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Revisit: The day I lost my marbles . . .

I originally posted this story in July of 2010. I came across it while browsing today and enjoyed it so much that I decided to share it with the multitudes of people that overlooked it. I know they overlooked it because it garnered only one comment and that was from a lovely lady that lives in Montgomery, and she probably felt compelled to comment because she is my niece and I am the only surviving uncle from her mother’s side of the family. Actually, if I were a female I would be the only surviving aunt from her mother’s family—yep, of the original seven children I am the last one standing, and yes, I’m a bit lonely!

This is an intriguing—albeit rather sad—tale of one small boy’s attempt to establish and cement friendship and perhaps help to promote cordiality between races in the deep South at a time long before the marches between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama and long before civil rights legislation was passed by Congress. Well, alright, I confess that I was also trying to add to my collection of marbles and because of my politically incorrect older sister I failed miserably, and instead found my collection reduced by a significant number, including some of my favorite pieces. Bummer!

The day I lost my marbles

Many years ago in Columbus, Mississippi on the corner of Fourth Street South and Ninth Avenue South there was a large colonial style two-story house with stately columns and a balcony, a house converted into apartments during World War II to accommodate the influx of military personnel from Columbus Air Force Base, a pilot training center. I haven’t been in that section of town for many years—it may still be standing, or it may have been razed and a modern brick structure erected on that lot.

I lived there for several months with my mother, my youngest sister Dot—short for Doris—and my stepfather. Jessie, my oldest sister, also lived there in a one-room apartment that shared a bathroom with another tenant. That house holds many memories for me, several of which I have posted on my blog—some of those memories are pleasant and some are not so pleasant. Click here to read about The tomato tempest, a story that includes a visit to Alabama, a sharecropper family, a suicide, an Army-issue Colt .45 caliber automatic pistol, a recalcitrant young girl and a stepfather with a vicious temper.

The house was only two or three blocks from a section of the city that was called by many names, mostly names that are not used in polite society today. In these modern times of political correctness, certain words are voiced only by their first letter and the word word added, as in the N-word or the F-word or the Rword—the R stands for Republican, a word that some are reluctant to use in fear that they will looked upon as such.

I suppose that in today’s parlance, the neighborhood just beyond where I lived as a boy would be referred to as N-town, an area primarily comprised of black families—the term African-American was unknown then, unknown at least in the circles in which I moved. I’ve never understood the rationale for expressing something like that—if it is true that the thought is as bad as the deed, then saying the N-word instead of the actual word in nothing more than an attempt to cover up the real word, and it’s not covered up—try it—just say the N-word to yourself and check the mental image it creates, both in the speaker and the listener. Let’s face it—it’s a cop out—if you’re going to think it, you might as well say it.

I knew only one person that lived in N-town, a black lady that came to the house every weekday to care for my niece, Jessie’s young daughter, then just a toddler. Millie also cleaned, cooked and ironed for Jessie over a period of many years at several different locations in the city. I never knew Millie’s last name—we simply called her Millie, possibly the diminutive form of Millicent. An unmarried lady, she lived with her family just a short walk from our house. I vividly remember numerous Saturday nights when Dot and I walked with Jessie and our mother to Millie’s house. Jessie and our mother, along with Millie and her mother formed a quartet and sang church hymns, A Capella, all the old favorites and they sometimes belted out fast-paced tunes that contrasted sharply with the well-known songs—I suppose they were songs popular at the time—pop tunes, so to speak.

The group stayed in the house in inclement weather and neighbors came and sat and listened, and in fair weather they formed on the front porch and neighbors came and sat and listened. My sister and I stayed outside, both in inclement and fair weather, playing all the games children play in the evening—Kick the Can, Pussy in the Corner, Tag, Hide and Seek and others, and sometimes we sat on the porch and told stories, mostly ghost tales—and I’m here to say that those kids could spin some very scary stories!

Now that I’ve laid the scene, I’ll progress to the when, where, why and how I lost my marbles. I arrived home from school and Millie and my niece, Millie’s charge, were the only ones there. Left to my own devices, I swept an area of the front yard clean, drew a circle and began playing marbles. Soon after I began one of the kids from Millie’s neighborhood came by, watched my shooting for a few minutes and asked if he could play. I said yes, and the battle was joined—we played for keeps, meaning that when a shooter knocked one of the other shooter’s marbles out of the ring, that marble changed ownership—it now belonged to the one that caused it to go outside the ring. At first I seemed to be in control, but as the game progressed I realized that I had agreed to a play-for-keeps game with a kid that was a much better shooter than I.

