A True Story from the Civil War

They were Alfred Ferguson, 1822-1906, and Sarah Elizabeth (née) Prance Ferguson, he of Warren County, MS, and she of either Kentucky or Tennessee. During the civil war, Alfred was in his 40’s but he was stove up, and not able to fight; he was at home, near Vicksburg, with his wife Sarah Elizabeth, when General Ulysses S. Grant arrived to surround and blockade Vicksburg. This was a very dangerous time, especially for Rebels of fighting age, crippled up or no. Alfred was out gathering firewood when Union soldiers caught him and brought him, a prisoner, back to where General Grant was. Sarah found out about it. She immediately dug up the things she was hiding from the Union troops: sugar, ham, bacon, flour, syrup, etc. etc. She cooked all night long with the help of her servants, who were still loyal to her.

The next morning, she saddled up two mules. She rode on one. The other, she loaded with all the food she had cooked, including fried chicken. These were all things for which people were being killed, you understand. If anyone had stopped her, she could have been killed just for the biscuits alone. Anyway, she met the sentry at the Union camp and told him she had something for General Grant. General Grant was stunned when she said she had brought the General his breakfast! He hastened to make her welcome and help her down from her mule. As he was helping her down, she added, “But there is just one thing, General – I am used to having my crippled husband eat with me. Would you mind fetching him from among your prisoners that he may breakfast with us?” Yes, ma’am! So Alfred ate with his wife and the general. You realize, of course, that the Rebels would have shot her for this, just as the Union soldiers might have shot her themselves for the food if they were scoundrels.

After the meal, Sarah Elizabeth Ferguson gets up and says, “Now General Grant, my husband is just another mouth for you to feed. I now have an extra mule, the one I brought your breakfast with. Why don’t you just let me load up my husband and we will go and trouble you no further.” And that is exactly what happened. Against all the odds and all the laws and rules, and probably his own lieutenants, General Grant let this Southern lady take her husband home. True love knows no bounds.

The reason I know about this is that Sarah Elizabeth Prance Ferguson was my great-great-grandmother.


Race: Playing Well with Others – Part One

In June of 2003, the mayor of Tupelo appointed me to the Tupelo Bi-racial Committee, whose purpose was to help race relations in the city. In preparation for the first meeting, I wrote the following article. It applies not only to race relationships but to any two groups in conflict.


In this world there are many groups. Some are friendly with other groups, and some almost define themselves in terms of struggle against opposing groups. Some examples:

Groups at war with each other to a serious extent:    

Arabs and Jews

Pakistan and India

America and terrorists

Groups that have (mostly) friendly rivalry with each other:

Baptists and Methodists (and other denominations)

Men and women

Mississippi State and Ole Miss

Notice that there are groups within each major group that go against the flow. For example, there are Arabs in Palestine who want peace with the Jews, and who reach out in friendship; and there are Jews who love Arabs. There is always a spectrum of beliefs and feelings within each group, including a majority opinion, a minority opinion, and a smaller number of various opinions. Some Baptists like Methodists; some do not. Some men like all women; some do not. And some people from Mississippi State marry people from Ole Miss; others would never consider such a terrible thing.

Here are five different levels of coexistence, from good to bad:

1.       A happy level of coexistence is when different church denominations meet for rallies at Thanksgiving, Easter, or Christmas. The jokes are all of a positive nature, such as a Methodist saying after eating a Baptist supper, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Baptist.” There are quite a few couples in which one spouse is Baptist and the other is Methodist. 

2.       At a lower level would be the kind of relationship between Ole Miss fans and Mississippi State fans at the Egg Bowl. They obey the rules, exercise good sportsmanship, and accept penalties when they are fouled; yet there is a much stronger partisanship present than at a church rally. Marriages with one fan on each side might try to avoid the game to avoid hard feelings. 

3.       Still further down the chain would be a meeting of Congress. People give speeches against the other side’s proposals and for their own side’s proposals. There we see a stronger display of partisanship than at the Egg Bowl. There are special times of unity, as when after 911 they joined and sang “God Bless America” on the steps; but there are also times of division, as when there was fierce contesting of the outcome of the presidential race between Gore and Bush. 

