mentors like you around.

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