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"We should save that for Lisa," Aunt Kay declared as she sorted my grandmother's belongings. "And that, and that -- my lands, Mom Baker had monograms on nearly everything!"

It was true. My grandmother's personal effects were personalized. Monograms lavishly donned towels, luggage, jewelry and anything else that didn't move faster than the labeling hands of Lois Baker. Since my given name is Lisa Baker, there was a bevy of things suitable for me alone.

The dichotomy between my mother's and father's sides of the family was never more apparent than in the items they left behind. While both came from the same rural rice fields of Northeast Arkansas, there was a clear distinction between them. Their roots may've been the same, but they thought their leaves were mighty different.

My mama was from the "wrong side" of the tracks. Her family was poor and uneducated with serial marriages lasting roughly six and one-half minutes. Children were reared by mothers or grandmothers with little education or employment. But their blood ran hot, and what they lacked in schooling, they made up for in intestinal fortitude. They were scrappy and tenacious and fun-loving souls who loved the Lord, yet danced in public even when the city ordinances and Baptist church forbid it.

My father's family had a similar impoverished beginning, but you wouldn't know it to look at them. Most of them got married and stayed that way till the grave. The menfolk (other than my father) hung around, learned a trade and earned money for modest brick houses and stay-at-home wives. They went to church on Sundays in suits and dresses. They ate off china plates. They never danced, rarely laughed, and kept their crazy in the closet.

Lois had monograms. My mama had initials.

Monograms have been around since 350 B.C., when artisans began labeling their work with overlapped and flourished lettering to show theirs was a prized piece. That act has been carried on for thousands of years, no doubt due in large part to Southern women.

Southern women of a certain stature love monograms -- linens, sweaters, handbags, front doors, beer cozies, smartphones, you name it. If it can be labeled, it'll be labeled by a Southern woman. While there might be the occasional Midwestern or Yankee gal who has one monogrammed item, I opine that they know not the levels to which the world can be branded. I've heard talk that Southerners account for 80 percent of the monogramming done in the United States. If that's true, we're falling short of our potential.

Heritage, economics and a lack of rights might explain this dominance. Poorer Southern families had hand-me-downs, so unless everyone in the clan was named the same, initials wouldn't be valued. Embroidery was expensive. Women couldn't own property, but if they could lay hands on a nice item worn only by them or create beautiful linens, then they attained a level of ownership by labeling it.

And heritage? Why, Southerners will fight to the death over last names. If you're a Hatfield or McCoy, monogramming is just another way of marking territory without actually shooting or urinating on anything.

Now aren't we Southerners thoughtful that way?

NAN Our Town on 10/06/2016

Print Headline: Label it

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