4.       Worse yet, there is the kind of relationship that exists between America and Cuba. We nearly had a world war when Cuba invited the Soviets to install nuclear missiles. There was the Bay of Pigs fiasco when the CIA tried to help Cubans in exile to invade Cuba and take it away from Castro. The USA’s sugar embargo is still in existence against Cuba. Even at this level, though, we still have diplomatic relations and tourism, it should be noted. And we are not at war. 

5.       Down close to the bottom would be the kind of relationship between Israeli Jews and Arabs. There are terrorist attacks; people are killed. Each side barely tolerates the other. There are checkpoints, walls, fences, curfews, and military forces in the streets. If one person marries a member of the opposite side, it is possible that their kin will try to kill them. Diplomatic relations keep failing.

Groups at war with each other tend to play destructive games, while groups friendly with each other tend to play games that help and that build ever better relationships. Here are some examples of destructive games and helpful games, with a tip of the hat to Eric Berne, author of Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy and Games People Play:

Destructive games:

  • Now I’ve Got You: One person catches the other in some kind of slip, and then uses it to punish and accuse. Internal reward: feeling in control, feeling better than the other person. You see this in wars between nations.
  • Try and Collect: One person deliberately incurs debt, enjoys the bounty, then doesn’t pay the lender. Internal reward: feeling that all lenders are wicked, being a victim.
  • Try and Stop Me: One person behaves badly while the other person tries to stop them and rescue them. Internal reward: feeling it’s not my fault, I can’t help it, you should have tried harder to save me.
  • It’s All Your Fault: One person, when disturbed, makes a mistake and then says “see what you made me do!” Then they are entitled to be angry.
  • Courtroom: One person tries to lay the blame on the other, while the other does the same. Internal reward: getting away with something, feeling put upon and thus not responsible. You see this in divorce proceedings.
  • Look How Hard I’ve Tried: One person makes some effort to help another. When the efforts are not appreciated as much as they want, they give up. Internal reward: Feeling justified – I’m a good person, but you are bad.
  • Why Don’t You Yes, But: One person asks for help, then when it is offered, shoots down each suggestion. Internal reward: See, you aren’t as smart as you think.
  • I’m Trying to Help You: One person takes it upon themselves to rescue another. Internal reward: I’m better than you.
  • Psychiatry: One person tries to psychoanalyze another. Internal reward: See, I know what’s wrong with you.

 Supportive games:

  • Paying a Visit: One person shows hospitality to the other. Later, the hospitable one become a visitor to the other. Churches have rallies together. Internal reward: Appreciation received, mutual respect, family feelings.
  • Happy to Help You: One person does something genuinely helpful for another. They take turns being helpful to each other. Internal reward: One gets thanks, the other gets helped. Good neighbors do this over the years. And so do good friends.
  • You’ll Be Glad You Know Me: One person works hard to prove that the trust of others was well founded. Internal reward: Justification for one, joy for others.
  • Brothers and Sisters: One enters into a sibling type relationship with another. Internal reward: Giving and receiving love, enlarging one’s family.
  • Friendly Competition: By showing good sportsmanship and joking trash talk, people enjoy one another. Baptists and Methodists do this.
  • Here, Have Another Helping: Showing care and love through food is a standard of mothers the world over.
  • Share My Sorrows, Share My Joys: Relating and sharing joys and sorrows is a very big way that people bond.

[Part Two, the conclusion, will discuss ways to end racism.]

Coffee Chronicles – Part Eleven – Crazy Remark Specialists

It was a cold morning in February. The wind was whipping along the ground and the tops of trees as we came in one by one to Hardee’s, starting around 6:30 in the morning. First thing on everyone’s minds was how Ken had stood his stomach hernia surgery. He’s doing fine, being babied by his wife at home and loving it. He’ll be gone for a while till he heals some.

