(All photos are of beautiful places visited during my southern travels…)

I wanted to write a blog about my southern adventure that would highlight the wacky-wise-wonderfulness of the Norris clan, family friends since long before I was born.  I wanted to try to retell some of our stories and transcribe a list of southernisms that kept me laughing and going “huh?” throughout the length of my stay.  I wanted to be light and fluffy and twangy, but every time I began to write the entry, other thoughts shoved their way into my consciousness in philosophical mutiny.  So here’s the deal: the list of Norris’isms will still appear at the end of this post, along with some pictures of the southern expedition that took me, my mom, and her PT Cruiser on a 4,000 kilometer trek.  But I must begin with what is most potently on my heart, though it is still unfocused and tangled in my mind.

The hilltop cemetery in Kentucky where we found my mom’s
great-grandfather’s grave.

Confessions first: I occasionally, VERY occasionally, behave like a girl.  There.  I said it.  The most recent of these mildly embarrassing episodes came on the morning I woke up in a motel in West Virginia a little over a week ago.  I’m not sure what prompted my outburst of female self-loathing, except, perhaps, the prospect of reaching South Carolina that day and immersing myself for a week in a culture renowned for the beauty and polish of its women.  On that morning in West Virginia, as I looked in the mirror and assessed myself, all I saw was an overweight, out-of-shape, dowdy woman with too-freckled skin, one too many chins, a plain-as-potatoes face and a haircut (recently purchased) that reminded me a bit too much of a 1970s missionary.  Not pretty, in other words.  Not remotely pretty.

I wandered (in my mind, waddled) over to breakfast in the motel dining room and had to leave as soon as I got there.  I felt too ugly to mingle, too conspicuously homely to share a bowl of stale Special-K and lukewarm milk with the strangers who browsed Days Inn’s assortment of once-frozen, mass-produced breakfast treats.

A “shackly” house we found while out driving.

Don’t get me wrong.  This revelation of my less-than-sagacious episode is in no way intended to coax flattering platitudes from you.  It is meant only to pose the following question: why does beauty have so much power?  Why can it determine what we think we can achieve, what social circles we think we belong in and whose approval really matters.  In the single-girl world, it goes a step farther.  As illogical and invalidated as it is, the general theory is: if you’re skinny and pretty you’ll get the guy.  If you’re not, you’ll stay single.  So a single’s “motel musings” not only determine whether we’re fit to be seen, they also judge whether we stand a chance of ever being loved by someone other than the drunk beggar on the corner who pledges his undying love every time we drop a quarter in his hat.

An exquisitely remodeled turn-of-the-century home where we had
brunch (cheese grits!) one morning.  Stunning.

And why do we let Hollywood and glossy magazines dictate what constitutes true beauty and just how ashamed we really ought to be about looking less than airbrushed?  AND how can we take that power back without exiling ourselves to the remotest parts of the world, where billboards are mountain goats on rock cliffs and glossies are lily pads floating on sunset lakes?

The Norris home.

I have no solutions for the tyranny of beauty.  If you do, please voice them.  I’m happy to report, however, that my Days Inn meltdowns happen much less frequently today than they did in my teens, but they’re still indicative of a deeper ill, and I think society is imposing even more debilitating standards on today’s youth.  I’m 41 and generally fairly mature (!), and it still gets to me.  I’m ashamed to say that I probably spend more mental energy considering the “Tamoxifen weight” I’ve gained from my cancer medication than pondering whether I’ll still be alive in five years.  It’s completely irrational and serves no purpose at all.

The only minor inspirational thought I have was inspired by an old “shackly” house we discovered near Darlington, South Carolina.  I let my camera capture what it could of the textures and colors in the hollowed-out home.  And there was beauty there.  Beauty in the stories the peeling wallpaper and broken windows might tell about the lives that once breathed inside the thin walls and gouged floors.  Beauty in the crackled paint on windowsills and the rusted doorknobs guarding sinking thresholds.  Beauty in the imperfections that held so much more character than pristine halls and polished woodwork might possess.  If I can look at the remnants of a once graceful home and see breathtaking character in its blisters and deformities, why can’t I see it in my own imperfections?  And why do I so love the uniqueness my camera captures in faces and places and so despise it in myself?

No answers here.  Only a sheepish admission of vulnerability and a gaping hole where conclusions ought to be.  I hate to write without an inspirational denouement, but this beauty cult exists so widely in our world that my limited experience and understanding couldn’t possibly define it nor defuse it.  I can only point it out in the hope that awareness will promote resistance and resistance will yield an appreciation of what truly constitutes beauty.

Love–goat style.

And now for those southernisms!  [Insert THICK Charleston accent and loooooong drawn-out words]
(Passing by my bedroom on a day when I had a lot of reading to do)  “Shaddup da quiet!”
(On the topic of getting organized)  “Gotta get my ducks all rowed up.”
(Anytime a phone conversation needed to be ended)  “Aight, then!”
(Noticing adornments in someone’s home)  “Look at all the deki-ations!”
(Regarding the popularity of karaoke)  “Depends on the color of yo neck!”
(When voicing strong agreement)  “Yes, mercy!”
(When looking for jewelry before dinner)  “Gotta get all up in my drawer…”
(Regarding someone’s cancer)  “He’s got that nut cancer, don’t he?”
(After a big dinner)
Betty:  I’m gonna try to wedge myself behind that steering wheel.
Robbie:  Or you could just drive from the back seat.

More shots of the turn-of-the-century home.

Its beautiful kitchen…sigh.

More shots of the Norris home.

Possibly the warmest and most beautiful home I know.

The beauties I met for dinner on my way north–Squirt and Lauren.  I–love–them.



  1. what a beautiful post. I’ve been reading a book called “do i look fat in this’ about how culture effects our view of ourselves. i’ve found some very good points, and things to consider but nothing considered life shattering or earth changing. Thank you for being vulnerable to admit that you struggle with your image of yourself every now and again. its good to know that its not something that i’m alone in…i’m sure others struggle as well, its just difficult for others to talk about it. There are times when i think i’m doing okay with what i look like, and other days where my self-loathing becomes very evident.

    i am sooo excited that you got to spend time with your dear friends in the south…and also that you got to see your two girls from BFA who you love so. sooo awesome that you got to have that time to ‘reconnect with them.

    be blessed.

  2. Ooh… I love those last three faces best of all. Thank you for your thoughts on beauty… it’s comforting to know that it’s “going around” :o) And I want you to know that when I first saw you at Storch, my thought was, “No one told me how pretty Michele was…” And – seriously – knowing that you were single I thought of how many hearts you must have broken along the way. Well, that’s the truth.
    We were in Florida recently and met a wonderful gal from, as she put it “Virgin-yer.” She feels that since Thursday is only one day from the weekend it’s as “Good as Friday.” But when she says “as” or “is” her S’s are hard. So it comes out a little funny. Try it and you’ll get what I mean. :o)
    Hope you’re having a great summer… It sounds like it so far.

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