WhatWouldJackieDo’s Raison D’Etre
Lily Beth grew up in a small Southern town, with parents who firmly believed in politeness, goodness, and responsibility to others. It wasn’t until she got to college that she realized that many of the most simple rules of being nice – holding doors, saying “thank you” – had been bypassed entirely by contemporary culture. When she re-located above the Mason-Dixon line for graduate school, this became even more apparent.
She started this blog to try and reconcile the gap between etiquette and feminism. Where she comes from, the two are not mutually exclusive – in fact, when used in conjunction, she believes they can be a very powerful tool.
The website title comes from what Lily Beth’s mother used to always say to her when she was asking a question like, “Do you think this skirt is too short?” A book by also exists by the same name, by Shelly Branch and Sue Callaway.
A little bit about Lily Beth
Lily Beth has a degree in English Literature and Feminist Theory. She’s a feminist and human rights activist who works with various non-profits to try and leave the world better than she found it. She enjoys politics, transcendentalist literature, hostessing, horse-riding, sewing, trap shooting, gardening, vintage car shows, and baking. This makes her a relatively unique individual indeed.
Her handle, “Lily Beth,” comes from Somebody is Going to Die if Lily Beth Doesn’t Catch That Bouquet by Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays.
A little bit about Jack
Lily Beth is married to Jack, whose handle comes from Lily Beth’s theory that all the good heroes are named Jack. Jack has both a philosophy degree, and a French degree. This makes for interesting breakfast conversation, and Lily Beth constantly wanders around the house saying things like, “Ou est mon…puuuuurse,” believing that if she says things in a French accent, that’s good enough.
An abbreviated biography
Lily Beth didn’t go to finishing school, or have an English nanny, or anything as pompous as that. Lily Beth’s roots are working class, and deep, and everything she’s learned was either a gift from her mother or self-taught. This abbreviated biography is probably more than you’d ever want to know about Lily Beth.
Speaking of Lily Beth’s mother, one can’t talk about Lily Beth without talking about the people that came before her.
Lily Beth’s Family
Lily Beth is from an Italian immigrant family who came to America in the late 19th century. Lily Beth’s mother, Toni, was raised primarily by her own Old-World-styled grandparents, which gave her an outlook that was unique in the swirling 1960s. Two decades earlier, her great grandfather cried when his children informed him Mussolini’s death, in spite of the fact that he was an American patriot and his sons were enlisted with the Allied Forces.
Her grandfather, who’d fought in Europe in World War I, had his throat permanently damaged by mustard gas. When she was 20, she saw The Godfather in a movie theater and raced home to tell her grandfather that he sounded exactly like the man in the picture. He was irate, outraged, when she told him what it had been about, and all but shook her by the shoulders, calling the Mafia murders and animals; it was Toni’s first clue that her own heritage might be more complex that American Apple Pie and baseball.
Toni Gets Married
Toni soon married an honest, albeit misogynist social worker named Gene who promptly moved them very far away from Toni’s small-town home. Gene introduced Toni to his Baptist mother, who then collapsed at the kitchen table, sobbing hysterically.
“But Gene,” she cried, “She’s Catholic – those people don’t even believe in God!”
Toni stood there, too ashamed to be mad. That was her welcome into her new family.
They lived in a trailer, with Toni cooking and cleaning. The first year they were married, Gene sold Toni’s car out from under her, leaving her immobile while he was at work. She spent her days cleaning and cooking for the large groups of people Gene brought home, and although she listened with distracted interest at their long discussions of the political and social climate of the country, she was usually too busy hostessing to pay attention and too afraid of her lack of education to chime in.
There’s a finite amount of housework to be done in a double-wide trailer, and one day she sat, bored, chain smoking cigarettes in the summer heat and staring at Gene’s shelf of textbooks and literature. A book of big red and black block letters caught her eye, and she took it down, studying the African American man with the funny name on the cover. It was The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and she read it cover to cover over the next several days.
It changed her life.
Three decades later, she confided in Lily Beth, “I felt so stupid, in that moment. I hadn’t even realized there was a revolution going on – civil rights, the feminist movement, all of it. I had no idea.”