Mike made the first crazy remark: “There is a Toad Suck, Arkansas,” he exclaimed. Nobody said much to that. A few minutes later, Dan said he had trouble with armadillos digging holes in his yard.  As though there was some sort of weird competition for non sequitur follow-ups, Terry pronounced, “Armadillos can give you leprosy.” There was a stunned silence, except for me raising my eyebrows and turning to Eddie. Eddie agreed. Eddie is the state forestry expert and retired chief administrator of the northern half of Mississippi and should know. Still, it sounded strange to me. I asked Eddie, “Would you back up Terry if he was lying?” Eddie said, “He’s not lying.” However, I was still suspicious.

I asked Terry, “If you kiss the armadillo?” Terry said no, but Mike Tolbert said, “Sounds like Danny’s first date.” Mike was implying that Danny’s first kiss was with a leprous armadillo. Fortunately, Danny had just gotten up to get some more coffee. Danny is the youngest and most hot-blooded of our crew, the amorous variety, and therefore suffers the most verbal abuse. It’s a kind of fondness we show him. In answer, when Danny got back he showed Mike some pictures of some sort on his iPhone. I am sure Danny’s pictures were not of armadillos.

A few minutes later, interrupting a discussion about women, Mike up and said, “They fired a guy from my plant last week.” What for, we asked. “He put something where it didn’t belong.” I include this to show that we do talk about tragedy as well as pulling one another’s leg. I’m not explaining Mike’s remark. You will have to work it out for yourself. In fact, we’d better leave Mike and Danny aside a little while.

Terry sadly remarked that he had lost a second hunting beagle. She was run over on the highway near where Terry was hunting. “She was five years old, and I just about had her trained, too.” He had lost another beagle earlier, so this was quite a blow. Terry now has only two hunting dogs left, and neither of them very well trained yet.

Danny said, “Let’s change the subject onto something happy.” So I told about my project, thinking up Chicken Hymns such as “I’ll Fly Away” and “When the Road Is Crossed Up Yonder I’ll Be There.” Chicken Sermons would include such titles as “Where Will You Roost In Eternity?” Also Chicken Novels, such as “One Flew Over the Chicken’s Nest.” Terry lit up and told that, when he was a young man, he and another guy were in charge of 6,000 laying hens, and had to pick up 4,000 eggs a day. I asked, “Did you wash your hands?” “Yes. Washed the eggs, too.” I wanted to ask him if he had ever kissed one of the hens and gotten leprosy, but kept quiet instead.

Terry then said he was going to Texas next week on another quail hunt. This made me mention that two of my Facebook Friends, both from Texas, wanted to become honorary members of our group. Coach Johnny piped up and said, “Tell them sure, but there is a $5,000 membership fee.” But that is just Johnny. Like we could collect a fee! We might have to pay them instead of the other way around. I wondered out loud if the Texans could keep up with all our lies if they did actually move to Tupelo and join us. (They both probably could, since both were born in Mississippi.)

A Snap-on Tools salesman named Greg came and sat down briefly with us, then took off. He brought a quantity of fried peanuts and gave them to us. They were good. He had heated some peanut oil to 300° and left the peanuts in the pot for about 10 to 12 minutes. Amazing.

About then, an old truck driver named George sat down with us where Greg had been. George stirred his coffee and asked what was going on. Terry, attempting to stir up trouble, said, “George, Wally here admits to embroidering the truth about us on Facebook. Wally, George here tells some pretty tall tales too.” I asked George, “Do you tell tall tales?” George answered, “My wife says I do…but she don’t count.”

Terry and George then began to gossip about their next door neighbors, which was my cue to hike on out of there and go walking at Barnes Crossing Mall.


