When North Met South

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snapping beans

On summer days when the children were young, we shelled peas or snapped beans on the broad front porch of our nearly century-old house in Middle Tennessee, entertaining ourselves by telling stories about characters from books we had read.

Now, as I look across our broad lawn, I reflect on what a far cry this was from the third-floor back porch of the Boston duplex where I lived before I married.

When I met my Tennessee-born and -bred future husband, I discovered we didn’t always speak the same language. In fact, I often had difficulty understanding the drawl of this Southern soldier who had been sent to a base outside Boston. When Larry said, “I thank,” I eventually realized he meant, “I think.”

And when he spoke of grits, collards, fried okra and poke sallet (I thought he meant a kind of salad), I was definitely out in left field.

On the other hand, he thought pizza pie was a dessert, and when a soda fountain clerk asked him if he wanted tonic, he wondered if he looked sick. Tonic is what Bostonians call soft drinks (at least they did then). One time, he asked for a milkshake, and the two girls on duty whispered between themselves, trying to decide what that was. He didn’t know that he should have requested a frappe.

Eventually, as we got better acquainted, we figured we had enough in common (besides our love) to get married. After Larry completed his two years of active service with Uncle Sam, we headed south in a two-tone Bel Air. Suddenly, I was the fish out of water.

I learned “public work” was when you didn’t work on the farm and got a paycheck from a company. I had thought it meant you worked for the government.

I discovered that evening came anytime after midday, not necessarily at dusk. Also, dinner to this day at our household is the next meal after breakfast. Even if it’s a sandwich, Larry still calls it dinner. “No, that’s lunch,” I correct, but it does no good.

“Fixin’ to” as in “I’m fixin’ to go” also had this Yankee wondering. Didn’t “fix” mean to repair something? I finally deduced the speaker meant he was getting ready to do something. Another confusing phrase to me was “wait on.” I thought that is what waiters and waitresses do at restaurants. You know – wait on you, serve you. But here in the South, “wait on” means “wait for,” such as, “She’s waiting for her sister.” To me, if she’s waiting on her sister, she’s serving her food.

Whether waiting on or waiting for someone, I have experienced firsthand the fact of Southern hospitality, and “Come back” is a common phrase. But I wonder if “Y’all go with us” is to be taken literally when visitors say this as they get ready to leave.

We’ve lived in Middle Tennessee for most of our 45-plus years of marriage. Our three children are all Tennesseans by birth. They have learned to pick and shell peas, shuck and silk corn, hoe and pull weeds, and lots of other skills that I, a city slicker, could never have taught them.

And though they’ve gone on to other pursuits, I think those hands-on, close-to-nature values helped cultivate a good work ethic and appreciation for the outdoors.

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