Down here in the hills and hollers of Tennessee, we talk “real” slow. “Ifn it’s hard for ya’ll to understand us, just slow down and listen closely to catch on.” The South has a charm of its own and its own version on the English language. Many Southern sayings are confusing and comical at first but are meaningful and descriptive while “driving a point home.” We surely don’t think of our language as being made-up of sayings, it’s the way we talk.
Now, let’s make one thing clear, there are many states cities, and communities below the Mason Dixon Line and each is different. There is The South and within it, there are rural Southern communities. Each area has its own language, culture and food. For example, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida are all Southern states. However, people who live there do not talk like the “folks” who grew up in Granville nor would they prepare the same foods. People in East Tennessee’s Appalachian areas and individuals who live near the Mississippi River in western region of the state occasionally have trouble understanding each other. Even younger generations of our families are not familiar with this beautiful language because they have not grown up hearing the sayings.
Somehow, when I was young, we just knew what was meant when someone said, “You can take a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” Or, “You can’t cuss a cat in here without getting fur in your mouth.” As an adult I realized that appropriate facial expressions accompany the Southern accent and are necessary when using these sayings in daily conversation.
Southerns make friends while standing in line and talk to everyone in the line. When someone is out of hearing range, we “jest” smile, wave, and mouth the word “Howdy”.
Let me share a few greetings often heard in Granville when people actually sat on the front porch. “Hey, ya’ll come a set a spell.” “Well, ain’t you a sight for sore eyes.” “I haven’t seen you in a coon’s age.” Parting or making an exit was a ritual. It took several minutes for eveyone to say their good-byes. When you finally made an exit from a neighbor’s house, they’d say, “Ya’ll come back now, ya hear.” The response was, “We will if the Lord’s willing and the creeks don’t rise.”
I grew up with these sayings and thought everyone talked like this. Years later after using these sayings and experiencing strange looks from those outside Jackson County, I realized the uniqueness of this language. I did not become serious about preserving these “words of wisdom” until my father became ill. I would ask him, “Will you tell me some of those sayings so I can write them down?” His response was, “What sayings?” I realized this was not something you could ask people to say outside their conversations. It required careful listening.
It’s rite easy fer Southerners to recall feeling the hot sun while walking dusty roads, smelling wildflowers, and sucking on a honeysuckle bloom. The cool winding spring fed streams were perfect for coolin’ ya bare feet. Did you ever get in trouble for sneaking off to the creek? I recall such a time. I was with a cousin and as I stepped in the creek, I cut my foot. “I was bleeding like a stuck hog.” We were afraid to go home since we had been told to stay out of the creek. “We were between the devil and the deep blue sea.” When we decided that I might bleed to death, we went home. And, “we got a good flogging!”
“My mouth waters “when I think of Sunday dinners, the noon meal. When everyone finished eating, grandma covered the food with a tablecloth and we ate it for supper, the evening meal. I heard, “Don’t sit there like a knot on a log, eat your dinner.” Or, “Don’t tell her to eat; she already eats me out of house and home.” The response was usually, “Yeah, she eats so much it makes her pore to tote it.” (It was a long time before I understood that one.) These were days of a simpler time. Everyone sat around the table and talked. Food and fellowship expressed the charm of Southern hospitality. Before leaving the table someone would say to the ladies who did the cooking, “Younz out done yo’ self today. I’m as full as a tick on a hound dog.”
My hope is that we preserve our distinct way of communicating and provide generations who come after us an understanding of Granville, Tennessee’s unique language heritage.
Come walk the streets of Granville or “set a spell on the porch.” Historic Granville open Wednesday- Friday 11AM- 3PM and Saturday 11AM-5PM.