I wanted to be Julia Sugarbaker. For any of you old enough to have watched a little show called Designing Women, you will recall it was about a design firm in Atlanta, Georgia founded, owned, and operated by two Sugarbaker sisters played by Dixie Carter and Delta Burke. It also included Annie Potts as a designer and Jean Smart as the bookkeeper. Other cast members came and went through the run of the show, but those were the four that I watched the most, and in my opinion, it was when the show was the best. There was, of course Meshach Taylor who played Anthony, and Alice Ghostley who provided substance to the pride the south has in our crazy relatives. And let’s not forget the intro with Ray Charles singing Georgia On My Mind. All of the characters were loveable and moreover, for those of us who live, have lived, or have relatives in the southern United States will attest, the situations and personalities were recognizable and identifiable. It saddens me to think how many of that cast are no longer with us.
I know, and I’ve always known that these were skilled actors playing roles that were written rather than real people that were merely walking around in Atlanta being filmed (this was when television was for entertainment rather than reality), but I always felt that Julia Sugarbaker was a lot of Dixie Carter, and Dixie was a whole lot of who Julie Sugarbaker was. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to look like her, and heaven forbid I ever have to wear 1980’s era shoulder pads again… and let’s not get started about the hair styles. I have no secret desire to be an interior decorator, and anyone who has been to my house can testify to the fact that I have no talent in that arena. It wasn’t even so much that I held the same beliefs or political leanings or opinions on every issue. It was that no matter how passionate, incensed, outraged, or emotionally touched she was, she always managed to express herself in a way that sounded intelligent, well-read, and witty. I am sad to say that for me, that skill is absent. I find more and more as I get older, my passions and emotions seem to deprive me of the ability to speak English or any other language. I get tongue-tied, flabbergasted, and gobsmacked with alarming frequency; occasionally resulting in embarrassing leakage from the ocular region. Thankfully the leaks have not become system wide.
Julia Sugarbaker never resorted to cursing (or cussing as they say in the South). Vulgarity was never a substitute for wit. She managed to convey everything she needed to in erudite verbiage that likely made the target feel even smaller than if she had laid upon him/her with a barrage of F-bombs.
Now, I won’t say that an occasionally utilized swear word placed appropriately and not too frequently can’t carry some powerful emotions. I cannot say that my own language is as squeaky clean as my mum would prefer. Indeed, I cuss too much, and I’m working on it. However, I have to admit that when I stub a toe on an offending piece of furniture, it does seem to hurt less with a generous helping of abuse seasoned with @#$% and a couple of &%#$@*%#$&. It’s not that I don’t know better words. Test scores going all the way back into my primary school have shown that my verbal acumen is actually not too bad. I can pull out the five-dollar words with the best of them, and yet… when I get into a situation where my physical or emotional feelings are imperiled, I end up falling back upon @#$%.
It’s a shame really, and as I said, I’m working on it. I’m even thinking of having one of those jars that I have to put money in every time I use a swear word. On the other hand, that would require me actually having the cash on hand all the time given my propensity to stub a toe (I am also blessed with a considerable lack of physical grace). So, I will endeavor to improve my communication skills by limiting my forays into the land of the loose language, and I suspect the other secret to being more like Julia/Dixie is to listen more than speak. We’ll see how well that goes.