If I ever got started writing about Southern good manners, I’m not sure I could stop. I’ve heard it said that the South is the country’s last outpost of good manners, and it’s a topic that deserves special and exhaustive treatment. However, I overheard my wife talking to someone yesterday, and I can’t pass up this small opportunity.
As I said, my wife was talking to a friend, and at one point she asked, “How’s your mama doing?” The person’s mother wasn’t sick, or in any kind of jeopardy, so my wife wasn’t really concerned about the potential of receiving a negative response. In fact, she got the exact response she (and I) expected to hear:
“Oh, she’s fine. I’ll tell her you asked about her.”
To be “asked about” is a very high Southern honor, indeed. On the surface, it sounds exactly like what my wife actually said, which was, “How is she doing?” However, in reality, there’s a lot more to it. What the person actually said translates more accurately into “Please be sure to tell her I’m thinking about her fondly.”
There are two distinct parts to this. First, there is a genuine curiosity for someone’s condition. Are they feeling OK? Have they recovered from whatever it was they had? Are they coping as best as can be expected? Are they excited about the great news? Those kinds of things.
However, in the second part, it is the solemn duty of the person being asked to relay the inquiry TO the person being asked about. They have to know that they were “asked about.” It’s important. At some point in the day, my wife’s friend will eventually say to her mother, “Guess who asked about you today?” And her mother will feel better once she hears about it.
To be “asked about” means that you are loved and remembered and you need to know that. There’s never any kind of follow-up, like, “They asked about you, and they said to tell you where the money is buried.” No, the whole thing begins and ends with a simple, “They asked about you.” And that’s it.
And Southerners like to know that someone was asking about them, because it helps connect all of us together.