As a Southern boy, I grew up around women like Julia Sugarbaker, strong-willed Southern women with lots of opinions, fierce family loyalties and good old fasioned Southern charm. Manners are important to these women as surely as the rules of engagement are to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. You've heard all the stereotypes; some of them are true, even here in the New South.
My mother is, in her way, one of these women. She claims a Yankee lineage, but she and the women in her family relocated here during the 1950s and their historical roots extend just a few miles north of the Mason Dixon line to a plantation in the darkness of the American past.
My father's family too was filled with these women. My grandmother and her sisters with their Southern pedigree, springing from the rich soil of the Mississippi delta, were perhaps more clearly traditionally Southern, both geographically and socially.
I loved the movie Steel Magnolias (and recognized the women from my own life), but Julia Sugarbaker on the 1980s sitcom Designing Women was the Southern woman who stole my heart.
I find myself returning again and again to these women in my writing, these strong, smart, sexy women, bull-headed and tender and fierce. I am editing a novel I completed a few years ago that I am finally ready to send out into the world. It's called Jude the Unsure and features one of my favorite characters. Valor Balder is a City Councilwoman in the novel, but she goes on to become a U.S. Sentator by the time she appears in my short story "The White Stag." She embodies all those great contradictory traits of Southern womanhood and she's just a pleasure to write. She was modeled after the women in my life: my mother, my grandmothers, personal friends, women I've had the pleasure of working with and, of course, Julia Sugarbaker.
Dixie Carter has had a long and varied career. I've watched her in other television roles and movies, and I have a copy of one of her CDs loaded on my iPod (Dixie Carter sings John Wallowitch Live at the Carlyle) so I can hear her dulcet, sexy tones when I'm having a quiet cocktail or writing about life in the South. But to me, the name Dixie Carter will always be inextricably linked to the fiery soul of Julia Sugarbaker.
Thank you Dixie, for making me laugh, cry and fall in love.