So did I call off the game? Not on your life! I had a reputation to support and I worked very hard to reclaim some of my marbles that now resided in the black kid’s pockets. I was almost marbleless when Jessie came home from work. She briefly watched us at play and then entered the house, and a short time later Millie came out and headed for home. Then Jessie returned to the front yard—Jessie, my oldest sister and the sister that often gave orders that I was required to obey. She ordered me into the house, and I told my new friend—my adversary—that I had to go in, and he headed for home also, his pockets bulging with marbles that earlier had been in my pockets.

Jessie told me later that it was not seemly for me to be seen playing with a N-word child, that it would look odd to our neighbors. I pointed out to her that I had lost most of my marbles, and that I appeared to be on a winning streak at the time she stopped the game. Her response to that? You shouldn’t have been playing for keeps—that’s gambling, and gambling’s a sin. I didn’t bother to argue that I played with the black kids on Saturday evenings. I knew that the difference was the difference between day and night, between light and dark. I was in full view during daylight hours, subject to the stares of disapproving blacks as well as whites, and in the darkness of the evening I was not subjected to such stares.

That’s it—that’s how I lost my marbles, a loss that I was never to recoup. I never saw that kid again—sometimes I think that he may have been a ringer, a professional sent in from another area to pick up some easy loot in the form of marbles, similar to what Paul Newman did in his movie, The Hustler—bummer!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

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What’s in a name? The N-word by any other name would mean the same

The following comment was made by a fellow blogger somewhere in the British isles. Click here to read the post that prompted his comment.

Submitted on 2011/03/06 at 9:06 pm
helpforyourenglish.wordpress.com
john-dough@live.co.uk

Who wrote the “rules’ of grammar? Grammarians. How did they decide what to write in their grammar” books? By observing what people said and wrote – usage. Then they came to their own ‘theories’ of what English grammar is (or might be) based on those observations and usage. Grammarians did not invent English. As such, grammar is descriptive and should not be prescriptive. From my experience, using was in your example rather than were is much more common. Trying to prescribe that people should use the subjunctive mood’ in that situation makes it sound like the English language is stuck in some Latin time warp. It’s not really worth getting worked up about.

This is my reply to the British grammarian’s comment:

Thanks for the visit, and thanks for the comment. In far too many instances, comments by viewers are content with saying Nice blog, or I agree or Your blog sucks, etc., but your comment is well written, to the point and welcomed. My first reaction was to respond at some length, but I realized that the subject is worthy of a separate posting on my blog. Stay tuned if you like—with my lack of typing skills it will take some time to create and publish.

And this is the separate posting I promised the British—an assumption on my part—blogger.

Dear John,

As I promised in my initial response to your comment, I have expanded my response into an essay that concentrates on current language restrictions in the United States. You cannot possibly know how pleased I was to receive a real comment rather than the usual one or two phrases given by others, comments such as nice blog, keep up the good work, you suck, etc. Comments such as yours are rare, to be treasured and responded to in kind.

Your comment has inspired me to reply in detail, perhaps more detail than you expected or wanted, and has given me far more than enough fodder for yet another lengthy essay on the use of the English language. I will cheerfully give you credit for stimulating me in that effort.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that you have touched a nerve with your comment’s statement that It’s not really worth getting worked up about. I submit to you that every teacher of English or for that matter every teacher of anything, regardless of the subject, should get worked up about the misuse of established English language mores when people with ivy league educations, some with multiple diplomas—attorneys, authors, doctors, high-ranking business leaders, presidents, millionaires and billionaires in industry and in entertainment venues—continuously violate the most simple rules—yes, rules—of everyday English.

I expect it from rappers, but not from the rest of our society—not from our president and not from the poorest children existing in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia or in the Okeefenoke Swamp area in south Georgia. As for ebonics, I abhor the term and refuse to discuss it, capitalize it or use it in a sentence—in fact, I will not even mention it in this essay—not even once.

The errors in everyday English that I discuss on Word Press are the little things in our society as regards proper English. My sainted mother, in 83 years of living, loving and learning accumulated hordes of homilies, parts of speech defined as inspirational sayings or platitudes. One of her favorites and also one of mine is the saying that admonishes us to take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves. Following established rules is one of the little things, and effective communication is one of the big things.

The fact that the use of was rather than were is more common is not justification to continue using it. If that were true—note the if and the were—many, perhaps most of us, particularly in certain geographic regions, would still be spelling out and enunciating the word nigger instead of crouching behind the N-word wall.

It is an immutable fact that when we voice that alternative word as the N-word, our listeners know full well that the psuedo word has been substituted for the real word, the one that resides in the speaker’s thoughts, and thus immediately is projected and comes to rest in the listener’s thoughts, and the speaker, the user of the non-word N-word, put it there, and the listener can place a suitable target—I mean label—on the speaker by charging racism. The very fact of not voicing the pejorative term raises the shade on the speaker’s thoughts and shines the bright light of reality on the term, one that was, and still is, common in many countries, including yours.

