4 months ago

Reflections - cover2

Selected Writings & Artwork by Harriett Copeland Lillard

Thoughts on being a Lady

Thoughts on being a Lady we’re hot-blooded females, a group of Amazons crashing the hustings. The power of words is indeed amazing. I hardly think this discussion would be complete without some exploration of the masculine equivalent to “lady” which is, as we all well know, “gentleman.” For some reason this word does not create the impassioned and/or confusing reaction of its feminine counterpart. Yet, they both have the same softening, asexual effect on the hearers. The term “gentleman” is never used in a derogatory, patronizing, or belittling manner. Men addressed as “Gentlemen” are much more likely to act accordingly. Addressing a mixed group as, “Ladies and Gentlemen” has a certain mellowing effect on sexual tensions. The same group addressed as “Men and Women, “ might square off for a battle or melt into an orgy. Either event creating an interesting commentary on our ambivalence. Alas, I have not yet begun to address the object of this discussion; why I consider it a matter of some personal importance to be a lady. In thinking about the question, I have tried to remember all my mother’s admonitions on the subject, both direct and indirect. These follow. “Always conduct yourself like a lady.” Of course, she didn’t say what a lady was, so I looked and listened. “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.” This statement probably had the most profound effect on me, because there was some kernel of personal freedom inferred; this, I’m absolutely sure, was not her intention. This particular declaration was usually followed by an “Aunt Mary” story. Now my great Aunt Mary was a woman of the utmost hauteur who could carry off the most devastating circumstances with total aplomb. I personally detested her arrogance (she once told me that my father wasn’t worth the powder and lead it would take to kill him), but we all aspired to her unflappable self-assurance. Anyway, one day while stepping into a full elevator at a very expensive department store, dripping her usual amount of furs and diamonds, the elastic on her underwear broke and fell down around her ankles. (This was in the 20s, before pantyhose, when women wore “step-ins” which had no elastic around the legs.) Well, here is this elegant woman with her drawers on the floor. What did she do? Stepping out of them with one foot, she kicked the other foot, launching the offending garment upward, caught them casually in mid-air, and dropped them into her purse. However apocryphal this story may be, that kind of act is hard to follow! Next. “Always remember who you are and where you come from.” Well, I was Harriett Copeland. That statement, whether she meant it to or not, imbued me with a sense of my own self-importance, not to ever be denied. Since I came from a family which (at least one side, according to my Aunt Mary) might be classified as “landed gentry” in an isolated backwash of Texas ranch country. I early defined myself unconsciously in relation to everyone else as upper class; it wasn’t until much later that I identified this characteristic in myself. This class distinction had nothing to do with money—nobody then (Post-World War II and pre-oil boom) had money; it had to do with attitude. I was “to the manor born” and was expected to act accordingly; it didn’t matter that we had no manor. Fortunately for me, though some might deplore this “class” attitude, it has since allowed me to move with ease in any society, adapting like a chameleon to the social coloring around me. Snobbishness was not allowed. “To walk with Kings and not lose the common touch.” Another favorite quote. 87

Thoughts on being a Lady "If", by Rudyard Kipling, from which the preceding line is taken, is considered a poem for boys by many, and a sexist travesty by feminists. But, to her everlasting credit, Mother insisted that Man and Son in this context referred to humanity, not just to one sex. Ah, my first stirrings of liberation! In all honesty, I must admit that my first ideas on what being a lady was all about came from this poem. To my feminist friends, I ask that they reread the poem and delete the last line. “Always act as if you’ve seen bigger and better, gone further, and stayed longer.” In other words, don’t be overly impressed with obvious displays of wealth or importance. Ostentation was considered very déclassé. “Never discuss how much something cost or what you do or don’t have. Never ask anyone where they bought something or tell them where you bought yours.” Again, déclassé. “Always treat everyone the same.” Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. It was required that I refrain from either kissing ass or looking down the considerable length of my nose at anyone, anytime, period. Noblesse oblige. “Always take up for the underdog.” Ditto paragraph above. “Kill them with kindness” and/or “Give them the silent treatment.” This admonition came into play when I had been wronged, snubbed, insulted, or otherwise mistreated. And was usually followed with, “Give them enough rope and they’ll hang themselves.” Ah! Vengeance cloaked in kindness – what a weapon! Other out-takes on developing one’s ladyship follow without such excessive explanation: “If you act like a lady, you’ll be treated like a lady.” “Don’t take things too personally.” “She has a ‘pardon-me-for-living’ attitude.” “Get hold of yourself.” “Keep a stiff upper lip.” “That was no better than expected.” “Don’t be afraid to be different.” “Carry on.” I almost forgot: “You are often judged by your grammar and table manners.” 88