Coffee Chronicles – Part Ten – Meanwhile, Back at Johnny’s

“Welcome to Laredo, Texas – home of 50,000 wonderful people and a few old soreheads.” – Billboard, entrance to Laredo, Texas

I took a break from Hardee’s and went to Johnny’s Drive-in, just at their new, late opening time, 7:00 o’clock. No one was there yet except Craig the part-owner, Devyn the waitress, and The Curmudgeon (name not given here, to protect me from lawsuits). Right away I noticed new, thick brown ceramic mugs on the shelf. Craig had bought them and was very proud of them, figuring that the ceramic would keep the coffee hotter, longer. We shall see. The old white ones are still on the shelf. At Johnny’s, you pour your own coffee. The waitresses, or your friends, or you, keep your mug as full as you desire; then when you leave, you pay 85¢ plus 6¢ tax, i.e., 91¢, for all the coffee you can drink. Most of us leave a good tip; we like to be waited on.

Mac came in. To our amazement, Curmudgeon got up out of Mac’s usual seat and gave it to Mac, sitting back down kitty-cornered next to Mac at the table. Curmudgeon now had his back to the cash register instead of looking at the entrance door. Craig said in astonishment, “Why’d you give Mac your seat? You know we don’t give Mac no respeck.” “Yeah – and he don’t give none, either,” I murmured in local vernacular, chuckling.

Curmudgeon, on the other hand, both gives respect and demands it, too. Or at least gives it sometime. When he and Mac aren’t pretending to be at each other’s throats, Curmudgeon gives respect, that is. Mac and Curmudgeon remind me of the Odd Couple, total opposites yet somehow friends. One can never be sure if they are friends or enemies, in spite of the fact they tend to sit together. Curmudgeon usually won’t let Mac have his newspaper, and Mac keeps threatening to pull his gun (which he always leaves at home; an idle threat). Mac loves to mooch the newspaper.

Craig sat down with them, occupying the third and last seat at the table, which is shaped like a card table made of heavy wood, and butted up against a booth. The rest of Johnny’s is filled with wooden booths lined up on the right and left walls with the third row of booths up the middle, and the one table butted up against the middle line of booths, right in front of the cash register. The table thus has three chairs: one facing the entrance with its back to the coffee pot, one facing the booths with its back to the register, and one facing the coffee pot with its back to the door. You can see the kitchen behind the cash register.

For some reason, Craig declared his undying allegiance to the best peanut butter in the world – Jif, according to Craig’s lights. To my great surprise, Mac agreed with Craig for once. Mac added that Zest Premium Crackers were the best crackers in the world, and Craig agreed to that. What is this world coming to? Agreement all over the place! It made me suspicious.

Craig went to fry up bacon and we began to cuss and discuss the weather. It was 19° outside and threatening to go to single digits. Mac thought maybe the cold would kill the “Far Ants” but Curmudgeon said no, the cold would only drive them deeper into the ground. (Finally, normalcy – a disagreement, though quite a mild one.) With that, Curmudgeon paid and left, and I moved over and sat where Craig had been sitting, facing Mac.

Danny Hester, a carpenter, walked in behind me. He had bad sniffles but we didn’t care; we are too macho to worry about a little thing like the flu. I invited him to sit with us, in Curmudgeon’s vacant seat, “If you don’t mind lowering your standards that much.” Danny said, “It won’t lower my standards any….” Then he looked hard at Mac, and made like he had changed his mind, as if Mac’s presence would indeed lower Danny’s standards too far. However, after failing to scare Mac, Danny did sit with us. Now Danny’s back was to the cash register. We gossiped about sundry people and folks began to drift in.

About then, one of Mac’s friends, a stranger to me, went and got the coffee pot. He filled his own cup, then made the rounds, filling everyone’s cup. When he got to Mac, he pretended to stumble and almost – almost – spilled the half full coffee pot onto Mac’s lap. As you can see, Mac stirs everyone up to a new level of jiggery-pokery.

Danny got up to leave. He was talking about a certain female friend’s bad driving. “She couldn’t drive a duck through water,” he said, and left, blowing his nose first. Honk.

Craig walked by with a plate of freshly cooked eggs. Mac said loudly so everyone could hear, “Jest ‘cause he can scramble a egg, that don’t mean he’s no chef-t.” Craig just rolled his eyes and served his customers, who were chuckling. Situation normal at Johnny’s. The more highly you are thought of, the more you will get the guff.


