Some of the finest people I know have chosen to live in Cocke County.
Many have retired here from the far off lands of Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Texas, and other strange spots. Several have found their way to First United Methodist Church where they have become integral parts of our worship and ministries. Nearly half the members of our Christian Fellowship Sunday School Class are “from off,” and I delight in educating them in the words and phrases so dear to us Appalachian folk.
God love their hearts...they just don’t know, but they can’t help it.
When someone asks us, “Could you come over Friday and help me repair a fence,” odds are our reply will be, “I don’t care,” meaning, of course, “Sure! What time do you want me there?”
I didn’t know until a few years ago how confusing such an answer is to our move-ins. One fellow said, “I thought I had offended my neighbor and that he was telling me no.”
Both my parents had words and phrases for every occasion.
My mother, a stickler for doing the best job possible always, often told me in a straightforward manner, “You need to lick that calf over!” In other words, my work had been slapdash and needed improvement.
My dad, who had no use for anything superfluous or ornamental, often described something, or someone, as “useless as tits on a boar hog!” Pretty graphic, but pithy and leaving no room for misunderstanding his meaning.
My Great-aunt Ida Fox, born in 1879, became blind in her later years. She and her daughter Lucy lived in the Swannsylvania community of Jefferson County and often visited us on Saturdays. Aunt Ida stayed at our house while Lucy took care of business in Newport.
Her blindness prevented Aunt Ida from simply looking at a clock to check the time. After Lucy’s return, she, of course, wanted to visit, but before long Aunt Ida would become agitated and start demanding, “Lucy! We’ve got to get down to the sticks!” thinking, of course, that it was much later in the day than it actually was.
When I was very small, I looked in vain for “the sticks” whenever we visited them and finally discovered their woodpile. This, I thought, was where they lived and I wondered why they chose to do that when there was a perfectly good, two-story house across the yard.
Lucy was an old-maid schoolteacher for the greater part of her life and wore the description well. If told something that surprised her, she invariably remarked, “Well, I wish’t I’m a-never!” What that had to do with a surprise, I’ve never understood, but whenever her sharp tongue lashed me, I often “wish’t she’d a-never been born!”
Our daughter Amber, whose command of the English language ranges from Anglo-Saxon words and phrases to the latest techie talk and slang, has recently starting answering the question, “How are you?” with “Fine as frog’s hair.”
Amber is a stylist at an upscale Charleston, South Carolina salon, so perhaps her adoption of a reference to a frog’s hair is appropriate for her line of work.
In these days of social distancing (which, I think, we should continue for a while longer—just sayin’), I’ve reflected quite a bit on the members of my family who have died and realized that often when I think of a particular person, a word or phrase they often used quickly comes to mind.
Our language is as much a part of us as our genetic makeup. The words and phrases we use, especially those handed down in our family, are true gifts and should be as treasured as Grandma’s pretty china pitcher or Grandpa’s rifle.
And, when we find ourselves in a new environment, let us open our minds to receive the new words and phrases we hear. Goodness! We might learn something!
After all, Grandson Connor learned where “yonder” is!”