Etiquette Lost

 

“Yes, ma’am, No, ma’am, Thank you, ma’am, Please!”  The little ditty echos inside of my head like basketballs rebounding off of walls.  We’re tryin’ to help our daughter and son in law teach our grandbabies to consistently say “Yes, ma’am, Yes, sir….”  My bride, Grandmommy Linda, is big on this little saying which is why it is repeating over and over again like a never-ending loop.

In the world we presently live in, the learning process is somewhat tougher than it used to be.

Etiquette is not a Southern exclusive but there was a time when Southerners of any class, race, or religious affiliation displayed good manners.  It was a priority.  Our good manners were a badge of pride.  Remember “Southern Hospitality?”  We seem to be less hospitable these days, displaying poor manners.

I don’t mean knowing which spoon or fork to use, outside in folks, but the polite, “good” manners which seem to be eroding as I write this.  Some folks would ask, “Who died and made you Lord of the Manners?”  It’s my blog and I’ll rant if I want to.

When I coached, I periodically admonished my charges to “Remember where you come from (your parents), who you are representing (your parents, your school, me), and what you stand for. (Truth, Justice, and the American Way?)”  In other words, “Don’t disappoint your mommas and daddies.”  Disappointing momma was a big deal.  Good behavior was an expectation and most of the time it was realized.  That included baseball caps taken off inside the building and worn with the bill pointing forward.  I am old school.

It seems we have misplaced our manners and please don’t think I’m denigrating today’s generation; I’m not.  They are not the guilty ones.  Erosion takes place over time and today’s generation reflects what they are being taught and those who taught them…or didn’t.  Some of us are failing our charges, failing the next generation, and this has been going on for multiple generations.

Please don’t point a finger, blow out your chest, and pontificate, “Not me!”  We can all do better and there is no one cause.  That being said….

I happened upon an article in Southern Living, “20 Unspoken Rules of Etiquette That Every Southerner Follows.”  Should have said, “used to follow” but to their defense, it was an old article.

Using today’s world view some of these seemed Draconian.  If you read the article one might think most Southern manners revolve around eating and they do.  I learned most of mine while eating fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, and washing it down with sweet tea so sugary it set my teeth on edge.

I’ll come back to the article in a bit, but I just had a thought.  The undermining of Southern manners may have coincided with the rise of fast-food eateries specializing in fried chicken.  KFC, Chick-fil-a, Popeyes, Spinx…wait…Spinx?

Spinx is a glorified gas station founded in South Carolina offering gas, oil and about anything else you might need to outfit a wilderness trek through the Australian Outback.  Offerings also include slow service but pretty good Southern fried chicken.  You know the kind, crisp and greasy at the same time.

The problem is not Spinx but what I call “stand up food”.  The food rests on waxed paper and you stand around eating out of cute little pasteboard “boats” in red and white checkerboard.  Greasy fingers wiped on dirty jeans; baseball caps still perched backward on heads kind of food.  There’s the problem.  There isn’t a table to learn your manners around and the people you are eating with have no better manners than you do.

Once upon a time, Grandmamma went out and chopped the chicken’s head off, gutted it, dipped it in boiling water and plucked it clean.  All before she got around to cutting it up, dipping each individual piece in the batter of her choice and frying it to a golden brown.  You damn well were going to sit at a table, “minding your manners”, while you ate it.

If you didn’t mind your manners, you might find yourself going to bed without your supper instead of waiting for the adults to be served so you could get your chicken wing.  I was twenty-five before I evah got a pully bone.  Manners have eroded with the death of the sit-down, family meal.

Matching the world we live in, we have become grab and go consumers.  I am just as guilty of grabbing a piece of pepperoni pizza after gassing up my truck…having never left the gas station.

Let’s look at the article, shall we?  I won’t hit all the points because I am assuming you can read as well if not better than I can write.  These are just some “manners” that were hammered into my head…or beaten into my backside.

“Never eat with your mouth open or talk with your mouth full”  Son, you are sprayin’ food everywhere!  At least cover your mouth.  Alternative reminder, “Children should be seen and nevah, evah heard.”

“Get your elbows off the table!  If you are that tired you can go on to bed.”  As I stood in line at the local Chick-fil-a, I saw a bunch of folks who needed a nap.

“Never wear a hat to the table…or inside a building.”  This one…!  For some reason this is the pinnacle of rudeness for no other reason than my father, who worked in a greasy, lint filled cotton mill weave room, always removed his hat when he entered the cafeteria.  It was the polite thing to do and if I didn’t remove mine it might be nailed to my head ala Vlad the Impaler.

Addendum, “Always take your hat off in the presence of a lady…and all women are ladies until proven otherwise.”  If the sun was particularly bright and hot, one might get away with a simple tug on the bill or brim and a nod.  Sunstroke and sunburn trumps manners.

