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An Education of Words

If you don’t understand the language where you are living, what do you think the problem is? Yeah, me too.

Such was the way with words in my early life. Oh, it wasn’t that I was slow or anything like that. I didn’t live in a foreign land. My parents were citizens, born right here in this country. The problem was, I was being raised by mid-westerners and we were living in the deep South. Trust me. We are speaking polar opposites here.

To my family, bread was bread. To those who lived around me, went to school with me, and made fun of me, bread needed an adjective to define it. Adjectives such as corn, or light. Light bread was plain ole white bread, in case you didn’t know. Though I only knew potatoes to be white, in the south adjectives were king and potatoes were either sweet or iced. That is not a mistake. You had to listen very close to the person speaking so you might be able to figure out that iced taters in the South were Irish potatoes in the rest of the world.

Tea was referred to as “sweet tea”, roads were “graveled”, or “dirt”, or “clay”, as in ‘Billy lives on the clay road not too far from the highway. Highways went to town.

All soft drinks were cokes and it didn’t matter if you wanted Root Beer, a cola or something else. It was still a coke. Tires were tars, purses were pusses, miles were mals and I was in a foreign land.

I soon learned to swim by going bathing in the bay. I could walk on water by placing one foot in front of the other on a wooden structure know as a pier. Piers looked like docks to me. We lived on the bay with a nice sandy stretch of land encircling it. This land was not a beach. The beach meant Pensacola Beach. A few lucky people lived on the beach, which is what I thought we did. I was wrong.

In this foreign land fish were fried and eaten with hushpuppies that have nothing to do with dogs. Let’s not even talk about grits. 

According to my new neighbors, crabs jubileed once a month; killed snakes didn’t die until sundown; roaches lived forever, and you should beware of the gators. Was I in a foreign land or was I in a different dimension?

Sandwich meat was kept in the ice box that looked like a refrigerator. Sandwiches were made with mynaze, not butter. Tomatoes made a great sandwich using only bread, tomatoes, salt, pepper and mynaze. You didn’t eat the skin on the grapes called scuppernongs, which made great wine, and I needed a translation guide to exist here.

Hoes and johnny made great cakes for breakfast or lunch or even dinner. Cat heads seemed to land in the biscuits unless the angels got there first. Milk was either buttered or plain, and the ole folks loved to drink buttermilk. Can we say ewww here?

 Pig skin was cooked and sold in a bag as a snack. Pigs feet were sold out of jars that sat on the counters of every store and gas station around. Lights could be turned on or eaten, depending on the original subject of the conversation. (Don’t ask.) Possums, coons, and gophers were eaten with delight. (Side note: gophers in the south are turtles that live on land.) The way I heard tell there weren’t many animals or parts thereof that couldn’t be eaten. I wanted to become a vegetarian.

Ministers were preachers and all men at the church were your brother and you were expected to address them as such – “Brother Carl, how you doin this week?” Bibles were “the good book”, and everyone went to church on Sunday.

Whoopins happened when children were bad. Ass whoopins were fights between a couple of boys at school.

Somehow I survived. I never learned to “speak” the language, but I certainly understand it, and relish in its survivability. I’m sure, should I ever venture out of the South for very long, I would be the one speaking the foreign language and collecting the stares. I would love every minute of that too. I am a Southern gal.

From the life and mind of:

Wanda M. Argersinger

© 2010 All Rights Reserved

www.wandaargersinger.com

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9 comments

  1. You are a Southern Gal, my FOAS! I love it! Believe it or not, there is even a twang here in southern Ohio, compared to northeast Ohio, where I am originally from. I’ve picked it up. Sigh.

  2. Great story. I am a transplant from Los Angeles but have been here long enough to appreciate and understand this. I am, however, perplexed by the eating of lights. That’s a new one on me. Keep up the great stories.

  3. LOL, too funny. Try truling coming from a foreign country and try to understand the southern people… Yeah, now you know! As far as I am concerned, if I ever should master understanding the language of the South, I will add it to my list of languages I truly speak and understand!
    Love the story!

  4. That just proves the point that American is many things to many people. It depends on where you land to determine how you speak. I’ll stick with Iowa and be as corny as they come.

  5. Thanks for the memories ,Wanda. It has been many a year since I’ve had any hoe cake.I don’t think Camilla knows how to cook one.Better talk to Mama this evening.Jay

  6. Funny! And a trip down memory lane. When I was married to my kids’ dad (He was from WV.) I had to translate both what he said and what others said to him. Of course, first I had to take WV intensive to understand him.

  7. LOL! Yup, I’ve had flat tars and been tarred at the end of a long day. It was wonderful to get to chat with you – you were easy to understand, but then Southern is my native tongue *grin*

    Wonderful piece – sure brought back a lot of memories!

  8. Joyce A. Anthony

    Goodness–I understood every one of them and I’ve lived in PA all my life!! Of course, when I’m angry, I speak with a Southern accent (I never could figure that one out!). Maybe I’m a reincarnated Southern belle :_)

  9. On my first trip to New York City I had to go into a drug store for some Pepto Bismal. I have a good ear and a heavy accent. When I heard “Where is the Pepto Bismal” come out of my mouth, I looked around to see who had spoken it.
    Oh, add pole cat and pole kitty to your list. That’s a southern skunk.
    Loved reading in my native tongue.

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