There is a host of words on which we place no restrictions on their spelling in our writings or in our conversations—we may decry their use, but that use is common in literature and in everyday speech. That includes such words as honky, whitey, jew, kike, redneck, abie, chink, jap, greaser, frog, goy, kraut, polack, guido, limey (those of the British persuasion should take special note of that one), paddy, nazi, slant-eye, slopehead, nip, squaw, uncle tom and zipperhead. The list goes on forever, yet our society and its preoccupation with political correctness does not mandate us to prefix any of those words with a capital letter and substitute a made-up term for the pejorative term—J-word for jews and japs, for example, or K-word for kike and kraut, S-word for slant-eye, slope-head and squaw and L-word for limey—go figure!

Yes, the list goes on forever and we will forever continue to create new pejoratives to add to that list. Regardless of the list’s length, we can freely use any of those terms in writing, not as pejoratives in and of themselves but as support for whatever communication we are presenting to our reading audience—any of those terms except one—can you guess which one? I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two won’t count.

If the bromide that tells us that the thought is as bad as the deed is true, then every English speaker in the world is guilty, whether or not racially biased. When we voice the acceptable euphemism N-word, the banned word is in our thoughts, and it resounds just as loudly in our brain and in the listener’s  brain as when we actually pronounce the banned word.

Just one more thought and I’ll release you and my viewers from bondage. A bromide in the English language is defined as a figure of speech meaning a tranquilizing cliché. Our use of the term N-word is a bromide, a figure of speech meaning a tranquilizing cliché. A bromide is also defined as conventional wisdom overused as a calming phrase, a verbal sedative.

This bromide has been foisted upon us as a tranquilizer, a medication, a verbal sedative prescribed by a liberal society in order to render us placid, peaceful and pliant, to purposely place us in that somnolent state of glorious oblivion—asleep—and to keep us there.

I propose an amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America to allow us to call a spade a spade, a time-worn bromide that is now regarded as an epithet, a pejorative term, one that if used by a conservative member of Congress would probably bring Jackson, Sharpton, Braun, Powell, Conyers, Chisholm, Range, Jordan, Hastings, Jackson-Lee, Jackson Jr., Cummings and a host of others out of their respective congressional seats and on their respective congressional feet to simultaneously shout, Racist, racist, racist!, all wanting to order and exact the same penalty decreed by the Queen in the fairy tale Alice in Wonderland—Off with their heads!

For proposing that amendment my head would be on the chopping block, perhaps the first to tumble into the waiting handbasket, yet I am guilty of nothing more than wanting to bring a modicum of sanity to our nation. Our national ship of state is drifting aimlessly on a sea of insanity as regards the use of words considered to be pejorative. As a nation we can consider ourselves to be an asylum for the insane, with the patients giving the orders—again, as regards the use of pejorative words and phrases.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Cable TV—lots of leg, thigh and bosom . . .

Sometimes I tire in my wearisome and thankless quest for truth, and particularly for my efforts to identify the elements in our society that are rushing us headlong—helter skelter, so to speak—towards the brink of becoming a nudist society—a society of nudists, or naturists.

We desperately need Holden Caulifield of Catcher in the Rye fame to turn us around before we go over the edge of that precipice—what awaits at the bottom is largely unknown. We can fantasize, of course, but while some people might welcome hitting the bottom—so to speak—others might not be comfortable there. It takes no more than a quick peek into the future to see that our nation is swiftly sliding down a slippery slope. Actually it takes only a quick peek at the plethora of You Tube videos to confirm that movement.

All are familiar with the letters LOL, an acronym for Laughing Out Loud that is used to express laughter at some remark, either made by writers laughing at their own jokes or by anyone laughing at something said or done by another. I submit that in network television shows it also means Lots Of Leg.

There is another acronym, one that I just created that is assisting LOL in changing our entire world into one gigantic nude beach. That acronym is SUYT—the letter U is pronounced as a W, the letter Y takes the Spanish sound and becomes E, and with another E and a final T added, the acronym is voiced exactly as the word SWEET.

The acronym SUYT—SWEET—has a double meaning, and both meanings will be shown in these videos. The word is pronounced the same in both meanings, but when the letters are converted to words they read Show Us Your Tits and Show Us Your Thighs and television complies, especially cable television—the major networks are slowly catching on to the value of SWEET and slowing catching up—it’s just a matter of time and programming—perhaps they should proselytize some of the women on cable television.

During the annual Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans’ French Quarter the cry of SUYT, or Sweet, is frequently heard, shouted out by revelers towards women gathered on the balconies that abound in that section. Of course, rather than the letters of the acronym the actual words are voiced, and the streets and buildings reverberate with the cries of:

Show Us Your Tits!