Toni Holds Her Own
After a mere two years of marriage, she left Gene. He kept the trailer, and she got his car. She used her savings to paid two month’s rent on a tiny apartment shared with three other women, and buy a business suit and a slender little volume by Edith Head, entitled Dress for Success. She plucked her eyebrows, borrowed some eyeshadow, and got herself a job as a receptionist. When the executive secretary left to get married, Toni stepped up to fill the role. The CEO’s first order of business was to call Toni into his office and open up her personnel file on the desk between them.
He was a large man, with a growly voice that tended to be more yelling than speaking.
“Name’s Toni, isn’t it?” he barked.
“Then why do I see god-damned Mrs. Gene Harrison on this file? You married?”
She nodded, then shook her head, and said in a quiet voice, “Separated.”
He nodded. “You got a name of your own, Mrs. Gene Harrison?”
She nodded, and told him her maiden name.
“Mrs. Gene Harrison’s what’s on your checkbook, though, isn’t it?” he demanded. She nodded again.
“Alright, Toni,” he said, seeming satisfied and pushing himself back in his desk chair. “First thing you do, is you go down to the bank on your lunch hour, and you have that checking account changed to your own name. Mrs. Gene Harrison ain’t a real person, got it? Toni Marino, that’s a real person; that’s you. Second thing is, you got any college?”
Toni flushed. She’d dropped out of her first year of a Home Economics degree when Gene proposed.
“Right – that’s never gonna do. You’re going to be doing accounting, and payroll. You go down to the community college, and you enroll in one a’them accounting 101 classes they got, and you bring me the bill for tuition and your books.”
The interview was over.
Her divorce became final. She worked on her own for five years, taking classes on and off at night. She moved into a tiny rent house on her own. She was almost 30.
Toni Meets Lily Beth’s Father
It was with the big 3-0 looming over her that Toni met Lily Beth’s father, Mike. He was a unique agglomeration a Blackfoot Native American and Southern vagabond. He was tall, standing six-and-a-half feet to Toni’s 5’4″ frame. He was handsome. And he dreamed big, and he had plans, and they got married two months after having met.
Mike’s plans took off. He made money and Toni kept it. She quickly found herself trying to negotiate the rigors of Southern society. Her former friends didn’t really want her – there was too much distance between them. The ladies who lunch didn’t want her – had her blackballed soundly from the women’s organizations in town, based largely on her Catholicism and secondarily on her questionable lineage.
Instead, she started taking art classes at the local college. She and Mike bought a house big enough for entertaining, and began making friends with the professors. For a period, every piece of jewelry or furniture or artwork in their home came as a “trade” for Toni’s cooking and hostessing.
And then Toni and Mike had a daughter, Lily Beth. Everything changed.
Lily Beth Arrives
Although Toni had long ago lost the desire to enter the tightly closed ranks of the Old South, Toni wanted her daughter to have the opportunity to be accepted everywhere. She learned her etiquette by observation, guerilla-style, and what she couldn’t observe she devoured from books, committed to memory, and imparted to Lily Beth.
Lily Beth, in turn, sprung up like an iris, strong and assured and hearty. As Lily Beth stretched and grew and became a young woman, she picked up their small-town society and turned and turned and turned it, like a Rubik’s cube. She didn’t understand it, but she also knew unabashedly that she didn’t like it either.
Lily Beth became weird, artistic, out-spoken, quick-witted. Her mother toted her to big cities four times a year for seasonal shopping trips; she wanted to make sure her daughter never felt the embarrassment she’d felt as a young girl, wearing her own mother’s painfully large and outdated hand-me-downs. She started having her hair professionally done at the age of 13. She took French, and joined the local theatre troupe. She edited the school newspaper. Mike and Toni were constantly being called into the principal’s office to discuss some inflammatory article Lily Beth had written or some protest Lily Beth had tried to organize.
“The problem with your daughter,” they were told, “Is she’s too smart for her own good. Damn it, she’s trying to incite a revolution every day!”
They couldn’t be more proud. Each new threat to her permanent record (and eventually each suspension) was another beam of honor. She held straight As, she traveled constantly for writing competitions, she was a member of the National Honors Society, and still collected black marks like badges of honor in that mysterious confidential file that would never matter outside a tiny high school. They didn’t know how to further her education while living in a small town, so they sent her places in the summer – New York and Washington, and then London, Barcelona, Rome.