“Never sing or whistle at the table or talk about unpleasantries.”  This one was tough if asked, “Did you behave at school today?”  Sometimes the answer might prove to be unpleasant in regard to the response.  I didn’t understand the singin’ or whistlin’ but never did I….

Addendum for the next eight months, “Nevah, evah talk politics at the supper table.”  Definite unpleasantries.

It seems like there are many Southern manners related to gender, doors, and entries…”Ladies and girls first”, “Always open the door for a woman, a girl or your elders”, “Adult ladies first in the food line”, “Always stand when a woman enters the room (and when she sits, stands or leaves the room} and pull out the chair and help her seat herself.”  Not that she needs help, it is just the gentlemanly thing to do.  I think assisted seatings dates from the days of corsets and layer upon layer of petticoats and crinolines.

I ran afoul of the “opening the door” thing back in the late Sixties when I opened the library door for a cute, little coed.  There was an ulterior motive.  This was during the “burn your bra” period of history.  She burned me a new one and it wasn’t a bra.  Turns out she needed no help from a man.  I knew such but old habits are hard to break.  I still open the door for my wife, and she seems to appreciate it.

“Never go to a gathering empty-handed.”  The South is the casserole and banana puddin’ capital of the world for this very reason.  It doesn’t matter if it is a house warmin’ or a funeral, bring something other than yourself.

Politeness, civility, and graciousness seem to be the casualties of today’s war on political correctness.  Bullying, apathy, and indifference have replaced our good manners.  I don’t know we will ever get them back.  In lieu of manners, just be kind.

Please feel free to add any you are enamored with, in the comments section.  I’d love to hear from you.  Y’all hurry back now.

***

The article may be accessed at https://www.southernliving.com/culture/unspoken-etiquette-rules

Don Miller’s author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Roots….

As we grow, if we are fortunate, we put our roots deep into the deep, rich soil of life.  We anchor ourselves in the lessons we have learned.  No matter how far away the branches of our limbs reach, we are still anchored, still attached…to home.

As I’ve gotten older, old, I find myself slowly meandering back toward my roots, the memories, the lessons, the people of a place that no longer exists.  Not true, it exists quite clearly in my mind.

I was triggered by a rerun of an episode of The Waltons.  John Boy reads an editorial he had written that spoke to family roots and the destruction of an old home in the name of progress.  Before the quote was completed and fully formed in my mind, I was wondering why progress seems to create so much destruction.

Once more, my broken kaleidoscope of a mind sent me down a pathway toward home, a home that only exists in my mind.  A home that was destroyed in the name of progress.  A dusty dirt road, a white clapboard house with hip roofs sitting on a hill, a wide front porch, gently rolling fields of hay and stands of pine trees, people and places gone but not forgotten.

The often-quoted African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” comes to my mind.  It was true in the 1950s and 1960s as I grew up and may still be true in some isolated areas.  Unfortunately, the villages have been swallowed up by a monster named Urban Sprawl and the changes in the world we live in have destroyed extended and nuclear families and the pearls of wisdom they might have imparted.

Growing up on my particular wide place in the road, I was surrounded by family on all sides…it seemed I was related to everyone.  Aunts, uncles, and cousins from one side of the family on a hill beside us, aunts, uncles, and cousins from the other side of the family on the hill opposite.  My grandparent’s home sat on a hill above us…looking down to protect and teach lessons for a lifetime.

Further on up or down the road, more family.  On a five or six-mile stretch of highway between my grandparent’s home and my great grandparent’s home it seemed every other house was occupied by a family member, some distantly related, others more closely.  Cousins, aunts and uncles, family friends, all intent upon raising all the village children.

As I moved into my dating years a discussion of who might have been on my family tree was a must it seemed.  Even then I sometimes went out with distant female cousins.  The pool of eligible consorts was very, very small.

The area east of a western meander by the Catawba was sprinkled with small villages.  Most took the name of the church that was close by…or maybe the opposite, the church took the village’s name.  Belair, Pleasant Hill or Pleasant Valley, Osceola, Steel Hill.  In addition to the church, usually, there would be a small general store to serve the smattering of homes around it. These communities tended to overlap and were a part of a bigger area named Indian Land.

There were names like Yarbrough Town or Camp Cox and six or seven miles to the southeast, a true village, Van Wyche.  Northeast there was the town of Fort Mill and right across the river, a true city, Rock Hill.  Additional family members had settled there, raising us too.

When I was young, I didn’t appreciate the “village raising the child.”  It seemed any news of trouble I might have gotten into traveled at light speed, alerting my parents or grandparents before I got home.  Punishment would be quick and decisive…more often than not, it was well deserved. “Whatever you get at school, you’ll get double at home.”