I am unaware of any survey that documented the number of times the request was made of the second-story watchers during Mardi Gras, nor of any record for how many women complied with the request. I can only speak from personal experience, and that experience was not during Mardi Gras—it was during normal middle-of-the-week evenings of two nights I spent in the French Quarter—in case anyone is  wondering, I retired to my hotel at a decent hour and enjoyed a pleasant night’s rest—alone.

During a three-day official visit to New Orleans in my capacity as a representative of a federal government law-enforcement agency, I estimated that in the time I spent on the street in the French Quarter at least two of every three women standing on the balconies complied with the cry of SWEET—that’s an estimate of sixty-seven percent that acquiesced to the request of those below.

There is still another request that is frequently heard in the French Quarter, that of SUYB, pronounced SWEEB, but voiced as Show Us Your Bootie. I saw the underpants—panties—of a few affable women that evening but no actual booties. Perhaps the actual booties are presented during Mardi Gras, but I have no knowledge of that.

Incidentally, when did baby’s first footcovers become women’s backsides? Which came first? Which ever of the two came first, the name of the other should be changed, and I vote for keeping the name booties for the baby because there is a plethora of euphemisms for rear ends, all of which can be used both for men and women—backside, behind, bottom, breech, bum, buns, butt, caboose, can, cheeks, buttocks, derrière, duff, fanny, fundament, hams, haunches, heinie, hunkers, keister, nates, posterior, rear, rear end, rump, seat, tail and tush.

Enough already! The term bootie should be reserved for babies’ first foot wear, and I suggest that the religious political right push for an amendment to the constitution—it’s time, way past time! And if that can’t be done, place the term bootie in the same class as the N-word in order to protect babies from discrimination and ridicule—just as the N-word can only be used by Ns without fear of recrimination, persecution and possibly prosecution, the word bootie should only be allowed in reference to baby foot ware.

It can be done, Congress, so let’s do it!

I believe that our television networks deliberately show us virtually everything that is shown in the French Quarter, displayed by various female talking heads, and thousands of videos support that contention. I believe that it’s done for a dual purpose—first to lure us to the program and then to distract us from the meat—so to speak—of the program’s presentation. Both SUYT and LOL are shown, both singly and simultaneously—the networks are obviously in compliance with our desires, and far too often the views triumphantly trump the news.

At this juncture I’ll admit something that very few men will admit—my attention span wavers between the words spoken and the views tendered, and in that same vein I will admit that never, not even one time, have I claimed that I subscribe to Playboy for the great articles—Playboy has lots of great jokes and photos, but few of its articles qualify as great. If I had  my way the news would be presented by women such as—well, let’s see—there’s Nancy Pelosi and Helen Thomas for starters, and I’m certain that television producers need only to step out the front door and find many women that could be hired to read the news without distracting their male  viewers—probably most of would close our eyes and just listen, and we and our nation would probably be improved by the change.

Every visitor to this blog would probably admit that some of the women on television bare far more skin than necessary to impart important information to their audience—lots of leg, an ample view of thighs and a substantial expanse of bosom—fooled you there, didn’t I? You thought I was gonna say tits, but I substituted the word bosom, a euphemism prevalent during the Victorian era in our history—gotcha!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Postscript: I do not  subscribe to Playboy, nor do I subscribe to Penthouse, Playgirl or AARP.  I am, however, a long-time subscriber to our local daily, the San Antonio Express-News, a rag that is delivered promptly at 6:AM daily, rain or shine, and I recently subscribed to the new Old People Magazine, a publication that “gives old people something to read while waiting to die.” Below are some peculiar particulars of its content.

The first issue of Old People features a photo essay on Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as articles on the post office, the late Bob Hope, and how pills are dissolved into applesauce in order to make them easier to swallow.

Most of the content in the new magazine, however, will focus on the subject of most interest to old people: dying. “Myrtle’s Story,” an example of the short fiction included, reads in part: “Myrtle was old. Very old. She waited and waited. Finally, she died.”

According to Gurnstein, stories like this one have an important message of hope for the aged. This story says to old people, “All this waiting is not for nothing. Sooner or later, no matter how long it may seem, you will die,” Gurnstein said. “In other words, hang in there. In the long run, death will come at last.”

I am not making this up, and I’m anxiously awaiting my copy of the first issue and eagerly looking forward to the second issue, one that will feature pictures of a horse and a duck. Honestly, I am not making this up—if you have  even a shadow of a doubt, click here for more information.



 
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Posted by on March 1, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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In defense of the N-word . . .