The Fairway Foods Coffee and Embroidery Club

I used to live in Morton, Mississippi. The following is a liar’s report: an account of one day’s goings-on at the Fairway Foods Coffee Drinkers and Embroidery Club. Real liars never admit they are lying, only embroidering the truth; hence, “embroidery.” Only first names will be used, to protect myself not them.
This particular morning Dalton had enough, being pestered for weeks and maybe months about his buying a round of free coffee for the guys. Why did they demand free coffee? It was political in nature. Dalton was trying to get his daughter elected to the office of county coroner.
Dalton is considered to be one of the greatest tightwads of all time, next to Jack Benny himself. They all think that just because Dalton owns a trailer park, he must be rich. (Not really, but that doesn’t matter; they say it to bug him precisely because he isn’t rich.)
Dalton was weary of Donnie and other assorted riffraff demanding to know where was their free cup of political coffee. Dalton dug deep – through the frightened hundred dollar bills in his wallet, past the twenties and the fives and the ones. He pulled out a ten and plunked it down in front of Donnie.
He said, “All right, here’s money for coffee. But Donnie, YOU buy coffee for everybody who asks for it. Just make sure they’re from Scott County.” Cleveland, a black guy, was there, maybe. Pete was perhaps there. Other people who don’t want their names mentioned were possibly there, people like RD or Bruce or Marshall or Kip or Cowboy or Eagle. No one will admit to being there. Not even George. Not even Kate, who is a guy with a funny nickname that sounds feminine, which he is definitely not.
Not even Donnie would admit he was there, but I’m telling on him. Donnie took the $10 bill straight to the bank and got a roll of quarters. He took out four of the quarters and got two rolls of pennies. Coffee costs 27¢ for an 8 oz. cup and now Donnie was ready for the next day. He had quarters and pennies in his pocket.
Johnnie the grocer opened the door at precisely 7:00 a.m. That was so that we coffee vagrants outside could come in. Donnie had already been passing out one quarter and two pennies to all. Like a shot, we all lined up at the deli before Angie the waitress could even reach for the coffee thermoses. Change rolled all over the counter. As they came back into their seats, sloshing coffee, Dalton walked in. Donnie had a stack of diminished quarters and pennies lying (no – laying; the members of the club do the lying) …. So, the money was laying on the table.
There was at first some question about how many cups each member of the Club could have, but Pete solved that. He got up and without breaking stride, held out his hand. Donnie placed the already sorted money into the hand as Pete went for his second cup. Dalton, needless to say, was paid no attention. Dalton did not complain, because he is longsuffering.
However, when a stranger walked in and Donnie asked him if he wanted a free cup of coffee, Dalton did holler, “Hey, wait! You from Scott County?” The man said no. Dalton looked at Donnie and shook his head, sorry. So the moral to the story is, be kind to anyone from other counties that you meet, because they have been very ill treated of late. By Dalton. Give a stranger a break whether he deserves it or not, I say.

Two Cops Do Battle on the Natchez Trace Parkway

     The following story was told to me as true. Only the names have been eliminated to protect the guilty, and just warning you, I have capitalized inconsistently, and embroidered the tale, just as I see fit. This was told to me by a government official. Apparently it is known about in Mississippi highway patrol circles, too. It seems that a state highway patrolman was in a hurry. He left from Tupelo on his way to Jackson, MS, by way of the Natchez Trace, a federal park road linking the two cities. The speed limit on the Trace is 50 miles per hour, and is enforced by federal police officers with green flashing lights on their cars. The Trace is designed for only 50 mph, with many curves. You can’t see what’s beyond the next curve in the road, so 50 is truly the safest speed, except for a few straight stretches of a mile or so. For every mile per hour you are clocked over the speed limit, the fine is $100. If you get caught going 65 even on a straightaway, the fine would be $1,500.