I’m sure time has softened the focus of those days…maybe my memories are of a time I wished to be rather than was.  The front porch probably wasn’t quite as big as I remember but the roots of my family tree have dug deeper into the fertile ground I remember.

The villages are gone, and family dynamics have changed.  Monsters and socioeconomics have changed them.  Few parents can make ends meet on a single salary; others find themselves working multiple jobs.  Latch key children and helicopter parents are a rule, no longer the exception.  Child care is expensive and does little for family dynamics.

Grandparents are working longer and can’t provide or are unwilling to provide the safety net my grandparents provided.  We are unable to go back to those “thrilling days of yesteryear” but must somehow realize children don’t raise themselves.

I’ve got to do a better job of imparting my own lessons.  Actions over words, practice what you preach.  I have grandchildren who are growing up too fast.  I feel I have been somewhat absent, an absence they can’t afford…I can’t afford.  I’m not a village but I have lessons to be taught, stories to be told.  I hope there is still time to teach and to tell…time to impart wisdom and lessons.  Past time to help them put roots into fertile ground.

“Work for a cause, not for applause.  Remember to live your life to express, not to impress, don’t strive to make your presence noticed, just make your absence felt.”     —Gail Lictenstein

***

Don Miller, a retired teacher, and coach writes on various subjects.  His author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The interesting image is a drawing by Jillian Deluca and may be purchased at https://www.saatchiart.com/print/Drawing-Deep-Roots/985383/3619990/view

 

Viennas, Nabs, and Cherry-Lemon Sundrops

 

Or as is said ’round heah, Vienners…a somewhat heavy accent mark on the “ners”.  “Vi-en-NERS”.  Some of us end words with “er” that don’t require it, like yeller instead of yellow.

If you are North American and happen to find yourself in Germany with an intense hankering for a Vienna sausage…and, if you can actually get a vendor to understand your Southern accent, you’re probably not going to get what you are expecting; a “baker’s” half dozen of two-inch or so sausages in a jelly-like substance, all contained in a small can with a pull tab.  I remember when you had to us a “key“ to open the top of the can by inserting it into a metal band you twisted off.  Lawd have mercy if the little band twisted or broke, you might starve to death.

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What you’re going to get in Germany is a long, slender sausage that we Nordamerikanisch would call a skinny hot dog wiener.  They are called Wiener Würstchen in the Germanic states.

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I’m sure, by now many who haven’t clicked to a more interesting post are wondering, “What the hell is he babblin’ about.“  A better question might be “Why is he talkin’ about whatever the hell he is babblin’ bout?“  I’m getting there.

Recently, I handed a new friend twenty dollars to tide him over until his “gubmint” check arrived.  We had become friends that very day but that’s another story.  After thanking me he pointed out, “This’ll buy a lot of  Vienners at the Dollar Store.”

I commented, “And some soda crackers, too.”

As I drove home, I thought, “or buy a lot of Spam…or Potted Meat…or Deviled Ham…which might just be disguised potted meat.”  Nope, I just researched potted meat and wish I hadn’t.  Potted meat is not Deviled Ham.

While I haven’t eaten any of the above in decades, they do hold a warm spot in my heart and as my new friend pointed out, “They’ll hep keep the wolves away.”  I’m also sure they contributed to my 2006 heart attack because as a child I ate a great deal of the highly salted and fatted proteins, what I call “mystery meat”  as in it is a mystery as to what meat parts were used to make it.  I suggest you not read the ingredients if you actually like them.  Ignorance is bliss.

During the summer of my twelfth (12) year, I went to work in the fields alongside my cousins and an uncle.  It’s not like I hadn’t been working in the fields before, this work paid money…mullah…greenbacks…two dollars a day, ten dollars for five early thirty to dark thirty days per week.  Cash money every Friday evening.  Ten brand new Silver Certificates.  There was a caveat.  Two bucks a day plus midday meal.

Two bucks a day plus midday meal to load and haul hay, hoe and pull corn, clean out animal stalls and load their leavings into a manure spreader to…what else…spread manure.  Saturdays, I worked alongside another set of cousins on another uncle’s chicken farm.  The two farms were nothing alike except shoveling poop stinks no matter what animal it comes from and two dollars a day ain’t enough even with the midday meal.   Especially when the midday meal usually consisted of Vienna Sausage or Deviled Ham, soda crackers and a MoonPie or pack of nabs…all washed down from a jug of warm water.  Yummy.

Nabs?  For the uninitiated, nabs is Southern lingo for the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) which first produced small sandwich crackers usually filled with cheese or peanut butter.  Here in the South, we ate Lance’s, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, or Tom’s from Columbus, Georgia, but we still called them nabs.