Let me begin this post with a disclaimer:

My title—In defense of the N-word—is not a defense for those that use the word as a pejorative—a racial and ethnic slur, an epithet that equals and perhaps surpasses the impact of a southerner being called a son of a bitch—oops, forgive me, I meant to say “a son of a B-word.” When I volunteered—wisely—for military service and was accepted at the tender age of sixteen, I learned that every person in my service was a son of a B-word, and would be labeled incessantly with that sobriquet by virtually every other person. I quickly learned that I could not whup everyone that applied the term to me, and I learned that the term could reflect another person’s attitude in many ways other than a reference to one’s parentage, specifically to one’s mother. The term gave voice to emotions including surprise, incredulity, admiration and even brotherly love, as in I love this son-of-a B-word” or He is one hard-working son of a B-word” or “He is a really bright son of a B-word,” ad infinitum.

This posting draws heavily on my posting dated June 22, 2010. My purpose in this post is to elaborate on our use—or non-use—of the N-word. I have in effect plagiarized my own work and may be forced to sue myself, but my intent then was to discuss ten-cent hamburgers loaded with all the trimmings. Since my intent in this posting is to discuss in more detail my feelings about the use of the N-word, a situation that has limited conversation to a great extent in some segments of our society, versus my intent to laud the ten cent burgers in the earlier posting, I will not seek remuneration for myself from my work having been plagiarized. However, one may be assured that I will not extend that courtesy to plagiarism by others. Click here to read the earlier posting.

In summary, this post is not in defense of the use of the N-word. It is simply used as an attention-getter and is an attempt to explain, at least to some degree, that its use is not always intended to be pejorative, and its renunciation by our society has reduced our language to the point that we are often restricted from “saying what we mean and meaning what we say” by the need to be politically correct in our conversations.

In my boyhood days, those glorious preteen and early teen days when my world was pure and untainted and gave no hint of the vicissitudes, vagaries and vicious shoals lurking in my future, the Varsity movie theater was, and perhaps may still be, located on the North side near the intersection of Main and Fourth Street in Columbus, Mississippi, a city of some 20,000 souls at the time, located in the east central part of the state near the Alabama state line.

Main Street was the dividing line between north and south in Columbus, the county seat of Lowndes County, Mississippi. The first block of Fourth Street South was called Catfish Alley, a block that was comprised mostly of businesses—grocery stores, beer joints, rooming houses, eating places, clothing stores and other businesses—some were owned and operated by blacks.

Fourth Street in Columbus is near a bluff overlooking the Tombigbee River, a stream that in those days teemed with fresh-water catfish, a choice item in the diet of southerners regardless of their race—fried catfish was a staple. Local fishermen kept the cafes and fish stands along Catfish Alley well supplied, and people came from near and far to buy fresh catfish for home cooking and consumption, hence the name Catfish Alley. The block was the prime gathering place for blacks, a mecca for those living inside and outside the city from the countryside and from neighboring towns and cities. Shoppers and diners and gatherings included entire families during the daytime, but the block took on a different tone and attracted a different crowd after dark—rumors had it that more than one house of ill repute existed among the businesses in Catfish Alley, usually on the second floor of the two-story buildings. Click here to read about today’s Catfish Alley.

Note that I use the term black rather than African-American. In those days there was no such term as African-American, at least not in the circles in which I moved. There were numerous terms used in those days to describe black people, used openly without fear of ridicule or persecution. The term most used was the same one used by black rappers today, a word rappers are allowed to use but one that is never used by anyone other than rappers, particularly not by non-African-Americans, but is referred to as the N-word. At this point I will say without hesitation, without rancor, without one ounce of racialism in my body and soul, an absence that was created many years ago through education, understanding and just plain living, that if one is going to say the N-word one may as well use the real word. And in support of that choice I will quote the bard from Romeo and Juliet, followed by a well-known and oft-used religious homily:

That which we call a rose, by any other name will smell as sweet.

The thought is as bad as the deed.

I would add a third saying but this one is a no-no—it suggests that we should call a spade a spade, a phrase that has been around for more than 500 years. It means that we should speak honestly and directly about topics that others may avoid speaking about due to their sensitivity or embarrassing nature. According to Wikipedia, the phrase that says the thought is as bad as the deed predates the use of the word spade as an ethnic slur against African-Americans, a euphemism that was not recorded until 1928. However, in contemporary U.S. society that time-honored idiom, to call a spade a spade, is often avoided due to potential confusion with the slur. Click here to read more about the history of the phrase, call a spade a spade.

The N-word is a substitute for the word Negro and in many instances, perhaps most, it is used as a pejorative, a racial and ethnic slur intended to show the speaker’s disdain and even hatred for persons of that race. However, I submit that there are people that use the word non-pejoratively, specifically in its use by southerners that have a predilection to pronounce words ending in an O, or with the sound of an O, by replacing the O sound with the ER sound. For example window becomes winder, pillow becomes piller, tallow becomes taller, shallow becomes shaller, fellow becomes feller, hollow becomes holler, ad infinitum.

