Sometimes you get so used to the way things are now that you forget the way things were. Then some minor little thing happens and you remember there was another “you” before “you” got so old. Then you spend awhile remembering things.
Southern writer Bobbie Ann Mason’s memoirs of her growing up years near Paducah, Kentucky, CLEAR SPRINGS, re-introduced me to words and a language I’ve been away from for years. For instance, “sook cow,” that Mam used to calm Ol Betsey while milking. Ms. Mason also reminded me that down home people you had no respect for were referred to as “shit-asses.” And you never had to explain what you meant by that because everybody knew at least one.
Reading her memoirs, I was reminded of old inkwell desks with carvings all over them, most notably a heart with a cross inside and L-O-V-E inside the spaces, things like that. Gigging frogs and frying up the legs, watching them jerk in the oil as they cooked. Eating pie from the supper plate right after a mess of collard greens, having the greens juice ooze into the pie crust! I hated that so much I used to “rinch” my plate off with water, unless I could snitch a saucer from the cupboard without anyone noticing. I vowed when I grew up and had a home of my own I would never have dessert except in a dessert plate.
The book brought back many other memories of southern farm life as well–shelling peas and snapping green beans. Going to stock markets–the smells, the awful way the animals were treated. The Alice & Jerry books I thought everyone knew about. Turns out kids in the rest of the country were reading Dick and Jane instead.
In her memoirs, Bobbie Ann mentioned how she liked being sick. So did I! And I was a sickly thing. They called me “puny“. I wonder now if it was an unconscious effort on my part, because being sick had its own rewards; that’s the only way Daddy would waste money on things like movie magazines for me, or not make me do the never-ending chores while I was “down” with one thing or another.
I wanted for myself a life where I could have time for things like reading, have money for things I didn’t need, know how to talk to anyone from bums on the street to the biggest big shot in town. Well, I believe I’ve come to achieve most if not all of those things–at least in some degree–and that is a very good thing. The best thing is that I haven’t lost the ability to recognize shit-asses of the world. That’s also a very good thing.