Tom’s was eventually absorbed by Lance’s but still retains its name and is better known for its peanuts, while Lance is better known for its nabs.  Walk into any Southern mercantile and ask for a pack of nabs and a dope, they know exactly what you want.  You do have to provide which one of the gazillion choices you desire.1

Image result for nabs crackers"

That leads me down another rabbit trail.  Tom’s peanuts and Pepsi Cola.  In the afternoons my uncle would head out to the closest mercantile and bring back a Pepsi Cola, still called a “dope” in my neck of the woods, and a pack of Tom’s peanuts.   Any soft drink was called dope because the original Coca-Cola formula contained cocaine.  Back in the day, Southern soda shops were referred to as “hop joints” and Coke delivery trucks as “dope wagons.”2

For some reason, Tom’s peanuts go perfectly with Pepsi Cola.  I should have said goes perfectly IN a Pepsi Cola.  We’d pour our little bag of peanuts into the Pepsi Cola bottle and consume with gusto.  You could put them in any soft drink, but my choice was Pepsi.  A needed jolt of sugar for energy to get you to dark thirty and the salt from the peanuts helped to replenish what your body had lost as you tried not to die from heat castration 3 in a Southern hayfield.  I don’t know if it contained cocaine but it did seem to refresh you.

Image result for peanuts in pepsi bottle"

Another Southern staple was the MoonPie.  MoonPie?  I’ve never been enamored by the MoonPie, two huge graham cracker cookies with a marshmallow filling dipped in chocolate…originally.  You can get a MoonPie in many flavors now…banana, double yuk.  Not being enamored doesn’t mean I haven’t consumed a gracious plenty of them.  You eat what you have and what you can afford.

The MoonPie is truly a Southern creation, born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1907 at a local bakery.  As the story goes, visiting coal miners asked the owner to create a “man-sized” cookie that could serve as a “workingman’s lunch”.  When asked how big, the miner replied, “As big as the moon.”  We know how it got its name but not how MoonPie became associated with RC Cola, but it seems one cannot be consumed without the other.

Image result for moonpie and rc cola"

How RC or Royal Crown Cola, another Southern creation born in Columbus, Georgia became associated with MoonPie is a depression-era story that has been lost in the mists of time.  For a nickel, each, Southern laborers, textile workers or Kentucky coal miners could afford a filling lunch for a dime.  “An RC and a MoonPie” became a part of Southern culture with no help from advertising moguls.4

Flirting with Southern blasphemy, I said earlier I was never enamored with the MoonPie.  Nothing sacrilegious, I don’t like marshmallows and if I wasn’t drinking Pepsi, I might have a Cheerwine rather than an RC.  Cheerwine…I haven’t had one in years.  Honestly, unless Jack Daniels is in the glass I haven’t had any soft drink in years.

Cheerwine is a cherry-flavored cola produced in Salisbury, North Carolina since 1917.  Sweetened with cane syrup and containing a higher percentage of carbonation, a culture of its own sprang up.  Cheerwine cream-filled Krispy Creme donuts, Cheerwine flavored ice cream, Cheerwine pickles, the base for a barbeque sauce, and my favorite, a cherry, lemon, Sun Drop cola made with Cheerwine. 5

Sun Drop? You don’t know about Sun Drop? A citrus-flavored soda made in Missouri which is almost Southern.

Image result for cheerwine old fashioned"

Memories of sitting in the shade of huge water oaks next to the river, the humidity, and heat finding its way into the shade.  Slappin’ to keep the mosquitos from carryin’ you off before you finished your lunch.  At least the Vienna Sausages were warm and the gelatinous gunk has turned into an oily liquid that could be shaken off.  Ooh, I just remembered what the hands holding the sausage looked like.  Well, a bit of dirt or manure never hurt anyone…”ain’t hurt nobody.”

A twelve-year-old doing his first grown-up job, laughing with his cousins, listening to his uncle sing old-timey hymns just before pinning back the twelve-year old’s ears with a language he had never heard before because of something stupid he had done.  Learning lessons needing to be learned.

Learning to drive a tractor and then the big ole flatbed.  Learning you never pick up a bale of hay on the river bottoms without flipping it first.  “How did that moccasin get under there?”

Staring at long rows of corn, hoe in hand.  That sinking feeling that you’re going to be there all day, a long day.

Watching the early morning mist from the river find its way into the bottomland and the sun creep above the water oaks.

The late afternoon thunderheads forming beyond those same water oaks, praying the would wash out the rest of the day…or at least cool it down.

Lessons and memories at the finest…even if the food wasn’t.

Acknowledgment:  I realize Vienna Sausage is not a Southern creation but like all cultures “We ain’t above stealin’ an idea.”

Footnotes:

1 “A Nab is a Nab is a Nab”  Southern Food Ways https://www.southernfoodways.org/a-nab-is-a-nab-is-a-nab/

2 “Is it true Coca-Cola once contained cocaine?”  The Straight Dope https://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/384/is-it-true-coca-cola-once-contained-cocaine/

Heat Castration:  A non-recognized medical affliction caused by heat and humidity resulting in the “Sweating of one’s testicles off.”

