It’s been more than four years since Steve and I descended on our sleepy Carolina town and took up residence. Four years of cultural faux pas prompting eyes to roll and voices to whisper, “She can’t help it. She’s from California.” The news that I actually originated in Maryland (technically south of the Mason-Dixon line but much disputed by bona fide Southerners) elicits a much more dire pronouncement: “She’s from the North.”
Frankly, it hasn’t always been easy for us either. We had to re-play certain voicemails repeatedly before catching that “laugh” means “life” and “rat” means “right.” Not to mention the sayings. Some were downright peculiar-sounding at first.
My whole life, people have greeted me with, “How are you?” I know nobody wants to hear how I am, and some don’t even care how I am. Still, I’m accustomed to it. Then I moved South. And I’ve never heard it again.
Instead, people greet me with “You doin’ OK?” My mind raced the first dozen times. Why? Do you think I’m not OK? Do I look sick? Did someone tell you I was mentally imbalanced?
Now, I have to admit, I not only say this myself, but it’s my preferred greeting. I remember the first time this phrase sneaked into my vocabulary, without my permission. At first startled, I later smiled contentedly. I’d started to fit in. “You doin’ OK?” invites a response. At the very least, it shows that I care how the person I’m speaking with is doing. And that’s just plain nice.
Another greeting I hear frequently is “Hope you have a good evenin’.” I hear this at all times of the day. At suppertime. Lunchtime. In the middle of the afternoon. Sometimes in the morning. I’m glad they hope my evening will be a good one, but does that mean too bad about my afternoon?
The saying I hear almost daily is “I’m all covered up.” This is a cry for someone — anyone — to acknowledge the speaker’s indispensability, often uttered by someone who appears the opposite of busy, but who am I to judge? In the colorful land of azaleas and daylilies, you have your pick of expressions. You could substitute “I’m busier than a one-legged cat in a sandbox.” If you are offended by the thought of a cat with only one leg, you’re in luck. Switch it up with I’m busier than a stumped-tail cow at fly time, a moth in a brand-new woolen mitten, or a one-armed paper hanger.
Down South, people have a knack for employing vivid description. A Southerner is never just upset. She is “madder than a wet hen.” Here in Dixie there’s no need to use an everyday word like “fast” when you can say “quicker than a hot knife through butter.” Then there’s “harder than tryin’ to lead a herd of cats” and “finer than frog hair and twice as ticklish.”
Nobody needs to be burdened with a tired old word like “warm” to describe the weather. You can say it’s “hotter than four hells” or “hotter than blue blazes.” And if this humid land doesn’t produce rain? “It’s so dry the trees are bribing the dogs.”
However, nothing beats the universal “Bless his heart” that legitimizes whatever follows. What could be wrong with criticizing someone when you bestow a blessing on them? Southerners know how to deliver an insult with a smile and a glass of sweet tea. My favorites are:
- He must’ve fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.
- She’s as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
- If that boy had an idea it would die of loneliness.
- She’s as helpful as a trap door on a canoe.
- That child’s as happy as a tick on a fat dog.
- He’s as dumb as a fencepost.
- You’re about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.
- That boy’s so stubborn he could make a preacher cuss.
You doing’ OK? If you’re not, hopefully this piece of homespun wisdom will help: “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then.”
Hope you have a good evenin’.