Ma’am wasn’t a title often used where I come from. We Northerners, or, “Yanks,” well, we usually either called our close friends’ parents by their first names, or, if they were older parents or acquaintances, we would address them as Mr. or Mrs. SomethingItalianoVowelAtTheEnd-o.
“Hi Mrs. Gargano. Is DonnaLisa home?” “Hey Mrs. Lucibello! Tell Christina I’ll call her tonight!” “Mr. DelBuono… please stop grabbing my ass. No, I don’t want to see your braciole. Yes, I know what you mean by ‘braciole.’ Yes. You mean your penis. I got it the first time. You’re not that clever Mr. DelBuono. And you smell like garlic. I skeeve.”
But here in the good ole napkin-using South, the word Ma’am comes about as naturally as pecan pie and white hooded cloaks. Errr… scratch that second one. Pecan pie and nature-eating kudzu? Yeah. There ya go. Ma’am, (like Y’all, and Fixin’) was a word I was going to have to get used to once I planted my very own magnolia tree down here in the A-T-L. And while it wasn’t going to be an easy process, I was fixin’ to give it a try, y’all, even if it made me vomit in my own mouth.
I remember the first time someone called me Ma’am. I was visiting Atlanta to see my then boyfriend and now husband on one of what was to be several long-distance relationship dates. We were still in the learning-about-one-another stage, so he decided (after hearing me rant about how I can throw a football like a guy and can hit pretty much anything thrown at me) that we would spend a few hours at the batting cages on the outskirts of town, so that he could challenge me to put my money where my mouth was. We did meet on a game show after all, gang. Competitiveness is pretty much the soul of our existence.
I was dressed in my South Philly finest having just hopped off an airplane… you know, skintight designer jeans, black boots, titty-poppin’ turtleneck sweater and Gucci sunglasses. What? I always wear this to the batting cages. What?? Todd of course knew the neighborhood that we were headed into and I assume probably mentally pissed his pants as he flashbacked to scenes from “My Cousin Vinny” once he saw my dapper attire. He’s a bastard. Anyway, we arrived at the
pearly moldy gates and parked the pick-up truck (of course we did) directly next to the “WAYNE’S CHIP, PUTT AND BAT” sign (but not quite near the “Forty Balls for Five Bucks” smaller sign on the adjacent gate.) I, being the naïve 29 year old I was at the time, giddily jumped out of the truck and ran in to start trying out bats. “Too heavy. Too short. Nope. Nope. Oooooohhhhh…. Nope. AH! This one. This will do.” Like a good Italian I was naturally uttering those statements out loud, unaware that both my boyfriend and a rather portly, gray, pre-hipster-trucker-hat-wearing redneck were glaring at me adoringly. “Wayne… I’ll take this one. And the forty balls for five bucks, please.” And then… it happened…
So many movies contain the effect of slow-motion as something bad is about to happen, and this, in my mind as I recall it now, was no different…
“Ma’am, I ain’t Wayne. But yer funny. You’re not from round these parts, are ya?”
My Philly instinct caused me to grip the bat tighter in my clutch and start to lift it calmly over my head, but a rather large hand gently grabbed my arm and when I looked over, I saw the headshake and the smile that told me all I needed to know… with his eyes, he said these words: “He’s harmless, killer. Put the bat down. He meant it as a compliment and even if he didn’t, take it as one, because let’s face it… you’re not from ‘round these parts.” And so I gave in and grew up all in one swift motion.
That was a long, long time ago, and since that day I have learned to embrace my inner-Ma’am. Recently I helped a young Alabama man of twenty-four buy a diamond for his twenty-two year fiancée-to-be. He sat across the desk from me with his beautifully tanned Tuscaloosa skin, sparkling blue eyes and his heart filled with hope and said to me… “I sure do appreciate your help, Ma’am. One last question… I’m still in college and this is a lot of money for me… is there any way I can get a discou…...?” “YES. I’ll take a hundred bucks off. Yes. Just stop looking at me with your youth and your Ma’ams, dammit. You’re lucky I’m a cougar.” Of course he laughed because that’s what you do when you’re cute and twenty-four. But I was serious. If you’re a bartender in this town and you get me as a patron, "Ma’am" it up for tips, ‘cause I’m buying what your selling, kid. Ma’am it up good, too, ‘cause I’m fixin’ to milk this cougar thing for all its worth.
Now, “Y’all” ... that's a whole other story.