4 “A Brief History of Tennessee Moon Pies” The Culture Trip https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/tennessee/articles/a-brief-history-of-tennessee-moon-pies/

5 “Ten things you didn’t know about Cheerwine” Wide Open Country https://www.wideopencountry.com/10-things-didnt-know-cheerwine/

The Illustrating images were all stolen from Pinterest as was the featured image.

Don Miller’s books, fiction, and non-fiction may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

…Than Owl Sh!t?

 

Image result for Slicker than owl shit"

I stepped out into the cold to check the temperatures in our hothouses and immediately thought, “Its colder than owl sh!t.”  This simple thought took me down a mental path that was “slicker than owl sh!t” and quite soon, I felt “dumber than owl sh!t” as I stepped on an overnight gift left behind by one of my canine children.  I was “luckier than owl sh!t” because the gift was frozen solid.  I avoided a sprained ankle as my foot rolled over the frozen “Baby Ruth” rather than my ankle.  I also avoided the nasty cleanup of my spiffy bunny slippers.

It was colder than owl sh!t and I wished it was hotter than owl sh!t, still.  Twenty-three degrees with a light breeze making me shiver despite my heavy coat.  It’s November 13, still fall, and the morning low for Nome, Alaska is twenty-four.  Crazier than owl sh!t.  I know many of you would have said it was “colder than a titches witty in a brass bra” or “colder than a well digger’s a$$ in January.”  For some reason my mind didn’t go there.

You can tell what has grabbed the attention of my feeble brain.  How did “…than owl    sh!t” become such a versatile descriptor and why do I feel the need to insert an exclamation point for the i in sh!t?

I grew up near the sandhills of South Carolina in an area that was cut by red clay and rocky slate.  I lived in a farming area and am as “country as a cow patty.”  I have spent my entire life in the state including the last thirty-two in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.

What little time I have spent out of South Carolina has primarily been spent in other Southern states.  I’ve just had no desire to head any farther north than Maryland.  I did head to Nebraska but that was where the College World Series was held.  A fine South Carolina institution won it that year.  Who am I kidding, I was a Clemson fan and they were there but didn’t win.

I was and am a purebred “country bumpkin”, now hillbilly, with hayseed and lint in his hair and wrapped tightly in kudzu vine.  Maybe more inbred than purebred as I think on it.  You might even use the term, Redneck.

I only bring up the place of my birth because I have heard about every old-time descriptive idiom one might expect to hear in the South…or at least South Carolina.  None work better, in so many ways  than “whatever than owl sh!t.”  Well Found under carnal knowledge” probably has more usage but doesn’t seem to have the flare.

“…hotter than owl sh!t” is more descriptive than “F…ing hot” but as I think on it, “hotter than a Billy goat’s a$$ in a hot pepper patch” gives one a much more interesting mental image than saying “it’s hotter than hell.”    I just thought of randy Billy goat descriptor, “Hornier than a double di@ked Billy goat,” and the cuter, “As happy as a puppy dog with two p@t@rs.”  No more, no more.

Obviously, I’ve slid further down my “slicker than owl sh!t” rabbit hole and it has branched toward more descriptive Southern idioms that come to mind.

An old friend commenting on the current crop of politicians, “My dad always said if you’re going to be stupid, you better be tough.”  Yep, and Lyndon B. Johnson put it a different way, “Being president is like being a jackass in a hailstorm. There’s nothing to do but to stand there and take it.”  No, I’m not saying LBJ was stupid and it wasn’t an idiom…maybe.  I wish our current president would stand there and take it and stay off twitter.  No more politics.

My wife’s favorite Southernism describing one of her basketball teams, “You can’t make silk purses out of sow’s ears” shows what a fine lady she is.  I have used a similar description to chronical some of my own teams involving chicken salad and chicken ka ka.  I’m not a fine lady.

She also informed me after I bloodied my thumb doing something stupid, “If you’re looking for sympathy, you can find it in Webster’s.”  I’m guessing she won’t kiss it to make it better and was “madder than a wet hen” as I bled on her floor.

One idiom made me stop and ponder “it was thicker and richer than three feet up a bull’s a$$.”  Interesting considering the Baptist deacon using it was describing fine, thick and rich banana pudding at a church social.  Somehow this is a good thing?  “Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit.”  Some sayings defy all understanding.

I began my morning ramble because of checking hothouse temperatures.  For some reason, my wife has never found a plant she didn’t want to save or overwinter.  It doesn’t keep her from buying more plants in the spring, summer, and fall.  A bit compulsive, she has more plants than “you can shake a stick at” and as I await the delivery of our third hothouse I wonder if we are on our way to “more hot houses than you can shake a stick at.”  As I said, somethings defy all understanding.