So given that predilection, I’ll give you three guesses as to how such persons pronounce Negro, and the first two guesses don’t count. Yep, many southerners inadvertently use the N-word and in most instances that pronunciation is not tainted with racialism—it is simply a descriptive term, just as other persons are described as white. The N-word ends with an O, so the O is dropped and an er is added. And I’ll grant you that others use the word in all its pejorative sense, expressing contempt, disapproval and hatred with all the pent-up passion and racism that has in the past plunged our nation into civil war and which still exists, and such use of the word is not limited to southerners. Our nation has come a long way, especially since 1964 and the civil rights movement, but we still have a long way to go.

Check out this sentence: That N-word feller that lives across the holler in that house with no winders has to wade across a shaller creek to get to the store to buy a new piller and some animal taller to make candles.

Now please be honest—to thine own self be true, so to speak—do you understand how and why some southerners pronounce words ending in O as er, and do you understand how and why the word Negro rolls off the palate of a son of the south—a southerner—with the sound of what is considered to be one of the most pejorative and hateful words in our English language? The phrase N-word is converted by the listener’s brain to a word that retains the N and replaces the hyphen with an I, a couple of Gs, an E and an R, forming a word that resounds in the listener’s brain with far more resonance than N-word to the ears.

With full knowledge that I have convinced nobody—not even one person—with my explanation of the N-word as used by southerners I will make no apology, neither for myself nor for fellow southerners for past or present use of the N-word. My only point is that the real word is sometimes used without any thought of hatred or disliking, without a trace of racialism in the speaker’s mind or heart. I abhor its use when it involves prejudice, hatred, contempt, disdain, disgust or any other contemptible emotion on the part of the speaker.

I am privileged to be the only remaining brother-in-law of a southern lady, the last one of a host of brothers-in-law. That lady is a native of south Georgia now residing in North Carolina. She recently zipped past her ninetieth birthday, still mobile, still vocal and still pronouncing words that end in O as ending in ER—words such as window, pillow, hollow and yes, the word Negro. She is well aware that our society prefers—nay, demands the term African-American, but she sometimes inadvertently reverts to a lifetime of retaining the N, dropping the O and adding igger, with no more thought of hatred, malice or resentment than when she pronounces hollow as holler, or pillow as piller. I have no doubt—nay, it is my firm belief—that when her time comes she will be welcomed  into heaven by the sound of thunderous applause from all, particularly from the Supreme Applauder.

And one more thought—look at the use of F-word in place of the real word—a listener hears F-word, but can you guess which word forms in the listener’s mind? Yep, that word, the one with the letters U, C and K following the F. The phrase F-word is converted by the listener’s brain to a word that has traditionally been prohibited in all our media including movies, books, newspapers and speech, but its use has now proliferated in every medium, including prime family time on television—and it’s not just the use of the word—the act itself is often portrayed, either suggested by nudity and camera angles or fade-to-black screens. Such acts are ostensibly simulated but sometimes I suspect that the portrayal is real.

Rarely is anyone castigated for their use of the F-word, regardless of when, where, why and who is guilty of its use. Vice President Biden recently used it on television in a whispered aside in President Barack Obama’s ear. He told the president that “This is a big F-word-ing deal,” and it resonated all over the world. That slip of the tongue provoked nothing but mirth—Joe Biden, our potty mouth vice president, remains just one heartbeat away from the presidency. Click here for the story and the video.

Go figure!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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The day I lost my marbles . . .

Many years ago in Columbus, Mississippi, at the corner of Fourth Street South and Ninth Avenue South there was a large colonial style two-story house with stately columns and a balcony, a house converted into apartments during World War II to accommodate the influx of military personnel from Columbus Air Force Base, a pilot training center. I haven’t been in that section of town for many years—it may still be standing, or it may have been razed and a modern brick structure erected on that lot.

I lived there for several months with my mother, my youngest sister Dot—short for Doris—and my stepfather. Jessie, my oldest sister, also lived there in a one-room apartment that shared a bathroom with another tenant. That house holds many memories for me, several of which I have posted on my blog—some of those memories are pleasant and some are not so pleasant. Click here to read about The tomato tempest, a story that includes a visit to Alabama, a sharecropper family, a suicide, an Army-issue Colt .45 caliber automatic pistol, a recalcitrant young girl and a stepfather with a vicious temper.

The house was only two or three blocks from a section of the city that was called by many names, mostly names that are not used in polite society today. In these modern times of political correctness, certain words are voiced only by their first letter and the word word added, as in the N-word or the F-word or the Rword—the R stands for Republican, a word that some are reluctant to use in fear that they will looked upon as such.

