Grace, Charm, and... er... Poise.

Shortly after moving to Daytona Beach, Florida, a woman approached me in a local restaurant and asked if I was Cape Verdean. Since there wasn't a Creole in sight, I figured she was either clairvoyant or knew me from somewhere back in New England. Turns out it was neither.

"I can tell by the way you walk.” she said. "You've got that Cape Verdean walk."

Hmpf. That got me thinking. What she'd said is true. Lots of Cape Verdean women have a slow stride and walk with shoulders back and chin up. It's a proud walk, and maybe sometimes it's a bit too proud. It was my mom who taught me the stride, and without realizing it, I'd apparently taken her lessons to heart.

"Walk on your toes. Don't stomp!" That was the first lesson. "Pick up your feet!" Second lesson.

"Pull your stomach in." came at around the same time as "Point your toes slightly inward and place one foot slightly in front of the other. Slow down a little. Don't clop around in a hurry."

"Are you kidding me, Mom?!" That was usually my whiney protest, but I did as I was told, partly to make her nagging stop and partly because I thought my graceful and slim mother held the power to transform a chubby and awkward me into a glamorous young swan. I became a Suck In The Stomach expert.

But then came the Book. At the time she pulled out a book with the intent of showing me how to balance it on my head, I was around 15 or 16 years old, still sporting 25 extra pounds, and yet very interested in lessons on how to walk like a fashion model. My mom and her sisters had lots of old photos of themselves playing around in my grandfather's yard, modeling the latest fashions and striking poses out of a March, 1959 Glamour magazine. It looked like fun, and so I studied hard.

The lessons on how to properly sit while wearing a dress came at around the same time. I mastered the art of sitting up straight, knees together and tilted to the left, while ankles were pressed together and slightly out to the right. She had me practice this pose on the countless Sunday visits to relatives where we'd sit in a mausoleum of a room called a Parlor and sip coffee, or in my case, Coke. Between sips I sat still, shoulders back, palms resting in my lap.

"Smile." That was the next instruction. "Don't scowl. It looks awful. Trashy." It also highlighted my pudgy cheeks. I couldn't remember all of the instructions all of the time, and slipped a bit. She'd notice and wouldn't hesitate to remind me. Most of the time, I hated the constant nagging. It's not that I didn't like the idea of walking like a model or sitting as if I were posing for a portrait. I just didn't like having to be constantly aware of sucking in my gut and placing a soft smile on my lips. What if I wasn't in the mood to smile in public?

"Smile anyway." She said it with a smile, of course.

My friends, especially the younger ones, don't remember getting these lessons and never knew the chubby and awkward girl, but they inevitably comment on my posture. Lots of little old ladies comment, too. There have been several occasions when I've been walking down the street absorbed in some fluffy and girly thought, obviously relishing in the glory of all that is female, only to have someone's grandmother stop me in my perfectly placed, ball-of-the-foot, never-heel-first footfall.

"You have such great posture!"

That's when the smile my mom trained me to wear is genuine, and the chubby little girl in me gives her a call just to say hello.

1 comment:

  1. So right, my younger friends never did get all of those lessons from Mom. At least I had piano lessons to help with the seated posture, otherwise, who knows, I could be walking around like some hunchbacked freak!