I’m deeply engrossed in a new book this week, MAD GIRLS IN LOVE (2005) by Michael Lee West, a lively tale of six unforgettable, multigenerational Southern women, since I had so enjoyed her CRAZY LADIES (from 1999). Reading southern books virtually takes me home to the south and re-connects me with my southern roots without my ever having to leave my home here. I’m a G.R.I.T.S. girl through and through no matter how far away I travel. (Translation: I’m a Girl Raised In The South.) I guess that’s why I so easily identify with Bitsy, one of the characters who changes in subtle and not-so-subtle ways over the years. I’ve been living north or west of the Mason Dixon line for many decades, and MAD GIRLS reminds me that once I spoke a different language and was a different person–intentionally or not. I’ve taken on a different vocabulary over the years. Anyhow, seeing as how I can hardly wait to get back to my reading, I’m posting one of the last entries I have from one of the nine. In this looking back interlude, you can see that, even for him, language was beginning to change.
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Have you ever wondered what happened to the old time country language like our daddies and grandfathers spoke? My daddy never said “he helped someone pick cotton,” he said, “I hope John pick his cotton.” Do you remember when we called peanuts “penders?” In the winter months we had to shell about four quarts of “penders” each morning before breakfast and another four quarts each evening before going to bed. We used the shelled “penders” for seed to plant in the spring.
We had a man who worked for us who got into a brawl one Saturday night and was stabbed. My Daddy told us later that “Tudd” had gotten stobbed Saturday night. Do you remember when the old timers never said “they were going in swimming.” They said “I’m going to the creek and go in a washing. One of those old timers that lived near us back in the late thirties had finished picking and selling his tobacco. He decided to do something special for his family who had worked so hard in it. So he took them to Jacksonville Beach to go swimming. As he drove along the crowded beach boulevard, a policeman stopped him and asked, “Where are you going so fast?” The old timer’s answered, “We are just going over to the ocean to go in a washing.” The policeman looked puzzled and told him to move on.
We always ordered our clothes from a mail order catalog. After wearing them one time Mother washed them and they shrank up about six inches. We never said they “shrank.” We said “The clothes ‘drawed up’ about six inches. How many of you have ever gone to the field to get tomatoes, potatoes and fresh new corn? We always went to the field to get maters, taters and rosen ears. I hear my children talk about their new stereo. We never had a stereo, we had a talking machine or a Victrola that you cranked up with a handle.
We never went to a dentist with a toothache. We went to the tooth doctor with a holler tooth. I once had an aunt that fainted quite often. We said she had “spells” a lot. We never ate a large amount of anything. We et a bate of it. I will admit our language was different from that we hear used today. [mid-1980s] We didn’t have words like “rite on” or “that dude,” and “crack” was a space between the boards in the floor.
POSTSCRIPT: I didn’t want to stop without leaving you with a couple of little gems (from the book) that sounded like things that could have come from one of my aunts or grandmas, or even Mama, about raising children…and I can’t quote it directly because it’s impossible to find it in my Nook because I can’t remember where I saw them. One is about how having children brings you pain throughout their life and yours, heartaches when they’re little and a pain in the ass when they’re grown (or something like that), and my favorite (I have to remember this!), that while they’re growing up you sew their wings on as tight as you can, and then you have to remember to let go.” Of course my mother and the women I grew up with never did, but that’s a story for another day.