Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

December 7, 2013

The South keeps America interesting

(Continued)

That said, there’s definitely something different about the way Southerners use language, although it’s in danger of disappearing as the nation becomes more suburbanized. Exactly how to characterize it is a tougher question.

As a kid growing up in New Jersey, I first heard the siren song of the South on AM radio. Popular music back then had grown formulaic and polite -- all Patti Page and Perry Como. But not on WNJR in Newark, a station whose rhyming DJs played artists like B.B. King, Jimmy Reed and Little Willie John -- blues singers with origins in the Deep South and wit and emotional directness unmatched in the Top 40. “Well you ain’t so big,” Jimmy Reed sang, “You just tall, that’s all.”

Elsewhere on the dial, my basketball jock friends and I started following the great Jerry West’s college career on WWVA out of Wheeling, W. Va. “Zeke from Cabin Creek.” After the games, they’d play straight-up country music: Don Gibson, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and the immortal Hank Williams.

Somewhere in there, I picked up a taste for bluegrass. On our second date, the Arkansas girl I eventually married went to see Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys at a high school auditorium in Nelson County, Va. It was incredible, like hearing Eric Clapton at a corner bar.

Anyway, I wouldn’t say it was how the Arkansas girl talked, but that was definitely part of it. She’d ask for a “pin” when she wanted something to write with. A city girl from Little Rock, she sounded like Huckleberry Finn to me.

Prices were “high as a cat’s back.” She’d refuse a second helping on the grounds that she was “full as a tick.” She’d libel her own posterior as “too much ham for the sack.”

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