Yesterday I purchased a few items at Sears. The clerks looked up my phone number for some point plan or other and then said to me, "Miss Mary?" The first clerk was African-American like many of my GED students who also called me Miss Mary. The second clerk was older and Asian-American but she also called me Miss Mary. I wondered if that was because of my obvious age and a term of respect or their protocol. They did not say, "Ms. VanderKam?" (I think Macy's clerks use your surname.)
I would tell my adult education students that they could just call me Mary, but some said their mothers would kill them if they showed that kind of disrespect. My student at Hope Ministries also refers to me as Miss Mary.
At first it made me uncomfortable and feel like the plantation mistress in the pre-Civil War South. It probably is not a racial thing at all but just courtesy for an older woman or a teacher. I learned to accept it and even like it--and sometimes give it back in return, "Yes, Miss Tamisha?"
Our name tags as art museum docents have our first names in large letters with our last names in very small letters. With 3rd and 4th and 5th graders, I wouldn't mind introducing myself as Mrs. VanderKam instead of Mary.
A week later: We ate at the PittyPat Porch in Atlanta last night--a very Southern restaurant where I enjoyed chicken, biscuits, hoppin' john, cornbread, and other delicacies. The hostess was a character and welcomed me as "Mary" with our open table reservation. At the end of the evening, as we complimented her on our experience, I became "Miss Mary."