Southerners should mind manners even with family

Karen and I exchange recipes often. She's an excellent cook so I can always count on her recommendations. Except for the tortilla soup recipe she passed along. It was OK but not particularly enticing.

However, as is often the case when I cook something, I'll call Mama and say, "I'm bringing you supper." I took her a carton of soup, dressed up with cheese, tortilla chips and sour cream, then placed it on a tray and handed it to her as she sat contently in her easy chair, watching the evening news. This is the kind of treatment that every mama, after years of diapers, stomachaches and heartaches, dreams of having.

"Oh good!" she exclaimed cheerfully, clapping her hands together like a small child.

She spread her napkin, spooned up the steaming mixture and put it to her lips. Then, also just like a child, her face crumbled into the ugliest mess of disgust you've ever seen. She looked like she was swallowing castor oil.

"What's wrong with it?" I asked, because there was no need to ask whether she liked it or not. That was evident.

"It's got some kinda spice in it that I don't like."

"Then don't eat it." Commonsensical advice, I thought

"If I don't, what'll I eat?" She cut her eyes over at me. "But it ain't good."

I sat on the sofa and watched as she took a few more pained bites. She didn't even try to hide the fact that she hated it.

"Honestly, Mama, I'm sure that Jesus didn't react half this bad when he drank the vinegar. I'm going home. I can't watch this production anymore."

Now, before you think too bad of Mama for not hiding her disgust over a supper that I cooked and delivered to her, know this: I have acted that way with her many times over the years of my life. Not too long ago, she insisted - that is, she badgered, persisted and harangued - that I eat some collard greens she had cooked drenched in some kind of hog grease.

"They're good for you. You need 'em for your digestion and to give ya iron."

I took one bite and shuddered all over. "Yuck!" I stuck my tongue out, dramatically trying to shake the taste off of it. "That is awful." The only difference between Mama and me is that I didn't keep eating them.

But that brings me to today's thought: Why is that we - especially the well-mannered, thoughtful Southerners we are - treat our own families with such a lack of courtesy at times? Had either of us tasted anything cooked by someone outside of the family and disliked it, we'd both hide our disgust. And to be honest, I would have even lied about it, saying something like, "Hmmm. That's nice."

Mama, though, wouldn't have lied. You probably knew that, though. You've witnessed her straightforward honesty many times in this column. She would not, however, have made such an ugly face, and she simply would not have said anything.

Isn't it a shame that we, as a well-mannered society, treat our families the worse? Mama will say things to me that my biggest enemy wouldn't think, and I'll pop back with something that is tinged with just a bit too much hatefulness.

These are the people who love us - or so it is rumored - unconditionally. Yet, we think nothing of saying hurtful things or dispensing with niceties like thank-you notes or even a spoken word of appreciation.

As usual, I called Mama the next morning to check on her.

"Did you sleep good?" I asked.

"No, I had heartburn all night. Nearly killed me."

I'm no longer offended.

Then she added. "But you did a real good job mixing it all together. Normally, you're not a bad cook."

"Thank you," I replied, recognizing the embedded compliment.

Please notice that we're working on our manners. Thank you.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)" and "The Town That Came A-Courtin'."