“Shaking a stick at” is an interesting saying and as I researched it was surprised to find out it was first used in a damn Yankee newspaper in the early 1800s, the Lancaster (Pa) Journal in 1818.  Well, we certainly kidnapped it.  What does it mean?  I have no clue except shaking a stick at anything is threatening and my wife’s plants are threatening my good nature.  “I’m as anxious as a whore in Sunday school.”

Well, I see it is now thirty degrees and today’s temperature is to climb only into the low forties.  I’m going to wait until the red alcohol in my thermometer climbs above thirty-two before I go for my morning walk.  At this rate, it could be an afternoon walk.  I just don’t want to “bust my a$$ because the roads are slicker than owl sh!t.”

***

If any of you have similar idioms, I would appreciate you dropping them in a comment.

***

Further ramblings in book form may be purchased at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The startled owl image from The Daily Record https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/weird-news/meet-worlds-most-startled-owl-6266419

Gif from https://www.theodysseyonline.com/best-southern-sayings  Some other good sayings.

As the Word Turns…

 

                        “A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.”                  Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night

I don’t think I’ve ever had an original thought, well there was a quote in the local newspaper after a state championship victory, “I was tighter than a tick on a fat dog.”  Don’t know where my quote came from, I’m sure it wasn’t original even though I created it on the spot.  Later I heard someone say they were “as tight as a flea’s ass over a rain barrel.”

I had been a bit tense before the game, as in “You couldn’t have slammed a twenty-one gauge needle up my ass with a sledgehammer” tense.  Somewhat graphic but you do get the point.  Ouch!

I have taken to sharing daily quotes on social media.  Quotes that I find uplifting or thought-provoking.  Quotes made by other people, smart people, creative people.  Everything I am not.

Like many things I do, these quotes lead to other thoughts, down rabbit holes and pig trails, the piling on effect.  My meanderings led me to the distinct language we Southerners have created from what was once English.  Our slang and sayings we have created from the “King’s English.”

Good Southerner writers seem to have the capacity to turn a word or phrase that means one thing into something else entirely and because I am incapable of original thought, I’ve used many phrases and idioms created by someone else.

I am not only Southern but as “country as a cow patty”.  I grew up “over yonder on the edge of nothin’” and moved to a place that is not quite “the end of the world but you can sure see it from there.”  I tend to “drop my gees” when I talk and sometimes when I write.

“I was as happy as a dead pig in sunshine” might be my favorite saying and I’ve used it often to describe my first true love.  Unfortunately, I was not the little blonde’s first true love…seems she had many true loves, some simultaneously.  “You couldn’t stir ’em with a stick.”  Despite her somewhat crowded pool of suitors, when she finally gave me “the time of day”, I found myself as happy as a “dead pig in sunshine” for most of our relationship.

If a pig were to die and is left in the sunshine for any length of time the skin will dry out…and it will “smell to high heaven”.  As the skin dries, the lips tend to pull away from the pig’s teeth giving the little, porcine feller a smile as if he is quite happy to be dead.  In other words, blissful ignorance of reality…yep that was me, blissfully ignorant she was going to crush my heart flatter than “a toad frog on a country highway”.  Come to think of it I was blissfully ignorant during most of my romantic episodes.

During many occasions chasing true love, I was as “stubborn as an old mud cooter.”  First, the use of the word cooter has nothing to do with its modern-day slang meaning; a woman’s “holiest of holies.”  Cooter is a West African word we Southerners appropriated to describe a water turtle.

If you have ever been unlucky enough to hook a snapping turtle while fishing, you will quickly find out how stubborn they are.  The old mossy back will head to the bottom and dig in.  If they’re big enough you won’t get them off the bottom until they run out of oxygen and come up for air.  If you are willing to wait until that happens and land him without losing a body part, there is the possibility of eating cooter stew, not really “eating high on the hog” but delicious none the less.  If not, you just have to cut your line and move on.  When it came to love, I never really knew how to cut my line…or my loses.  That has nothing to do with “fish or cut bait”, cus it ain’t Southern.

“A blind hog can find an acorn” or “capture lightning in a bottle” as I did when I met Miss Linda thirty-five years ago.  She and I do get “catawampus” on occasion, but mostly I’ve been “sugar in her hand.”  Yep, I have been “sh@#ing in high cotton” nigh on to thirty-two years of matrimony.  Maybe you can make “silk purses out of sow’s ears” after all.

“Bless your (his/her) heart” is a bit more diverse and complicated.  It is a phrase that can be used as sarcasm while gossiping about some unfortunate, “Well bless her heart.  If her brains were gunpowder she couldn’t blow her nose” or face to face, speaking in a slow drawl to a friend, “Bless your heart you are ’bout as smart as a sack of rocks.”  It is rumored to be the Southern Baptist lady’s equivalent of f@#$ you…rumored now, I don’t know for sure.

