This story appeared in my book, "Exploding Hushpuppies."
I’m a hugger — but a hugger who would really and truly rather shake your hand. I hug some people freely, with joy and enthusiasm, but feel it’s a status to be earned, not expected. When I see hug-worthy friends, I’ll gladly throw myself into their arms, while others warrant a warm smile, friendly handshake, or in some situations the lethal Southern lady weapon of a cold stare.
If you’ve been around teenaged girls lately, you know it’s like a barrel of otters with all the squirming and hugging going on. While chaperoning a group of teens I noticed the girls hugged each other every few minutes. “Huggsies!” one girl screamed as she launched herself into the middle of a group. Do their parents think this ear-piercing squealing and over- hugging behavior is cute? And once again, I say, “thank you God for giving me boys.”
Southerners will say, “let me hug your neck” or “give me some sugar” which is usually directed at kin-folk. I think it’s the newcomers who are introducing the “hug everyone in the world” concept. My New Jersey husband says everyone up there not only hugs but kisses each other whether they’re close or not.
My mom’s Irish family hugged, but not excessively. My Dad’s British family excelled at the hand shake. Mother said the first time she met Dad’s family when she went home with him in college, Daddy and his Dad ran towards each other and enthusiastically shook hands. She liked-to-have-died. By the time I was born, she had converted them to huggers but with my DNA test reporting I’m 74% British, 14% Scottish, Irish and Wales, I’m doomed to a lifetime of sunscreen and handshaking.
The list of people I like to hug includes but is not limited to: those who smell really good, puppies, good altos, clean children, people who have been missing for over 8 months, anyone who ever helped me with algebra, everyone on Easter, and anyone who is wearing an FSU shirt. Bless their hearts, the Seminoles need extra hugs this year.
I loved watching Downton Abbey when the British characters would shake hands. Even with great excitement, there was no hugging, fist bumping, slapping or tousling hair. Just a big smile and a hearty, “well done, old chap!”
My husband’s Italian family wants to hug and kiss you, then repeat it all over again two minutes later. Even if they’re yelling at you, they want to hug, which is very scary for anyone from South Alabama. His grandmother nearly smothered me once when I went to the kitchen to get her a napkin, which was hard to do, because she had tiny spaghetti-like arms.
I recently met a man for the first time who reached out and pulled me in for a full-frontal hug which I found to be quite awkward. I mean, I didn’t even know the guy and he got the full tour. Of course, when I pulled away, he was equally rude to mention it — “What? You don’t like me?” Which of course is a hugger’s way of labeling you as a psychopath. I didn’t think anything bad about him, but secretly loathed his mother for raising such a man. She was probably a teenaged squealing hugger in her youth.