Lily Beth Goes to College
Lily Beth surprised them all by ignoring courting from big Eastern schools; she instead chose an exceeding liberal arts college a mere day’s drive from home. She wanted to be a writer.
The campus was big and beautiful and strange; kids walked barefoot and had blue mohawks and carried around huge instruments or canvases and wore black capes and facial piercings. She took a Women’s Health class, and then a Women’s Literature class. There weren’t a lot of women’s studies undergraduate classes, so she began taking the feminist theory graduate classes for undergraduate credit.
She found a group of like-minded women who were all stunningly gorgeous, who could wield a protest sign as handily as their could wield a eyebrow pencil. (When she and Jack were married, the groomsmen, all Northerners, stood slack-jawed as her four bridesmaids embarked from the plane with big hair, low-slung Southern drawls, and pencil-skirt-clad silhouettes worthy of Marilyn Monroe’s wardrobe. “Eaaaasy,” said Jack. “I know, I know. But none of them are single.”)
When she moved North for graduate school, it was apparent quite quickly that Lily Beth didn’t quite fit into her surroundings. People thought it was strange that she tried to talk to them about the weather in the grocery store line. Her hair was long and big and styled daily with hot-rollers; she wore slacks and gold jewelry and liquid foundation. She stood out sorely from all the other women with sleek, short, contemporary haircuts and faces bare of blush or mascara. She muddled through as best she could, vowing to return home as soon as her degree was finished.
And then she met Jack.
Lily Beth and Jack: Meet-Cute
Jack was a designer for the local arts organizations. He had long hair, pulled back in a pony-tail, and wore only paint-splattered clothes from Goodwill. He smelled of cedar and sawdust. He had an easy smile and blue eyes that crinkled when he laughed and startlingly Patrician features. He could talk at length about football or Socrates, comic books or politics, food or languages or architecture. He was as quick-witted as she was, without a cynical or pretentious bone in his body. And he was just damn sweet.
But things didn’t add up about Jack. He smoked unfiltered cigarettes, but he could also waltz and foxtrot. He drove an inexpensive car, but lived in a rumbling old Victoria house by himself. His table manners were exquisite, but his general appearance perfunctory. Both his parents were dead.
On their first date, his credit card was declined, and he seemed non-plussed. “I never remember to move money over,” he claimed, pulling crumpled cash out of his wallet.
Lily Beth was no fool. She did some reconnaissance. She Googled. She asked around. And then, at an event, she unexpectedly she met his remaining family.
It turns out that Jack considered himself a refuge from an old Midwestern family who’s American presence (and accumulation of wealth) began about the time the Continental Congress was signing the Declaration of Independence. His mother died of cancer before his 22nd birthday. His father followed by heart-attack two years later. He was the only member of his large family that wasn’t in law or banking.
They found his insistence on working for non-profits…eccentric. They found his insistence on hanging around welders and journalists and actors questionable at best and distasteful at worst. Upon receipt of his trust fund, he didn’t quite know what to do with it. He gifted large sums of money to friends who were getting married. He paid cash for a new Honda Civic. He moved into the city, bought a house, and took jobs building sets or designing lighting. He cared for an alcoholic older brother, James, every time he fell off the wagon.
It was not what Lily Beth had expected to find when she’d begun digging. She had dated her share of liars, and con-men, and assholes. And here was an honest young man, who felt burdened by his origins and ashamed of his wealth, with two dogs and a huge, empty house (grand total of furniture: couch, bookshelf, bed, broken lamp.)
Lily Beth Learns to Hold Her Own
Jack and Lily Beth got married a mere one year, to the day, after meeting. Their wedding was a big, loud, Southern party transported above the Mason Dixon line. They acted as their own officiants. In spite of their differences, their families were enamored of one another immediately, as if they’d all been friends since the dawn of time.
Lily Beth began setting up a home. She got a job that forced her to tackle the society she’d been so afraid of head-on. She and Jack started traveling together, and entertaining. She began the awkward task of trying to reconcile the way she was raised with her feminist politics and her current social climate. It’s been a difficult journey, as she’s largely self-taught and always learning new things.
WhatWouldJackieDo is what she’s learned along the way – the answers to and explorations of the questions she wish she’d known earlier.