What Does Real Really Mean?

"They were real ugly," she'd say. "Real ugly boots. But they were all I had to wear."

“They were real ugly,” she’d say. “Real ugly boots. But they were all I had to wear.”

What does REAL really mean to you?

Back in the 1950’s the kids I knew used the word real all the time. Mostly, real was our chosen word for something that was either original or the absolute truth.

You could have a really good day or a really bad day. You watched The Mickey Mouse Club on a real black and white TV. And if word spread that a party at Rhonda’s house was gonna to be real cool, but turned out to be a real nowhere — well, really … Rhonda’s whole life was ruined.

Today, authentic seems to be the new buzzword for what my generation called real. Blogging experts encourage authenticity. Lord help the blogger who’s pretended to be a mom with six kids and turns out to be single and childless.

We want our real back. And should you ask me, What does REAL really mean, I can answer in two words … Shirley Branch.

Shirley Branch is my mother, and she’s the real thing — authentic right down to the silver gray streaks in her dark brown hair and her no nonsense (and sometimes embarrassing) proclamations …

  • To the boy who’s restocking fruit in the grocery store:  Now, why would I pay good money for over-ripe peaches?
  • To anyone nearby in an art gallery:  Six hundred dollars for a pottery bowl? I could redo my living room for that kind of money.
  • To me in a shoe store:  You don’t need to look at another pair of cowgirl boots. How many pair do you own by now?

Mom came by real naturally. She grew up on a farm, in a family that lived by the rule Function Over Form. Anything — whether purchased or handmade — had to to be useful … and useful (preferably) for a long long time.

Shirley was the youngest of nine children, so she ended up with everyone’s hand-me-downs. The only exception was that each and every year, her father (my Grandpappy Sherrill) would go to town and buy her one pair of men’s work boots. The argument that those boots were too big (and ugly) held no sway with Caswell Sherrill.

“Don’t matter,” he’d say, “they’ll last ya.”

When Grandma Sherrill muttered under her breath that the boots were un-lady like, he said, “A real lady’s a lady, ugly shoes or not.”

So my ever practical mother grew resigned to wearing them. “They were real ugly,” she’d say. “Real ugly boots. But they were all I had to wear.”

Mom also helped milk the cows, feed the chickens, slop the pigs, prepare the meals, clean the house, and do the laundry. By the age of six she was sewing her own dresses out of fabric scraps and the occasional feed sack.

One of her older sisters, my Aunt Mabel, bought mom her very first real store-bought dress for her high school prom. Mom was sixteen years old.

So how more ironic could it be that my mother, the ever practical Shirley Sue Sherrill (who spent her whole life living in the real world), would marry a dreamer like Byrd Branch … and produce a starry-eyed daughter like me?

Me … Daddy’s little girl – the star-gazer and Lightning Bug chaser. One day I was a cowgirl — the next day I was a dog, a chipmunk, or a lightning bug. I lived in a make-believe-world with make-believe-friends and believed that every Disney movie I ever saw could come true … most especially Cinderella. One day, I thought, I’m going to wear real glass slippers.

I had seen some pretend glass slippers (made just for little girls) in the window of Roses Dime Store and hinted to mom that I really, really wanted them. But I knew what she was going to say, even before I mentioned the slippers …

In the real world, life goes on. And in the real world, we simply cannot afford all the things we want. (That was mom’s favorite saying, her daily mantra.)

I was beginning to dislike mom’s version of real (as in reality), so I was apprehensive when mom announced she was going to give me a real birthday party when I turned five.

One night, a few days before my birthday, I tiptoed into the living room where Daddy was strumming a new song on his guitar.


He laid the guitar down on the couch, and touched the tip of my nose with his forefinger.

“What?” he said. “Did you have a question?”

“You know that movie, Cinderella?”

He smiled. “Sure I do.”

“Well … is there really such a thing as a glass slipper?”


to be continued in the next post …

(Boot image courtesy of Fotolia. Photomontage © Deb Trotter)


Raised On Love – My Blue Ridge Memoir

“Raised On Love. Dreaming of Lightning Bugs.”







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