Watch What You’re Doing

“Watch what you’re doing – you never know who’s watching you.”

I can still hear my mama say that. No, literally – she still says that to me. I have heard people say this is not a uniquely Southern thing, and it is universal in small towns across America. I disagree, because I’ve never seen this concept applied and executed anywhere quite like the South.

Bear with me for a moment. Recently, while standing in line to buy BBQ, I saw and spoke to an old lady I know, and had one of those truly breathtaking Southern experiences. The lady is about 85 years old, and was a good, close friend of my wife’s late mother. She called out to me, and said, “The last time I saw you and your wife, I told y’all that somebody had asked about you but I couldn’t remember who it was, but now I remember. Her name is …”

She stopped, scratched her head, paused awhile longer, and then said, “Now I’ve forgotten it again.”

Then, she simply said, “Tell your wife that it was the lady whose husband died of a brain tumor while they were in Europe. She’ll know who that is.”

Well, when I got back home, I told my wife about my encounter. As I told her what the lady said about the other lady whose husband died of a brain tumor while in Europe, my wife exclaimed, “OH YEAH! I know who that is. Well, that was sure sweet of her.”

In the South, you are perpetually remembered for whatever odd or unusual circumstances you survived, or for whatever questionable behavior you unfortunately displayed in public. That’s why we’re always so cautious about our behavior – somebody is always watching and they WILL remember what they see or hear. You don’t EVER want to be described as “that guy who always leaves his grocery buggy in the middle of the parking lot,” or “that woman who is ugly to the waitress,” because if someone saw you do it, then it will be immortalized in future descriptions of you. And it will ALWAYS come back to bite you in the butt – bank loan application, job interview, club membership, or whatever. Your immortalized circumstance will precede you everywhere you go and with everything you do.

No matter what amazing things this woman may have accomplished in her long and distinguished life, she will always be known as “the woman whose husband died of a brain tumor while in Europe.” It sort of ends up becoming something like a secret Cherokee tribal name – “Hey, uh, Dances With Wolves and Laughing At Crows, I’d like you to meet Woman Whose Husband Died Of Brain Tumor While In Europe.”

About Tom Daniel

Tom Daniel holds a Ph.D in Music Education from Auburn University. He is a husband, father of four cats and a dog, and a college band director who lives back in the woods of Alabama with a cotton field right outside his bedroom window. His grandfather once told him he was "Scotch-Irish," and Tom has been trying to live up to those lofty Southern standards ever since. More from Tom Daniel

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