Gendusa: Southern Belles and Steel Magnolias

Published 10:00 am Sunday, April 2, 2017


Every now and then in life you meet a true Southern Belle who is also a Steel Magnolia. My family consisted of quite a few that were raised in the South, but grew into steel rods that supported an entire family while keeping their genteel nature. Those women paved the way for all of us to understand grit, determination, and bravery. Learning from their valuable lives gives us a true education in the art of strength.

Geri lives down the street. Several years ago, she was getting ready for an operation on her foot. Prior to surgery, the podiatrist ordered a routine chest x-ray, which saved her life.

She didn’t have foot surgery, but lung surgery. The cancer was caught just in time to avoid chemo and harsh treatments. It took her a while to get her stamina back, but soon Geri was well and thriving.

Geri was born in southern Alabama. A tall, beautiful woman that raised two daughters mostly alone. She would work two jobs to support her little family. She was divorced early; remarrying later for a short time. On a Sunday while watching television, her newlywed husband laid his head in her lap for a nap and never woke up.

His death was devastating and sudden. Again, Geri had to find the grit to overcome the sorrow. The Southern Belle gained her strength and determination to laugh again. Time passed and she finally met and married Tom.

Two years ago, Tom began not feeling well. He just couldn’t shake what he thought was bronchitis. Tom, a never-smoker, would soon learn he also had lung cancer.

The situation was dire until a new drug seemed to work miracles! Now Tom and Geri are still taking trips, still laughing, and still enjoying life down the street.

Geri was born on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. Supposedly the luck of the Irish was to smile upon her. This last week, however, the luck of the leprechaun didn’t visit the house down the street.

Geri has taken care of her 100-year-old mother for as long as I have known her and never complains. When folks are sick, she is there with one of her signature Southern dishes that make your mouth water.  When she entertains, it is over the top. But, what else would you expect from a true Southern Belle?

At parties, her laughter rises above the room and you know immediately that she is there and in force. She uses the “Bless Your Heart” ending to sentences just like I do, and still loves things made from scratch.

Another couple, along with David and I, were at a local restaurant for St. Patrick’s Day. We all saw Tom, Geri plus a guest visiting them, heading toward our table to say hello. They were celebrating Geri’s birthday.

We all wished her birthday blessings and laughed. She looked elegant and relaxed with her warm smile highlighting her face. You would have never guessed that earlier that same day her doctor had called to tell her the devastating news that a different type of cancer was now in her right lung.

When I thought about how cheerful she was, how gracious she was amidst learning the devastating news, my first thought was, “What a Steel Magnolia!”

Now, I think I am strong, but I don’t hold a candle to this steel rod of strength. When she sent a text to her friends telling them of this new-found illness various people were immediately texting back. One of our mutual friends was on a vacation and sent words of prayer and encouragement.

Geri’s response was, “I have turned everything over to God. It is out of my hands. Hope you are enjoying your vacation! Have fun and relax!”

Steel magnolias know from where their strength lies. They know who can help them stand when life knocks them down. The Southern Belle knows to try not to worry others and is still thinking of her friends and family even though her world could be crumbling.

So many folks walk around with the attitude, “Why me?” They wear it proudly as a symbol of their doomsday theory on life. And then there is Geri. Her smile takes away the doom, her strength takes away sadness, and her Steel Magnolia theory teaches us all about pure courage.

Today, I figure she is planning for her treatments, calming her kids and husband down, and will probably make a homemade pie by the end of the day. After brushing her blond hair, she will apply makeup, and then check on her mother. She will worry about the neighbor down the street and a grandchild going to college.

The Belles dance in their fine dresses and perfectly coifed hair, and they appear delicate as a flower. They dance with their beaus and loves  and remember the family that taught them the steps of the dance.

At some point during the ball, the Belle danced with God himself who turned the delicate flower into a fine Steel Magnolia.