By Teddy Allen

The quote was the final line of a friend’s obituary years ago, and it spoke of her with an accuracy so sharp, so clearly defined, that those of us who loved her could have sworn it had been written for her and for her alone.

“Strength just comes in one brand – you stand up at sunrise and meet what they send you and keep your hair combed.”

Grace under pressure, every day.

It’s from the late North Carolina poet and novelist Reynolds Price, who has the spunky pepper pot of a title character say this in the novel Kate Vaiden, a raspy word picture that quietly screams of an innocent but almost animal attraction and drips with an authentic and steely Southern female swagger.

“Strength just comes in one brand – you stand up at sunrise and meet what they send you and keep your hair combed.”

Whatever you say, Kate. I’m a believer.

Remind you of anyone? Me too. To capture such a feisty Southern heroine, this writer must have met some of the same women we’ve been lucky enough to know.

Do yourself a favor: grant yourself some time to think of and be grateful for women who knew you better than you knew yourself, for the strength and smile that came along at just the right time, for the steel magnolias of your youth, for the thick-skinned, wise, and lively women of our lives.

What they do isn’t easy. They just make it look that way.

Few women in my hometown owned a business — there weren’t a lot of businesses to own — yet they ran most everything. It took growing older and getting away to understand through life’s rearview mirror that women were at the heart of it all.

The exception was Kay’s Hair Right Here. Mrs. Kay was the mom of my elementary school friends Sharon and Alan, and she ran the small two-chair, two-dryer beauty shop, a one-woman show. Always loved the double punch packed by her salon’s name: she would do your mom’s hair Right Here (on this spot), and she would do it correctly (Right).

A whiz, Mrs. Kay was, both with words and with a curling iron and some hair spray or Dippity-Do.

Like Mrs. Kay, most all the women of my youth possessed their own brand of magic. One early summer morning, Mrs. Helen taught me how to drive a tractor — I was 8? — in about five minutes; I can see her finishing the lesson — clutch, brake, whatever — then pointing me toward the Ford Farm and walking back toward her kitchen with no plan to turn back around.

I could sit there all day, or I could figure out what she’d said and drive. I drove.

Mrs. Slate did the work of a half-dozen people at Slate’s on Main Street, where she fried eggs and fish while her husband sold appliances. You could literally get up from the booth where Mrs. Slate had sat down your plate lunches, walk 20 or so feet to a Maytag, get Mr. Slate to show it to you while you chewed, then work out an installment plan after you’d cleaned your plate.

Don’t forget to get pie first. Then again, Mrs. Slate wouldn’t let you forget.

I was so lucky I could hardly get out of my yard without bumping into wall-to-wall nuggets of female gold. Next door in the house of 12-plus were Maudine and Martha Lou and Luna Faye and Muh and Ann and … an embarrassment of riches, women who could grow a garden, can it, change a flat, milk a cow, teach Sunday school, and dress like either a farmhand or a princess, depending on the needs of the day.

None of my female heroes back then had a lot. They fought life’s battles with the three things they could always depend on: love, humor, and kindness. With those, they were undefeated.

They didn’t own anything, but they had everything.

What a break that they’re still around, still on our side, quietly efficient and engaging, the best of God’s creation, a necessity after He’d made man and, for the first time ever, scratched his eternal head and said to Himself, “Uh-oh.”

And so, another swing, this time with a rib, and BOOM! the superior sex, both hard and soft in perfect places, still the best in the business, the business of making life go, the business of making life better.

Contact Teddy at