I suppose that in today’s parlance, the neighborhood just beyond where I lived as a boy would be referred to as N-town, an area primarily comprised of black families—the term African-American was unknown then, unknown at least in the circles in which I moved. I’ve never understood the rationale for expressing something like that—if it is true that the thought is as bad as the deed, then saying the N-word instead of the actual word in nothing more than an attempt to cover up the real word, and it’s not covered up—try it—just say the N-word to yourself and check the mental image it creates, both in the speaker and the listener. Let’s face it—it’s a cop out—if you’re going to think it, you might as well say it.

I knew only one person that lived in N-town, a black lady that came to the house every weekday to care for my niece, Jessie’s young daughter, then just a toddler. Millie also cleaned, cooked and ironed for Jessie over a period of many years at several different locations in the city. I never knew Millie’s last name—we simply called her Millie, possibly the diminutive form of Millicent. An unmarried lady, she lived with her family just a short walk from our house. I vividly remember numerous Saturday nights when Dot and I walked with Jessie and our mother to Millie’s house. Jessie and our mother, along with Millie and her mother formed a quartet and sang church hymns, A Capella, all the old favorites and they sometimes belted out fast-paced tunes that contrasted sharply with the well-known songs—I suppose they were songs popular at the time—pop tunes, so to speak.

The group stayed in the house in inclement weather and neighbors came and sat and listened, and in fair weather they formed on the front porch and neighbors came and sat and listened. My sister and I stayed outside, both in inclement and fair weather, playing all the games children play in the evening—Kick the Can, Pussy in the Corner, Tag, Hide and Seek and others, and sometimes we sat on the porch and told stories, mostly ghost tales—and I’m here to say that those kids could spin some very scary stories!

Now that I’ve laid the scene, I’ll progress to the when, where, why and how I lost my marbles. I arrived home from school and Millie and my niece, Millie’s charge, were the only ones there. Left to my own devices, I swept an area of the front yard clean, drew a circle and began playing marbles. Soon after I began one of the kids from Millie’s neighborhood came by, watched my shooting for a few minutes and asked if he could play. I said yes, and the battle was joined—we played for keeps, meaning that when a shooter knocked one of the other shooter’s marble out of the ring, that marble changed ownership—it now belonged to the one that caused it to go outside the ring. At first I seemed to be in control, but as the game progressed I realized that I had agreed to a play-for-keeps game with a kid that was a much better shooter than I.

So did I call off the game? Not on your life! I had a reputation to support and I worked very hard to reclaim some of my marbles that now resided in the black kid’s pockets. I was almost marbleless when Jessie came home from work. She briefly watched us at play and then entered the house, and a short time later Millie came out and headed for home. Then Jessie returned to the front yard—Jessie, my oldest sister and the sister that often gave orders that I was required to obey. She ordered me into the house, and I told my new friend—my adversary—that I had to go in, and he headed for home also, his pockets bulging with marbles that earlier had been in my pockets.

Jessie told me later that it was not seemly for me to be seen playing with a N-word child, that it would look odd to our neighbors. I pointed out to her that I had lost most of my marbles, and that I appeared to be on a winning streak at the time she stopped the game. Her response to that? You shouldn’t have been playing for keeps—that’s gambling, and gambling’s a sin. I didn’t bother to argue that I played with the black kids on Saturday evenings. I knew that the difference was the difference between day and night, between light and dark. I was in full view during daylight hours, subject to the stares of disapproving blacks as well as whites, and in the darkness of the evening I was not subjected to such stares.

That’s it—that’s how I lost my marbles, a loss that I was never to recoup. I never saw that kid again—sometimes I think that he may have been a ringer, a professional sent in from another area to pick up some easy loot in the form of marbles, similar to what Paul Newman did in his movie, The Hustler—bummer!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Catfish Alley, ten-cent hamburgers & the N-word . . .

The Varsity Theater was, and perhaps may still be, located at the intersection of Main and First Street. Main Street was the dividing line between north and south in Columbus, the county seat of Lowndes County, Mississippi. The first block of First Street South was called Catfish Alley, a block that was comprised mostly of black businesses—grocery stores, beer joints, rooming houses, eating places, clothing stores and other businesses—most, but not all, were owned and operated by blacks. Catfish Alley was the the prime gathering place for blacks, a mecca for those living inside and outside the city and from the countryside and from neighboring towns and cities. Shoppers and diners and gatherings included entire families during the daytime, but the block took on a different tone and attracted a different crowd after dark—rumors had it that more than one house of ill repute existed among the businesses in Catfish Alley, usually on the second floor of the two-story buildings.

