Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Country Wisdom: The Origins

A quick observation about writing a blog: It takes a lot of work/creativity/motivation to maintain a blog. You blink and a month's gone by. (That last statement is also an early favorite for my tombstone epitaph. But I digress ... )

Country Wisdom is a feature I've wanted to add for a while; I was just waiting for the right day (see post above). It's based on a delightful Page-a-Day calendar I bought for myself last holiday season. Bearing the irresistible title Butter My Butt and Call Me a Biscuit 2009, this datebook bills itself as a collection of colorful, folksy expressions for use in everyday conversation. It immediately appealed to me for two reasons (three if you count the title).

1. I want to speak like an 1890s farmhand. My grandma on my mother's side was raised on farms in Iowa and Saskatchewan, and she's always sprinkling her speech with these incredible old-timey sayings. They're quick and casual and steeped in agrarian metaphor. (About one of her miserly brothers she might say, "He's tighter than the bark on a tree.") If I could, I'd follow my grandma around and collect these phrases like snow globes. They're effortlessly descriptive and possessed of an easy charm you just don't find much in language anymore. Think of the expressions we've added in the last 25 years. "Tell me about your vacation. I want the full download." Just writing that makes me want to shoot myself. This calendar, I hoped, would give me the same linguistic gems as grandma without the fuss of a cross-country flight and questions about my marital prospects.

2. I want to recapture my Southern roots. Not that you'd know it from meeting me today, but I was born and raised in South Carolina. It wasn't exactly a Green Acres upbringing. My hometown is blandly suburban and full of Rust Belt transplants, and my parents are liberal West Coast hippies. Whatever Southern influences and dialects that did seep in during my SC years, I began extinguishing around age 12 when I decided I was moving away for college. (I didn't want to seem weird.) What no one told me is that Southern mannerisms come with their share of benefits. If you can get past everyone suspecting you're ignorant and racist, you'll find that Southern folk are also thought to be friendly, honest, polite, disarming, flirty, sexy and plain ol' fun to be around. (Fact: Pharma companies regularly target Southern fraternities and sororities for likable kids that can be molded into bubbly sales reps.) I carelessly tossed all this aside. But I figured with a little twang and some choice pearls of Page-a-Day farmin' wisdom I'd be ready to inherit my destiny as a gentlemen plantation owner for our times (or at least a guy who gets laid at Brother Jimmy's).

So I bought the calendar. I eagerly awaited the new year so I could start amassing my new kernels of chicken-fried wisdom. And here's what I got:

Flirtin' with a married woman is as safe as if you were in Abraham's back pocket and him fixin' to sit down. [Jan 3-4]

(Um, sure.)

You'll sit a long time with your mouth wide open before a roasted chicken flies in. [Jan 5]

(Can't argue with that.)

Gettin' a politician to do somethin' good for our country is like tryin' to poke a cat out from under the porch with a rope. [Jan 9]

(I guess. Do a lot of cat owners do this?)

The easist way to eat crow is while it's still warm, 'cause the colder it gets, the harder it is to swallow. [Jan 10-11]

WTF??? Now I'll admit, I didn't grow up in the deepest, backwoods part of the South, but it was still the South. (Our state museum used to sell pencils with the phrase "First to secede".) I've never heard anyone utter any of these things. Or anything close to these things. And why would they? The phrases don't exactly roll off the tongue. Plus they're weird and often nonsensical (roasted chickens don't fly!).

And it's not like the subsequent weeks brought a whole lot of usable material either.

If someone is acting like a martyr, you might want to say ...
Get down off that cross 'cause someone else needs the wood. [Jan 13]

(You know, for burning witches.)

On Living in Sin
Now there's a couple that ate supper before they said grace. [Jan 17-18]

(I wish people did say this one.)

If your child is stalling over doing a chore, you might want to say ...
Time to paint your butt white and run with the antelope. [Jan 29]

(Trust me, there are no antelope in the South. Maybe this was translated from Dr. Spock's Bantu edition?)

There are times in life when you're caught between an angry bull and an angrier bull. [Feb 13]

By this point it was clear that the original mission of the calendar--to augment my conversational arsenal with laser-guided smart bombs of country charm--was lost. And a new purpose had emerged: Entertaining the hell out of me.

Each day at work I rushed to my desk and yanked off another page, giddy to see what crazy shit the calendar held in store. On some mornings, I swear, this is the only thing that drove me to get out of bed and lope into the office. It was a reliable pick-me-up, like a new puppy ambling into your lap when you get home. So I thought, why keep this to myself? From here on out, I plan to post each day's expression and perhaps offer a little commentary, if it warrants. Not all of them are as uproarious as the snippets I've repeated above, but I've found some type of entertainment value in nearly every one. Plus, I'm hoping these semi-canned updates will get me more in the practice of adding to the blog.

So there you go. Enjoy!

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