NaNoWriMo Day #12: Sounds like the Deep South

Word count for work-in-progress, “Dixieland,” en route to 50,000 word goal: 32,327.

My mom never cussed. At least not with curse-words that I knew were curse-words.

You know how we say, “Shoot,” or “Shucks?” (Wasn’t ‘shucks’ frowned upon in The Music Man?)

But I knew that Mom was exasperated, at her wits end or simply befuddled to the point of possibly saying something un-ladylike. Instead, she said, “Fiddlesticks.” Sounds funny to you, perhaps, but that word got my attention. It wasn’t used very often, which in my mind was further proof that it was a substitute for other words that we don’t say very often.

I love remembering that. It makes me smile. (Thanks for the smile, Mom).

Both of my parents were born and raised in southern Mississippi. Dad in Natchez; Mom in Florence, just south of Jackson. I suppose they lost their southern “accents” years ago, and I can’t recall detecting that in their voices very often. But I’m thinking now about my mother, a true southern belle, saying, “Fiddlesticks” in a down-south twang. (I’m smiling again.)

In my NaNoWriMo novel, Dixieland, I’m trying to employ as many southern idioms and other figures of speech that I can think of. I expect you’ll hear my main character, Edna Mae, utter “fiddlesticks” a time or two.

I’m not sure of the origin or frequency of use, but I remember Dad saying, “Well I swannie,” or “I’ll swannie,” used and said in the same manner as “Mercy sakes!” I only heard it as an exclamation; used once in anger and frustration.

My Aunt Sue will say, “Well good night nurse!” as an exclamation, along the line of “You don’t say?” or “Well, I’ll be dog-gone.” At least that’ the way I understand it.

I believe it was Mississippi comedic genius Jerry Clower who used the phrase, “Well switch my backside.” (As in, “Well, I shouldn’t have done/said that,” or “Give me a swift kick in the pants” to get my attention).

One of my all-time favorite expressions, which is the trademark expression of Dixieland’s Owen Nickerson, is “Heavenly days!” Back in my teen years I was occasionally part of a hay-hauling crew for Ernie Robertson and Vic Young. (Help me out here, readers. Was Ernie Vic’s son-in-law or brother-in-law?) Ernie was a wiry fellow but could out-work and out-muscle any of us young bucks, and Vic more than held his own. One time Ernie and Vic unloaded the hay bales from the wagon onto the conveyor that delivered the bales to the barn loft where Eric Palmer and I stacked the bales while we dodged yellow-jacket wasps and 120-degree heat. (If I was exaggerating, I’d say 140 degree heat).

Previously, I’d heard Ernie say, “Heavenly days, it’s hot.” Not exclamation point, because it wasn’t a forceful statement, just matter-of-fact. When we finished the hay-hauling day, we gathered around the Robertson dining room table where heaping piles of mashed potatoes, fried chicken and other mouth-watering delicacies awaited. In that moment, “Heavenly days” was almost a whisper with an exclamation mark – an intense, humble expression of gratitude and awe.

So there’s me and Eric in the stifling hot, alfalfa dust-choked barn loft, grabbing the bales as they came up the conveyor. One bale slipped off the conveyor and at the exact moment Ernie stepped toward the barn to retrieve the errant bale, the twine snapped on the very next bale that I grabbed from the top of the conveyor, sending a shower of fresh alfalfa hay onto Ernie.

Vic kept feeding the conveyor and Ernie brushed himself off. He never looked toward the loft – just looked toward Vic and said, “Well, Heavenly days.” There wasn’t an ounce of anger or frustration. Just “Heavenly days.”

I suppose that’s what everyone’s supposed to say when they get showered with hay on the most blistering hot day of the summer.

SEND ME YOUR Southern vernacular, idioms, figures of speech, etc. I’ll use them in my story.

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2 Comments

Filed under "Dixieland", Family, Inspiration, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, National Novel Writing Month 2012, Old Time Religion, WIPs

2 responses to “NaNoWriMo Day #12: Sounds like the Deep South

  1. So much experience for fodder here! 🙂
    My one grandma always answers the phone with a big, “Well, HELLO there!” with every single vowel drawn out. 🙂 You can practically hear her beaming.
    My great-aunt spells “picture” “pitcher,” like she says it.
    My other grandparents have three giant pecan trees in their backyard. Of course, you could go round in circles for days about the pronunciation of “pecan.”
    Finally, let me tell a joke my roommate told me:
    Two Southern belles are sitting on the front porch. One says to the other, “My husband bought me this necklace when he proposed. What do you think?”
    The other smiles, fans herself, and says, “Oh, that’s nice.”
    The first one says, “Look at this ring. He bought me this ring for our five-year anniversary.”
    The other smiles, fans herself, and says, “Oh, that’s nice.”
    The first one goes on. “And look at these pearl earrings. He bought me these after our first son was born.”
    The other keeps smiling, fans herself, and says, “Oh, that’s nice.”
    “Well, what about you?” the first lady asks. “What has your husband done for you?”
    “Well,” the other says, “he sent me to finishing school.”
    The first one raises her eyebrows and says, “Finishing school! Why my dear, whatever for?”
    The other one smiles, fans herself, and says, “So I could learn how to say ‘Oh, that’s nice,’ instead of ‘F*** you, b****!'”
    If Southern women hate you, they will totally tell it to your face with a smile and a “Well, bless your little heart!” :/ At least, this has been my experience…also, the more annoyed with you they get, the sweeter they are — meaning the more likely they are to call you “honey,” “sugar,” etc. in a condescending way. I never heard many curse words but I did hear a lot of “Honey, honey, NO sweetie angel pie, DO NOT TOUCH THAT IT IS BREAKABLE KEEP YOUR PAWS OFF IT!”

  2. My favorite phrase is “Good gravy!”

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