Sunday, August 19, 2007

Food for the Soul, Aug. 19, 2007

"Do you wanna tallpony?"

When I asked the girl behind the fast-food counter what the heck a tallpony was, she pointed at the milkshake she had just handed me and repeated the question, slowly and deliberately, "Do you want a top on it?"

Oh. That. No, thanks.

I grew up in Kentucky, and we talked a little differently down there. That meandering drawl would every once in awhile lead to some interesting and amusing misinterpretations.

Here's an example, although most surely a tall tale. It was included in a collection of work by Joe Creason, the late, great columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal.

"Once upon a time, white flannel trousers were the 'in' thing with all the dudes. Morrison Hicks, Louisville, tells about a wealthy guy who had gotten tar on his favorite pair of white flannels and who had instructed his servant to get it out - the tar that is. 'Did you try ammonia?' he asked after all else failed. 'No sir,' the hired hand replied, eyeing the pants enviously, 'but I know they'd fit me.'"

When I read that joke, the humor hit me immediately and I started laughing out loud. My wife, who grew up in Cleveland, asked me what was so funny, and I showed her the story. She read it, but then gave me that "you're weird" look she has a patent on. It was then that I realized that you have to hear the drawl in your head when you read it or it makes no sense at all.

Another writer I like, Bill Bryson, a Midwesterner by birth who later moved to England, wrote about his encounters with the Southern drawl in "The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America." Bryson was driving through the South and stopped one morning at a restaurant (why do these things seem to happen so often at food places?). Here's how he described his encounter with a waitress in Columbus, Mississippi:

"I could live here, I thought. But then the waitress came over and said, 'Yew honestly a breast menu, honey?' and I realized that it was out of the question. I couldn't understand a word these people said to me. She might as well have addressed me in Dutch. It took many moments and much gesturing with a knife and fork to establish that what she had said to me was 'Do you want to see a breakfast menu, honey?'"

It's easy to have fun with the way Southerners talk. Having been one for a large portion of my life, and having spoken with such a syrupy drawl that even everyone down there made fun of the way I talked, I realize it's an easy target for abuse. But it's important to note that you shouldn't equate a drawl with being stupid. Take a moment and treat yourself to a brief sound bite on this page from Mississippian Shelby Foote, a historian and author who first came to my attention in Ken Burns' documentary, "The Civil War." Listening to Foote's soft, slow, intelligent delivery is like comfort food for the ears.


Chef JP said...

Great post! I think language that relates to food is always a hoot. When I was starting out in the restaurant business years ago, the first cook I worked with wan an old army cook. He used to refer to Gravy Master (a product used to give sauces a darker hue) as "Mo Darker". It took me awhile to figure out what the old geezer was rambling on about. "Hand me some of that Mo Darker over there, willya..." chefjp

sullicom said...

Wasn't Mo Darker an outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers? ;)

Thanks for the comment!