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Chapter 1: "Isaiah"

Once, on my return from visiting my aunt in the South, Mother cheerfully exclaimed, “And how lucky that you were there in magnolia time! Oh, that divine smell.” 

But for me the fragrance of magnolias was claustrophobic.

One afternoon after Mother had admonished me yet again for wrongdoing—this time for wearing blue jeans to the grocery store—I mimicked her words to Alicia.

“‘It’s just not right. It’s common,’ ” one of Mother’s favorite words. “I hate Mother’s correct ways,” I said to Alicia. “Good manners—they’re not everything. I want to say and do what I feel, whatever that is.”  

Alicia, my sister, mocked me and started singing that song, I Gotta Be Me.  


“You know, Alicia, it’s like the scent of magnolias, that sticky heaviness. I can’t breathe.”  


From then on Alicia and I referred to Mother’s unwritten rule book as The Magnolia Code. From an early age we had been quietly informed that if you follow the rules of the code, you would be given the warmth of a Southern embrace. But if you deviate and turn your back on propriety, you could very well be relegated to the Southern branch of hell.  

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