Sisterhood of the Bay

When you live on the Gulf Coast, all five of your senses are indulged daily: the feel of sand between your toes, the sound of seagulls, a sunset painted in its own unique palette, the smell of fresh seafood and the taste of saltwater. It allows for lives of richness and inspiration and creates women who are as vibrant and diverse as their surroundings. We are not just Southern; we are Gulf Coast, where we have a unique culture and identity.

The Local Lifestyle

For Lucy Buffett, below, owner of LuLu’s at Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores, it’s the water that sets Gulf Coast women apart. “The tidewaters inspire a sense of mystery, adventure and escapism, a coastal consciousness inland Southern ladies from, say, Birmingham, Jackson or Atlanta, do not share. They would not be enthralled with the salty aroma of low tide that greets us when crossing the Causeway.”

For local philanthropist Ann Bedsole, culture follows climate. “Life here is oriented towards the out-of-doors. We hunt, fish, boat, swim and play outside. Our celebrations involve cookouts, barbecues or fish fries. And, we love a parade.”

Also a good party. “Mobile ladies’ lives revolve around social activities, ” Bedsole adds. Perhaps it is two centuries of strong Catholic and European influences that make Mobile ladies more fun and always entertaining. A port city creates a more cosmopolitan society that is reflected in attitudes, conversations and interests.”

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Living in a place where the pace and rhythms of daily life are dictated by the ebbs and flows of the neighboring water and an active datebook, one learns to be adaptable. Lydia Noble, a wedding planner and owner of Noble Events, has made a career out of creating relaxed Southern charm. “One of the things I love about coastal women is that their flexibility allows them to transition effortlessly from flip-flops and ponytails to a high diamond affair. Of course they are known for their resilience and composure under pressure while maintaining graciousness.”

Noble hopes to teach her daughter how to entertain with unflappable style. “I want my daughter to enjoy the art of setting a fine table, to understand the importance of surrounding her guests with beauty and to value the importance of genuinely and sincerely thanking her guests for their time and their presence in her company.”

Becoming Southern

Coming to the Gulf Coast can prove to be culture shock for many. Krystyna Raines, who is originally from Poland, lived in Washington D.C. and New York before she and her husband, Howell Raines, a former New York Times editor, moved to the Eastern Shore. The transition from big city to Fairhope was eased, she says, because of the welcome she received. “I found Southern women very open. Nowhere else (Warsaw, D.C. or New York) was I greeted with neighbors stopping by with introductions and invitations.

“I would also have to point out the strong sense of community among my women friends in Alabama. There is a real spirit of sisterhood that spans volunteer work, financial support for local causes and local businesses, and a desire to learn and share each others’ experiences. All this is truly rare and to me, a European / East Coast transplant, uniquely Southern.”

The Value of Graciousness

Manners are held in high regard in the South – and especially the Bay area. For Buffett, the importance of hospitality, good manners and ladylike behavior was stressed growing up. “Because I am truly a rebel at heart, living up to all the ‘rules’ has been challenging at times, but having and appreciating good manners has kept me connected to my roots. It is part of the birthright I have handed down to my children. I’ve stressed to my girls, and will continue to do so for my grandchildren, the importance of manners, not merely for tradition but to show respect for other human beings.”

“I am a sucker for a child who says ‘Yes ma’am’ and ‘No ma’am, ’” says county commissioner Merceria Ludgood, pictured at right. “I miss the days when younger people addressed their elders with a title rather than immediately calling them by their first names. For me, that is a way to teach gentle respect for authority.”

It’s one thing to be a Southern woman, but it takes effort to be a lady, according to Ludgood, right. “My mother was a rule maker. Women who smoked and wore red shoes could not call themselves ladies.”  She has carried these simple codes of conduct with her ever since. “I never smoked. As an adult, I have bought red shoes at least three times and always gave them away because I was just uncomfortable wearing them.”

Some of these traditions may seem antiquated now. Regardless, there is much to be learned from the past as we empower the next generation of Mobile Bay women. Ludgood says that young women “must be willing to abandon and challenge those Southern traditions that divide us. It is proven that we are better and stronger than many of our neighbors to the north because we have faced our demons and are better for it.”

For Lucy Buffett, the new Southern lady should be educated, empowered and contribute to society by sharing her talents and gifts with the community. “I encourage young Mobile Bay ladies to leave the area for a period of time, perhaps for higher education, an internship or summer abroad. Educate yourself through travel and experience. See the world. It lends perspective and breeds appreciation for just how special our little corner of the world really is. Upon your return to the brackish, heady scent of our tidewater home, you will cherish it that much more … and teach your children to do the same.”

Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder

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