THE SAME SWEET GIRLS by Cassandra King
in 1962, revolution was brewing across the country, but it would besome
time before that spirit drifted down to the Deep South. Still, I had
been bitten: At 18, I was an aspiring bohemian and playwright, much to
my mother’s dismay. She wanted me to attend a Methodist college close to
our family farm in south Alabama; I had my heart set on a liberal-arts
college 200 miles away. And, come fall, that’s where I went.
This act was typical of my brand of rebellion—not very daring. Alabama
College in Montevallo was an all-girls school, the alma mater of my
cousin, my English teacher, and my minister’s wife. And much to my
dismay, a bastion of the southern womanhood I had hoped to escape.
There was even a dress code: We had to wear dresses at all times—no
slacks, jeans, or shorts on campus, except on Saturdays. I knew I didn’t
fit in with the sorority sisters who populated the dorms, yet I had no
idea where I did belong. Only my pride kept me from begging my mother to
let me transfer.
Al that changed one morning at convocation, the weekly mandatory
assembly. That Thursday’s speaker was the National Maid of Cotton; I
managed to tune her out almost completely. But her final line grabbed
me: She assured the student body that although she’d been around the
world, had met kings and queens and heads of state, she was still the
same sweet girl she’d always been.
It started as a ripple. Much to my amazement, many of the girls around
me—the very ones I had dismissed as shining examples of southern
womanhood—were, like me, stifling giggles. What, exactly, was so funny?
We weren’t laughing at the beauty queen but at the absurd notion that
despite all she had accomplished, the thing that mattered most to her
was that she was still sweet. In that moment, long before feminism found
its way to Alabama, we realized we didn’t have to be girls anymore, that
we cared about more than simply being sweet. And it was a powerful
moment: We could have shouted or cried; instead, we laughed.
As we looked around the room and noted who among us got the joke, the
Same Sweet Girls, always said with tongue firmly planted in cheek, were
born. We were 20 strong and stayed friends for the next three years but
lost touch after college, as schoolmates often do. It was, sadly, the
death of a classmate a few years later that reunited us. Rather than
leaving our get-togethers to chance, we decided to set aside a day for
an annual gathering. Since many of us were living in or around Atlanta,
we began meeting on a Saturday for lunch, followed by an evening of girl
talk at a sweet girl’s house.
By then, we had become professors, artists, teachers, executives,
librarians, divorce lawyers (which would came in handy). And though our
lives were all very different, the new experiences we shared deepened
our old bonds.
Over time, the reunions grew into long weekends, moved around (a beach
house in Gulf Shores, Alabama, a cabin in the mountains, a hotel in New
York City), and became more frequent (three times in 2004). Along the
way, these weekends developed their own rhythm. On Friday, we arrive
with our signature dishes (chicken salad, pimiento cheese, or
Elizabeth’s mother’s famous pound cake), nibble on what everybody’s
brought, and pass around pictures of kids, and now grandkids. We always
serve a special drink: margaritas, gimlets, rum punch. For a long time,
it was Fuzzy Navels. We stay up late talking—well, midnight is late for
The next morning, we walk on the beach or go shopping. We reminisce
about folks we knew in college, and those we’ve met during past
reunions. Like the wealthy guy building a huge house next door to our
Gulf Shores getaway. He was like our own Jay Gatsby, and we spied on him
all weekend long.
On Saturday night, we get dressed up for a dinner out. The high point
comes afterward, with the coronation of that weekend’s “sweetest” girl.
This started pretty early on with an offhand remark and a lampshade. The
next year, someone showed up with a real tiara, and a corsage with sugar
cubes glued on. (The cubes eventually disintegrated, and the corsage got
to looking so ratty that we gave up on it.) It’s a silly ritual, but now
we campaign for the crown throughout the year.
People ask me what it means to have been friends with these women for so
long. A few years ago, I was meeting the SSGs in Atlanta for lunch. I
got to the restaurant late and couldn’t spot them. And then I realized I
was looking for a bunch of 20-year-olds with big hair. I guess that’s
what I still see—and feel—when we get together. It doesn’t matter where
we are, how old we are (60, or nearly there), that we’ve moved around,
had different jobs, and even different husbands—we’re still a core group
of women who once felt different from what society expected us to be.
Some of us now have daughters who want to grow up to be Same Sweet
Girls. The girls we were in college would applaud that. They would
applaud what we’ve become.
About the author
Cassandra King is a native of Alabama, where she formerly taught
English and creative writing classes. She has published stories and essays
in various quarterlies and anthologies, and her second novel, The
Sunday Wife, was published to fine reviews and acclaim. It was a SEBA
bestseller. She currently resides in South Carolina with her husband, Pat
Conroy. She belongs to a real-life Same Sweet Girls group, which reunites
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