You need to learn to stop talking like that. It makes you sound stupid.
Years ago, when I was still finding my feet and was more easily influenced, a distant cousin of mine spent the summer with us and told me those very words, and I had to think on them for a spell. Now this cousin of mine was not born and bred here in the sticks as I had been; she was raised above the Mason Dixon in a place without hills and decent manners, apparently, and although we liked each other just fine, she was always picking at my choice of words and how I said them.
You speak like a hick. Like Elly Mae, she had added with a pompous snicker. Even then it crossed my wary mind that just maybe she was somewhat enchanted by my natural dialect, despite her implied assumption that I must have been simple minded because I spoke all ponderous and sophic and dropped a syllable or two here and there, just like we all do around here.
Oh mah Gawd. Ain’t ye learnt ta tawk yit? She’d mock and make fun and poke until she erupted with giggles, and I have to admit, it took quite a bit of restraint on my part not to slap the taste out of her big fat mouth. And wouldn’t she have gotten a kick out of that, too, ol’ stupid cousin Elly Mae whipping up on her all hick proper.
I ignored her taunts and kept in mind that she didn’t have the couth God gave a polecat, nor did she have a decent Christian upbringing like I’d had, and that I should just pray for her and go on. But I just couldn’t do it. I harbored ill memories toward that uppity cousin of mine from the time I was thirteen until yesterday. I got over it just last evening, when I just happened to meet up with her again at a family get together, the one Mama has every year. This is the first one ol’ giggle-box had shown up at in over a decade.
It seems these days that we folks who can converse in this hick speak that she once taunted me over are sought after and deemed interesting enough for reality television and the big screen, and surely, my cousin knew this, too. I thought maybe she’d be more tolerable than she was when she was young and full of piss and vinegar. We chatted back and forth about nothing in particular, out of nothing but decency and manners, you know.
And then out of the blue, she proceeded to do her damnedest to mock me again. I don’t recollect exactly what she said, but I’m telling you, it just flew all over me. A grown woman ought to have more gumption than that, but God only knows what sort of company decorum they practice north of the Mason Dixon. You just never know.
Just before I was about to unload a mouthful on her and remind her that even Elly Mae wouldn’t tolerate such rude and obnoxious graces a second time, I surmised that maybe she wasn’t mocking me at all. Maybe she was doing her best to sound like the rest of us. To fit in, I supposed.
I just couldn’t help myself—I asked her if she’d like some lessons in hick speak. She laughed and pretended not to be the least bit interested, but I was completely austere and deliberate. I told her this was part one, and she’d have to come back next year to get part two. This was my feeble attempt to produce some hospitality like I’d been taught to do. I thought I did very well, considering. And, I do admit, I set out to let her know, once and for all, that I am not stupid at all.
These are a few of the pearls I taught her:
First of all, anybody who calls somebody a hick to their face ain’t no kind of decent. Unless you’re a hick yourself, of course. You can apply this courtesy to any other cultural or racial epithet. What’s endearing to you might sound like an insult to somebody else. I’m just saving you some future embarrassment and humiliation. No need to thank me.
And everybody around here is related to either a Hatfield or a McCoy or Davy Crockett. They may not have any ancestral documents to prove it, but don’t you dare dispute it. Thems fighting words. Lord knows there’s a few secrets running around here with somebody else’s last name attached to them. You might be one of them. You just never know. And nobody talks about such things, neither. Not in decent company, anyway.
And yes, you can say things like thems and that there and we done did that and ain’t no way. It’s all part of regular conversation, and we know it’s not proper, but in no way does this mean we are stupid.
It’s important that you understand where yonder is. If I tell you that Mamaw has done gone over yonder, it means she can be found just directly beyond the end of your sight, and it’ll take you awhile to catch up to her if you’re walking. And speaking of walking, it’s just fine to mosey on when your welcome has worn off. And that period of time ain’t near as long as you might think.
If you’re fixing to do something, you ain’t done it yet, but you’ll be getting to it directly. This does not mean that anything is going to be repaired. Don’t be expecting that.
Now we also say a lot of things we don’t literally mean, but in no way should you not take us seriously. If I inform you that my brother is mean enough to go bear hunting with a switch, it does not mean that he is stupid enough to do such a thing, but you best not trust him as far as you could pitch a coal truck. But if I declare that your singing sounds to me like a cat stuck in a washing machine, I am most likely sincere, but I have never actually seen nor heard such a thing.
It is just metaphoric fancy, your everyday bumpkin balladry, and we do love our words around here, thank you for noticing.
Such talk is often hard to figure by other folks; it would take a coon’s age for you to catch on. But I’d bet the farm you ain’t never even seen a pump knot or a dog pecker gnat or ever came in dragging at plenty after eleven.
I heard her chortle and I guessed she was about to grace me with one of her own pearls or make an assumption or add some meaningful detail.
Well, I rickin I is fixin’ ta mosey yawnder! Cousin said. Her imitation of me sounded contrived and forced. Nothing like me at all. The gall.
“You need to learn to stop talking like that,” I told her. “Makes you sound stupid.” I added a wink to make it less harsh, but I reckon she got the point.
Still, I realized this lesson was simply not teachable. Not in one solitary night or lifetime could she ever get it. It’s not in her, and she really doesn’t want it to be. She will likely never shake her notion that my intellect is less than hers, no matter my merits or caliber of person. Such thinly veiled prejudice would not be tolerated by another creed or culture of people, but it is commonplace for us. We have almost come to rely on it. And I don’t look for things to change in any near sometime.
I gave my unwitting cousin a smile, a nod of common courtesy, and I informed her that there would not be a part two, since she had failed the first so miserably. She seemed relieved and uninterested. I imagine when she gets back to her hotel room she will get to thinking on our conversation and if anything, she’ll go to bed and wonder what in the world a dog pecker gnat is and if she might have some Hatfield or McCoy or Crockett in her veins, and unlike the rest of us, she will know that she don’t.
She gave me an obliging hug and thanked Mama for the vittles. Broad hadn’t learned a thing. As she turned to go to her waiting fancy car with its shiny upstate plates, I couldn’t help but holler out at her in my best Elly Mae:
Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?