A major problem with “bless your heart” is it can also be used in a loving and sincere manner.  “Oh, I heard you lost your pet goldfish.  Bless your heart can I bring you a casserole or some potato salad?”  It’s all about inflection and yes, I have heard it directed toward me using every inflection possible.  Being Southern I’ve eaten a lot of casseroles and potato salad too.

“The phrase ‘bless your heart’ is like chicken and waffles.  It can be sweet.  It can be spicy and it’s perfect for any situation.” It’s A Southern Thing https://www.southernthing.com/bless-your-heart-is-all-about-the-tone-2581652582.html?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2

For more musings or a book or five, https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is from Amazon.com

 

Kudzu, Cotton and Red Clay Banks

 

I’ve battled kudzu for the past thirty years.  Some bright soul decided to import it from Japan and somehow the smothering vine has found a growing spot near my garden and is trying to cover a gully cut by a stream.

Kudzu became a great erosion control method, so great it has been called the “Plant that ate the South.”  Below my garden, near the creek, I saw my first Kudzu runner this morning.  The war begins again, a war that I am gradually losing.

Sorry, you’ll have to allow me a “pig trail” memory.  I remember cotton growing in the huge field across from my childhood home…and kudzu growing in the eroded ravine bordering that huge field.  It reminded me of the old Tarzan movies we watched on a black and white television on Sundays after church.  It was a jungle and I feared walking near it.  My childish mind imagined a tropical rainforest flourishing just across the road…lions and tigers and big snakes, oh my!

There was a smaller field of cotton growing behind my house above an eroded red clay bank separating the cotton from the field of corn growing below it.  There was no kudzu growing on the bank but should have been.  Broom straw was all that grew on its banks.

That’s not quite true, my mother grew there too…grew weary of having to clean my permanently red-stained clothes after I played on it.  Until I was old enough to pick cotton or pull corn I honed my imagination playing on those eroded red clay banks.

Tonka toy trucks and earthmovers created redoubts and ramparts to protect little green plastic soldiers who fought for their lives in the battles I created.  Later, as I outgrew the trucks and soldiers, my friends would join me as we refought World War Two battles with cap pistols and my Combat, the television show, Thompson Sub-Machine gun.  Sergeant Saunders would have been proud.  Momma wasn’t.  She still battled my clothing and was a bit peeved when she found me using her aluminum mixing bowl as an army helmet.

None of those items exist anymore…except…the kudzu.  The fields have given over to condominiums. Tonka toys passed down to my younger siblings as I outgrew them, green soldiers became lost somewhere in the sands of time.  Plastic, green soldier heaven I guess…or hell.  My machine gun, carelessly abandoned, run over in the prime of its life by an uncaring bicyclist.

I don’t see a lot of cotton grown near my upstate home.  I see a lot of kudzu.  On trips to the coast in the late fall, I once saw expansive fields growing cotton.  Cotton bolls bursting white in the fall as the fields sped by outside of my car window.  Big green, red or orange machines rolling in unison, replacing the slaves, sharecroppers and po’ white trash who picked it by hand in a time long past.  Even with mechanization, much of the cotton has been replaced by soybeans.

I say po’ white trash because I can.  I used to be a part of the po’ white trash or po’ white at least.  I never thought of us as trash…nor even poor I guess.  Sometimes life is quite rich without the need for money.  Even the owners of the lands we worked were “landed” rich with little actual money.  We worked side by side with the black sharecroppers, their hands callused over from the daylight to dark of night days making four dollars a day…1950s and 60s money.  Let’s see…that’s about forty dollars a day in today’s money, less than three hundred a week in today’s green money for a six-day week.  Not a lot of money to realize your dreams.

Kudzu was planted in the United States in the late nineteenth century as a foul joke.  Not really, it was a novelty, touted as fodder for livestock.  I admit my goats loved it.  When they grazed was the last time I had the vine controlled.  Shouldn’t have gotten rid of the goats.  Good grazing but not good to dry and bail.  Too heavy and wet.

On a bad day, a vine of kudzu will grow six inches in a twenty-four-hour period.  I don’t think kudzu has ever known a bad day.  In optimum growing conditions, which seems to be any humid, Southern summer day, it will grow a foot a day.  I swear on my dead mother’s grave the statement is not an embellishment.  I’ve watched it do it.

Roundup doesn’t work despite spraying it every two weeks and by “All Things Holy,” don’t burn it…it just grows back stronger than before.  I once attached a chain to a large root and tried to pull it up with my thirty-two-horsepower green tractor that does not run like a deer…the root pulled my front end off the ground before the root broke.  As far as I know, the root is still growing toward China.  I guess I need to mend my fences and get a goat.