Our dear friend the state highway patrolman was doing way in excess of the speed limit to say the least. The federal speed cop, or Park Ranger as they are called on the Trace, couldn’t catch him! The park ranger decided to lay for the patrolman, figuring he would be coming back up the Trace. He hid behind a curve in the road and waited. Sure enough, here comes the highway patrolman, going like the proverbial bat from the hot place, heading back north to Tupelo.

Yoicks! The chase was on! The car with the flashing green lights on was right behind the car with the blue lights off. The highway patrolman kept the pedal to the metal until he got to a turnoff. He took the exit at a very high speed, with the Trace cop in red hot pursuit. Up Mississippi Highway 12 they roared, now headed for Ackerman, MS, the highway patrol car still in the lead by a car length.

Suddenly the highway patrolman turns on his blue lights and eases to a stop on the side of the road. The Trace cop comes out of his own patrol car, green lights flashing – the Trace cop car behind the Highway Patrol car. Each cop gets out of his flashing patrol car. They meet. The Park Ranger is furious. He is writing a ticket for all sorts of federal crimes: speeding, not stopping for a patrol car, reckless endangerment, etc. etc.

Meanwhile, the State Highway Patrolman is writing a ticket, too. He takes the Trace cop’s ticket, and then hands the Trace cop a ticket. This infuriates the Trace cop to the height of passion. “What the blankety-blank are you writing ME a ticket for!” he yells at the highway patrolman. “Why, for speeding, of course. Also reckless endangerment. I can’t get you for failing to stop, because you did stop when I turned on my lights. I’m going easy on you.” The Trace cop utters some words – perhaps he only said something like, “We’ll see about this” – and stormed off and back to the Trace.

Time passes. In about a week, on one fine day in Jackson, MS, the head of the Mississippi Highway Patrol was at a luncheon at the Governor’s mansion, no doubt eating steak or some other equally fine meal. Sitting opposite him was the federal officer in charge of the entire Natchez Trace. The Trace bigwig says to the Highway bigwig, something like “It seems we have a problem with one of your officers.” “Yes,” the Highway bigwig says, “And vice versa.” The matter is discussed over the meal.

I feel fairly certain that it was not until dessert, or perhaps cigars and brandies, that a compromise was reached. Each bigwig hands his own officer’s ticket over to the other bigwig. On the count of three, or perhaps just grinning at each other, they tear up each other’s tickets.

Now, remember, I wasn’t there. I have been embroidering this story for all it is worth. After all, there is no newspaper clipping about this; nothing on Youtube or Ask.com; only rumors. As far as I can tell, the one who told me this will deny ever having told me this story, now that I am blabbing. Therefore, I believe I am going to get away scot free! And you, dear reader, will have to figure out where I ad libbed like crazy, and where I was relating it exactly as it was told to me.

While we are on the subject of the Natchez Trace Park Rangers, I have another story – and I swear to you, this one is pure bunkum, a fib, hogwash, claptrap, and a dastardly lie. There was this Park Ranger going along at 50 mph when up ahead there was a car going about 45. That was well and good, but then about 30 female turkeys came out of the woods and crossed right in front of the car. The car slowed and swerved, but still hit one of the turkeys, and flipped it high in the air. The thoroughly dead turkey landed right smack in the center of the windshield of the Park Ranger’s car.

The Ranger turned on his green lights. The car in front of him stopped, and the Ranger got out and stalked over to the car window. “But Officer,” wailed the driver, “I did everything I could to avoid hitting it, and besides, I know I was going under the speed limit. What are you giving me a ticket for?” “Not for speeding, sir, and not for the accident resulting in the death of wildlife,” responded the Ranger. “I am giving you this ticket for flipping me the bird.”

Our Southern Way with Words

     Colloquialisms — A colloquialism is a manner of phraseology or speaking that is peculiar to a region. In this case, I’m speaking of only a few of the many colloquialisms of Arkansas and Mississippi. I am hoping my readers will add to my stash of such in their comments. I don’t know if I really need to explain these, but I will, just in case someone not from the South wants to know.

