Charm School and Salvation Gloves
Most of my memories of growing up in the South are not so painful as the ones surrounding race. I also carry around funny images- at least a couple of which found their way into the novel. Charmschool, for instance. That turned up in the first 9 pages. My character, Lily wanted to go, believing it was her ticket to popularity. When she was denied getting in, she cried so hard, she threw up in the sink. As an adolescent, I went to charm school at the Womans Club. It was taught by a woman named Miss Belle (really). I learned to pour tea, get in and out of a car, sit cross-ankle in a chair, perform the beauty pageant walk, and relate to boys, which as I recall, meant giving them the pickle jar to unscrew whether it was too hard for me or not. I spent a lot of time begging to get out of charm school, but lived to be thankful that I went because I knew one day I would get to put it in a story. In the South there is nothing more important than a story, and if its funny, all the better. Most Southerners will endure anything just to tell a story about it.
Which brings me to salvation gloves. Part of my southern experience was the Southern Baptist church, which I inherited (and left behind as an adult), and where I soaked up enough fascinating things to fill ten novels. In The Secret Life of Bees, Lily talks about the plastic gloves that the church handed out, with the five-part plan of salvation printed on them. I was the recipient of one of these inventions when I was around twelve. It had a different Bible verse on each finger. You could put on a glove whenever you needed to tell someone how to get saved. It was a little like a cheat sheet. In the novel, Lily points out that some church ladies kept their salvation gloves in their purses in case they ran into a Catholic unexpectedly. Like me, she was taught that Catholics were unsaved, which probably accounts for both of our interest in them later in life.