In the 1930’s many cotton fields had played out and been abandoned due to the depression and the low prices accompanying it.  Erosion had begun to do its dirty deed in fields over plowed and undernourished.  Kudzu was used successfully for erosion control…too successfully.  I’ve seen stands of fifty-foot pines covered, bending under the weight, and abandoned cabins totally enveloped by the vine.  During the winter their gray outlines are almost ghostly.

Beware if you are living next to a stand.  Be vigilant and do not leave your windows open.  A person might wake up trapped in their bed by long green vines.

Like Don Miller’s writer’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is of an abandoned home about a week from being covered in Kudzu courtesy of http://www.discover.uga.edu

“Warm Biscuits on a Sunday….”

 

I absolutely love Kelly Clarkson, her voice, her sass, and her sense of humor.  If I were younger…and unmarried, I’d go to Nashville and camp out on her front doorstep…wait, she’s married?  To Reba McEntire’s son, you say?  Well, I’m not going to break up her marriage over something she said.

Southern and brazen,  with a voice as rich as Tennessee whiskey and biting as corn likker, Kelly likened a singer’s voice to “warm biscuits on a Sunday with butter drizzlin’ off of em’?”  How Southern is that!

An inner voice asked, “What does it mean?”

Another inner voice attempted to clarify, “Well…I guess…um…well…butter my butt and call me a biscuit, I don’t have a clue.”

I never heard that exclamation of surprise until I was an adult and I am not sure how authentic it is.  It does sound Southern.  “Buttah mah butt and call me ah biscuit.”  Yeah, rolls off of the tongue Southern but why would you wish your biscuit to fall out of your mouth?  That question came from the crazier of the voices in my head.  It does get crowded in there but never boring.

I’m not totally sure what Kelly meant.  I think it probably means “damn good” because biscuits drizzled in butter on a Sunday are “damn good” and, at least for me, a little bit poignant.

I love homemade biscuits and can’t think of anything better than a buttered, homemade biscuit on a Sunday…or any other day of the week for that matter.  Light, flaky, golden brown on the outside, light and soft on the inside.  Runnin’ in REAL butter, not the oleo stuff.  Just add a side of eggs for breakfast.  Slathered in King Syrup or honey for a dessert.  Stuffed with a slab of Neese’s liver mush for lunch.  Smothered with sawmill gravy for…heaven on a plate.  I assure you, biscuits and sawmill gravy are a heavenly meal unto themselves.  Never allow anyone to try and convince you otherwise.

We have several sayings from below the Mason Dixon involving biscuits…unless we stole em’ from somebody above it.  “A cat can have kittens in an oven, but that don’t make ‘em biscuits.”  Yankees may understand a derivation, “Just because you live in a garage, don’t make you a car.”  Here in the South, it might mean, just cause you’ve lived here for five generations and say Y’all don’t make you Southern.

We even express our undying affection with affirmations of love such as, “I could put you on a plate and sop you up with a biscuit.”  This is making me hungry and missin’ my grand momma.

I associate biscuits and love to my grandmother. Nannie was a somewhat stoic woman who had trouble overtly expressing her love.  I’m not sure I remember a time when I got an “I love you,” from my Nannie.  I was much more likely to get a whack on the ass than a pat on the back.  She did not abide foolishness.

I knew she loved me and the rest of the grandkids.  I knew it as well as I knew Nannie’s biscuits would be light and flaky.  Love was displayed by example, not expression.  Examples like buttered biscuits on a Wednesday…for lunch.  Her greatest expression of love was, “Donnie you’ve been a good boy, want another biscuit?”  This also explains why I have fought a war with my weight for most of my life…food was the language of love and of positive reinforcement.  She was the same with her peanut butter cookies…I loved them too.

As a small child, I remember watching her as she went about making her biscuits in the tiny kitchen of her home.  Standing in front of her window to the world, watching the birds in their domain,  she made her biscuits.  With me playing on the linoleum floor, she would be cutting in the lard and adding buttermilk to give it a bit of a tang.  She was careful not to overwork the dough to keep it light and flaky, before rolling it out and cutting rounds with her red handled biscuit cutter.  Rolling up the scraps into mini-biscuits, nothing was wasted, before painting the tops with melted butter.  She only glanced at her efforts and relied on feel as she watched “her” birds cavorting around her bird feeder.

Late in her life, I asked about her recipe.  She didn’t have one.  It was a little of this and a lot of that until it all came together, nothing exact.  You learn to make biscuits by making biscuits.  I must not make them enough.  Mine are not light and flaky, some so hard the puppies won’t eat them.  As I said in another essay, maybe it’s the lard…or the love.

Thank you, Kelly, for sending me down a lovely rabbit hole.

Coming soon “Cornfields and Cow Patties.”  Until then, check out Don at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM