Thursday, August 16, 2007


Here in the south, there has been great cultural innovation in the realm of contractions: I mean the single words cobbled together out of two, like can't for cannot, won't for will not, and shouldn't for should not.

Today we'll look at the word "whont'cha", a contraction of why don't you. The Microsoft Word spell check function lights up red underneath it.

"Whont'cha stop and get some beer on your way over?"
"Whont'cha do me a favor and shut up?

Last week I went back to my hometown to do Reflexology treatments for my grandmother and her sister Fabiola. It took some time because Fabiola has a touch of Alzhiemer's and kept forgetting that she'd just been called to come over. I did their feet, and then they wanted to go out to lunch. We went to the cafe downtown. I have fond memories of going in there after school to buy hot dogs when I was about 12. The owner of the café, Ray, was always asleep in the corner booth.

Ray's dead now and somebody else is running the cafe. Seems like it's painted with lighter colors now but other than that I think it's pretty much the same - same upholstered swivel stools at the bar and same brown formica table tops. Fabiola started to reminisce about Ray. It was interesting because in all my experiences of him he was boring, seeing as how he was mostly unconscious and all. But she remembers him differently.

They used to work together, but then Ray left the mill to run the cafe. Fabiola said she used to go in now and again for coffee or a burger to go, and he'd ring her up, give her her change and say, "Baby, whont'cha slip your old man a pill?"

Here are the things I loved about that story:
a. It cast Ray, who I knew as the grease-spattered town narcoleptic, in a surprising role as player.
b. It was clear in the way she related the story that Fabiola didn't mind being hit on and found it entertaining.
c. It showcases southern verbal culture, for example, "whont'cha."

I roared with laughter. I've heard rumors that back in their day, my grandmother and her sisters turned a lot of male heads. I've heard that my grandmother played a mean guitar before she got married and used to perform, with a friend of hers, at local events. I asked her why she doesn't play anymore and she said my dad and my uncle dragged her guitar around like a toy when they were little until there was nothing of it left. My brother told me she stopped because our grandfather was a musician too, one who was perhaps jealous because his wife was a better singer/guitar player than he was, so she gave it up to save his feelings.

There's hints here and there that they lived deeply textured, interesting lives, that they would have been people I would have chosen for my friends. That they could sell the movie rights to their life stories.

But they don't part with their stories very often, and that makes me sad.
Photo Credit: Wyatt

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