     That dog won’t hunt, or I don’t have a dog in that fight, is what you say when someone’s idea or comment is just plain wrong.  For example, someone living in the south but born in the North, whose ancestors arrived in America in 1910, might be accused of being a Yankee. A Yankee, in the South, is a loaded or derogatory term referring to those who fought on the side of the North in the Civil War. However, a Northerner who has lived happily in the South for a long time, but whose ancestors arrived long after the Civil War, might say, “You’re wrong; I don’t have a dog in that fight.”

That’s as handy as a pocket on a shirt is self-evident. It can refer to any handy or good idea, to another’s solution to a problem, to some creative and handy invention, or to any number of things. It is a compliment.

Sounds like a frog caught in a bob wire fence in a hurricane means that it sounds loud and very bad. Used typically to refer to the singing (or croaking) of a guy who can’t really sing.

Deep enough to swim a horse means a body of water or a stream is deep enough so that a horse would have to start swimming. My stepfather, Ed Frank, may have gotten this phrase from his birthplace in Oklahoma. These things get passed around. Maybe someday I will have an opportunity to use it. So far not.

Druthers is used as a noun meaning “preference.” “That’s not my druthers” means “I’d rather not.” It’s based on the word “rather.” We also say, “I druther not.”

I’d druther be a big frog in a little pond than a little frog in a big pond.” This has been used as a valid argument by some of my Baptist friends who have become Methodist.

Incorrect pronunciation can be highly entertaining – or embarrassing, if it’s you doing the mispronouncing.

Dennis Jackson called Prysock’s Dock a funny name. Prysock’s Dock, a country store on Lake Chicot north of Lake Village, was called by Mr. Dennis “Mr. Peroxide’s place.”

My stepfather, or Pop, was corrected for his mispronunciations by my mother. Finally, Pop had enough. He said to her, “Martha, there is absolutely nothing wrong with my pronounce-iation.” She yielded, of course.

I used to pronounce the word chamelion as “sha-melion” instead of correctly as “ka-melion.” I thought Webster just made a mistake until I was disabused of that notion by several other people who caught me at it.

Deliberate use of bad grammar can be a means of making a point, being colorful, or simply because one doesn’t know any better.

Ain’t is a contraction of “am not,” “is not,” “have not,” “has not,” or “are not.” It is supposed to have come from Elizabethan England, and was maintained in use by the hill people of Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. And many other states. The British still use it, according to Webster. The bane of American English teachers, and still considered substandard English, nevertheless it has long been used and is now considered correct English for informal or familiar speech, or for the purpose of rhetorical emphasis. An example would be the song, “Ain’t She Sweet.” Years ago, a kid said to a White Sox player who had been caught cheating in a baseball game, “Say it ain’t so, Jimmy, say it ain’t so.” Southerners are not so particular. We use it in a myriad of ways considered to be substandard English, so that “ain’t,” though tolerated, will never be rid of its country stigma. (That’s why we like it.) As for our use of ain’t, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. We truly like to use bad English. We call it talking country and we’re proud of it. Many white Southerners can slip easily into Black English if they want to.

I ain’t done it! I didn’t do it! Also, If you done done it, it ain’t braggin’. This was said by Dizzy Dean, a great baseball pitcher years ago in Mississippi. Gonna is used instead of “going to.” Wanna is used instead of “want to.” We got a million ub’em, y’all. I seen, I done, or I come is used instead of “I saw,” “I did,” or “I came.”

     But enough! Perhaps no more should be said about Southern speech. As it is, it will live forever in the writings of Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and many others. I can’t do it justice here. Also, to non-Southerners, we want to be able to continue to say stuff like “Y’all ain’t from ‘round heah, is you?” or “You might be a redneck if….” If you really want to learn how we speak, just go online and search for “funny Southern colloquialisms” and you’ll probably get more than you bargained for. Also, be warned, many of them aren’t said in polite company. Quite a few of them are downright vulgar, or worse. Elegantly so, many of us secretly think!