Note that I use the term black—in those days there was no such term as African-American, at least not in the circles in which I moved. There were numerous terms used in those days to describe black people, used openly without fear of ridicule or persecution. The term most used was the same one used by black rappers today, a word that is never enunciated but identified only as the N-word, and at this point I will say, without hesitation, without rancor, without one ounce of racialism in my body and soul, an absence that was created many years ago through education, understanding and just plain living, that if one is going to say the N-word, one may as well use the real word. And in support of that choice I will quote the bard from Romeo and Juliet, followed by a well-known and oft-used religious homily:

That which we call a rose, by any other name will smell as sweet.

The thought is as bad as the deed.

I would add a third saying but this one is a no-no—it suggests that we should call a spade a spade, a phrase that has been around for more than 500 years. It means that we should speak honestly and directly about topics that others may avoid speaking about due to their sensitivity or embarrassing nature. According to Wikipedia, The phrase predates the use of the word “spade” as an ethnic slur against African-Americans, which was not recorded until 1928; however, in contemporary U.S. society, the idiom is often avoided due to potential confusion with the slur. Click here to read more about the history of the phrase, call a spade a spade.

The N-word is a substitute for the word Negro, its pronunciation corrupted, of course, by the southerners’ predilection to pronounce words ending in an O, or with the sound of an O, by replacing the O sound with er. Window, for example, becomes winder, pillow becomes piller, tallow becomes taller, shallow becomes shaller, fellow becomes feller, hollow becomes holler, ad infinitum.

Can you guess how Negro is pronounced? Yep, for many southerners the N-word is not tainted with racialism—it is simply a descriptive term, just as other persons are described as white. The N-word ends with an O, so the O is dropped and an er is added. And I’ll grant you that others use the word in all its pejorative sense, expressing contempt, disapproval and hatred with all the pent-up passion and racism that has in the past plunged our nation into civil war and which still exists, and such use of the word is not limited to southerners. Our nation has come a long way, especially since 1964 and the civil rights movement, but we still have a long way to go.

Check out this sentence: That N-word feller that lives across the holler in that house with no winders has to wade across a shaller creek to get to the store to buy a new piller and some animal taller to make candles. Now please be honest—to thine own self be true, so to speak—do you understand how some southerners pronounce words ending in O, and do you understand how the word Negro became, to a southerner, the N-word?

With full knowledge that I have convinced nobody—not even one person—with my explanation of the N-word as used by southerners, I will continue with my dissertation—or posting if you insist—on Catfish Alley and ten-cent hamburgers:

First Street in Columbus is on a bluff overlooking the Tombigbee River, a stream that in those days was teeming with fresh-water catfish, a choice item in the diet of southerners regardless of their race—fried catfish was a staple. Local fishermen kept the cafes and fish stands along Catfish Alley well supplied, and people came from near and far to buy fresh catfish for home cooking and consumption, hence the name Catfish Alley.

The going rate for hamburgers on Catfish Alley when I was a boy was ten cents. Hamburger buns came only in one size in those days—small. The huge ones we have today either did not exist or had not yet come to our town, perhaps late as so many changes were—drive-in theaters, for example. Click here for a posting on the ins and outs of drive-in theaters. The ten-centers stood head-and-shoulders above today’s What-a-Burger and its Just a burger with its thin patty, one pickle slice, a bit of minced onions and a smear of mustard—the ten-cent patties were ample and came, if wanted, with lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion and one’s choice of mustard, ketchup or mayo in any combination.

But it gets better, because Catfish Alley had a competitor. Just a brief walk brought me and my fellow students from our high school at noon to the river’s edge where a lady dispensed five-cent burgers from a portable kitchen on wheels, burgers that had no tomato or lettuce or pickles or onions but featured a substantial hamburger patty—fifteen cents would get a student two burgers and a Pepsi or RC Cola or a Coke or a Grapette—most of us went for the 12-ounce sodas rather than the 6-ounce brands, an easy choice since the cost was the same. Ah, for the good old days!

Does anyone remember this jingle?

Pepsi Cola hits the spot
Twelve full ounces, that’s a lot
Twice as much for a nickel, too,
Pepsi Cola is the drink for you!

I make no apology, neither for myself nor for fellow southerners for past or present use of the N-word. My only point is that the real word is sometimes used without any thought of hatred or disliking, without a trace of racialism in the speaker’s mind or heart. I abhor its use when it involves prejudice, hatred, contempt, disdain, disgust or any other contemptible emotion on the part of the speaker. And one more thought—look at the use of F-word in place of the real word—a listener hears F-word, but can you guess which word forms in the listener’s mind? Yep, that word, the one with the letters U, C and K following the F, just as the phrase N-word is converted to a word that adds an I, a couple of Gs, an E and an R, a word that resounds in the listener’s brain with far more resonance than N-word to the ears.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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