Old South

Americans think of Vietnam as a war not a country…

(This is how I felt). Or a window into life in the old ‘South’.

It will come as no surprise to the gentle reader who lives in this part of the world that us yankees take pride in being from ‘out there.’

There is a timelessness about Arkansas that relates to

1)their refusal to speed up to the modern world.

2)Their determination to remain within the state…ie. Travel & leaving home is not considered a virtue

3) Some old tongue is retained as they love the sound of storytelling as much as the content (music).

In the beginning, having worked in an office much of my adult life I took up answering the telephone to the house I had moved into with my fiancé. His work partner owned the house, running a small electrician’s business from home.

Answering the phone when they were out working on the job gave me something to do. Although I was polite and identified myself with the best manners, I soon gave up the practice as no one ever spoke to me. There would be a click at the other end as I was cut off. It took at least 3 weeks in Little Rock before the secret was revealed to me.

In 1994 few locals bothered to travel outside the borders of the state. They contented themselves with the occasional weekend away gambling in Tunica on the Texan border; or even, for the more adventurous, a short visit to Memphis alongside the mighty Mississippi. The whole of the outside world was merely just outside the state.

I discovered during my first month in Arkansas that anyone born in an area that wasn’t the south made one from Elsewhere (as most of the local inhabitants of little Rock had no concept of overseas.)

Being as they were both ex military, Paul & Dave would drive past a flag with the stars and stripes in the evening and decide it was time to go home. The kitchen bench served as a bar for after work beers. I sat with Paul on a stool opposite Dave who stood ready to cook the evening meal (this could take several hours).

They would each relate their version of the days events which involved some colorful language.

Along the way they taught me that the Mason-Dixon line was situated nearby. Thus I discovered that whether I liked it or not, I was a damned yankee. They regarded my accent as British (mother always wanted us to speak ‘Queen’s English’) and classified me as a Yankee. They taught me some history such as where the Mason-Dixon line was situated, and that my origins were to the North.

Of course the young ladies boarding school I had attended in Rhodesia had given me an excellent grounding in history so I knew about the Civil War. But history always seemed like a grey past.

Listening to them tell tales – it was as if it was a recent matter, rather than over a century ago – here was a time warp – in that War seemed to have taken place only 3 weeks ago.

In Paul’s family alone all the men were wiped out and the only reason that his grandfather survived was because he was a drummer boy – too young to be in the fighting. Paul seemed to feel as strongly about this dead member of his family as he did about the living.

Dave had served in the Navy seals during the Vietnam War. On occasion I had the distinct impression that he was quoting from a spy novel rather than memory. However I never saw him pick up a book.

Amongst his close friends he was known as ’10 story Dave’ on account of his repertoire being so predictable. I do not lie if I relate this event which truly occurred after I had lived there several months…

It took place on a rainy day, during which the service industry took cover and refuge in a beer or two. A middle aged man walked into the kitchen and entered the story telling by Dave without missing a heartbeat. He spoke a line or two of the tale that Dave was in the middle of explaining, as if he were an accomplished actor spot on with his lines of script. Dave finished his story and then they welcomed the man who, it turned out was only a stranger to me. He had been born just down the road, but had recently returned having spent 7 years in San Francisco.

The same bench served a classroom when Dave was away from it for any reason. We sat there and Paul coached me on the language of the South. He begged me not to try and imitate the accent, which he assured me, I would never accomplish. The subtleties of intonation were vast as with words such “motherfucker” or “bastard”. It seemed these could vary enormously in their impact by the way they were uttered. From endearment to fighting words.

He also told me some rich and raunchy and sometimes downright disgusting plumbers jokes, which will remain a mystery to the gentle reader.

Doctors (especially pathologists), journalists and plumbers share a delight in dark, sick and sarcastic humor. It gives them a way to unwind from the stress of their jobs.

 

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suzambia

Travel journalist interested in world politics with particular reference to linguistics & ethnic variations. Humanist.

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