And they didn’t wrap it in no paper ner nothin’
As an English teacher I take great delight in the language. The sounds of words, the colloquialisms, jargon, even slang is fun and interesting. While I still prefer the King’s English, or as close to it as we can get, I cannot help but be amused by the colorful and unique style of English spoken in the Deep South.
Please understand, these are my people. I have roots in Kentucky and family in Ohio (which is really more Midwest,) but there are a few in Texas, some in Tennessee, and I did live two years in Alabama. I love the charm and hospitality of the south, but I am more enchanted by the quaint and explicit way southerners express themselves, in a vernacular that only marginally resembles English.
During my two year stay in Alabama, where my husband was stationed, we joined a tiny church in a little town just outside Dothan. The church membership was about seventy people. These were good Pentecostal folks, not the snake-handling ones but the filled with the spirit ones, and our pastor was a sweet, balding, portly, forty something man named Pastor Thorpe.
Pastor Thorp saw everyone in his flock as his sister or brother. He loved all the brethren and never addressed us without this honorific.
“How ya doin’ Sister Eldar?” and he would patiently wait for a genuine answer. He was as honest, kind and loving a man as you could ever hope to meet. You just wanted to hug him.
One summer he and his family took a vacation to the Blue Ridge Mountains to meet some of his “kin-folk”. He was gone about two weeks and when he returned we had a short conversation about his experience up in the hills. What he had to share speaks to the very soul of all people. The exchange was so engaging and so uncommonly droll that I can only relay it in his words. I will do my best to capture his accent, his emotional responses and his passionate storytelling technique.
“Hello Pastor Thorpe. Welcome back. How was your vacation?” I began.
“Oh thank you Sister Eldar, thank you so much for askin’. Well, it was kindly odd. It was good to see my people, but I stayed one night with my cousins and afore God that was most uncomferbal night o’my life!”
“Oh that’s terrible, what happened?” I asked in concern.
“Well, I let my wife and the key-ids stay at my Momma’s in town cause they don’t know none o’them folks which are a way up in the hills. So I went on my own. I was thinkin’ it’d be nice to have some time alone with my cousin and his wife cause I ain’t seen ’em in twenty five years. It was a long ole drive, but it’s purdy country.”
“So what happened?”
“Oh Sister Eldar, all I can say is that them was the dirtiest people I nearly ever seen in my whole life…
Now I aint talking some clothes on the floor or some dishes in the sink, (which that was the true situation), but I know we all get behind now and then, and I didn’t pay that no mind. But it was most clear they ain’t swept a floor or dusted a shelf in nigh on a year as near as I could tell.
I come in the door and they was sweet as they could be. My cousin nearly cried he was so happy to see me after all them years. They was wantin to make me a supper but it was round about eight o’clock and tole em I awready et. So we had some coffee and a pie I brought with me to thank them for havin’ me up. It was nice to visit with em and we had lots to talk about, but these is country folk and they aint used to stayin up all the night. So right about ten thirty they say they got to get some sleep and tole me I could use the upstairs bed. Then they walked to the other side o’ the house and sorta disappeared.
I walked up them steps to the upstairs bedroom and ever time I took a step, a big cloud of dirt come up from under my foot. That rug on the stairs must o’been there thirty some years and ain’t nobody run a sweeper over it in all that time. I got to the room and it had only one nekked bulb a-hanging from the ceilin’ and a mattress with no box spring just sittin on a iron frame. It had a patchwork quilt up on it, but they was no sheets on it t’all. Not on the top ner on the bottom. I figgered they don’t have no visitors most times so I just thought I’d get some sleep and talk it over with em in day light. I didn’t know I’d only be there just the one night.
Sister Eldar, It ain’t nothin to say I didn’t get no sleep all night. They was no use in it.
First was the owl. It must’ve been under the winda and callin to his mate cause he kept up the who whooin way on into the night.
Then I was about to get to sleep when I begun to itchin all over. I don’t know if it was fleas or bed bugs but that bed was crawling and by that time it was up around four o’clock.
I went on down them dirty steps and thought I’d make me some breakfast.
Oh Sister Eldar, I swear on my children’s lives when I come into the door way and switched on the light the floor moved. It moved in about a thousand directions all at once. I never seen so many cock a roaches run so fast.”
Up to this point in his story I had managed to maintain a look of sincere concern. I furrowed my forehead and kept a fist up near my mouth where I could cough into it when the giggle was about to burst forth. But then came his closure.
“I was so tarred and hungry and I jest wanted to have some breakfast and say goodbye and get on outta there. So I mixed up some flour and soda and milk and salt to make me some biscuits. Then I reached into the cubburd to find a good iron pan to cook em in, but when I pulled it out, it was so dirty, my land, it had about a inch of grease just layin in the bottom.
Well, I got me a scrubber and some ajax and was about to get to cleanin that pan when I thought I might jest as well heat up the oven.
So there I was, scrubbin’ that pan and the daylight just about to come up over the fields, and I was thinkin about puttin butter on them hot biscuits, when I begun to smell the most awful smell in the world. I was gettin sick to my stomach from that smell. I set that clean pan down on the counter and I opened up that oven and do you know what I seen? Do you know what I seen?
I seen A POSSUM!
They was a dead possum in that oven that somebody done shot for cookin’ and they had just thowed it in the oven, fur, skin and all. Just thowed it raw in the oven, they didn’t even wrap it in no paper ner nothin!!”
That was all I could take. I wanted to laugh so badly I was ready to lose it in my pants. I feigned a coughing fit then said I had to go, and to please excuse me, and I ran all the way to the bathroom where I laughed so hard I did pee on myself a little.
I laughed till my makeup ran down my face and I grabbed a wad of toilet tissue to wipe my eyes. I looked at the tissue and thought- ‘They didn’t even wrap it in no paper ner nothin’ and I started up again. Poor Pastor Thorp. Bed Bugs and owls are one thing, but when people don’t even wrap their dead possum in paper before throwing it in a cold oven. Well, who can blame him for leaving?
That’s simply too much for anyone.