By BILL DUNCAN
The View From Here
Imagine my surprise when I opened the opinion page of The Capital Press in Salem, Ore. and read the newspaper’s editor-publisher, Elaine Shein’s column, writing so elegantly about a Southern boy named Rick Bragg. It wouldn’t have surprised me as much, but since Elaine grew up in Canada, it seem all the more odd that she found Bragg’s writing style so strong that she wrote in her piece:
"If every reporter could at some point receive training from someone like Bragg, not just how to be better writers but to be more understanding, respectful storytellers, journalism would be held in higher regard and respect today. More importantly, so would rural America."
Since I grew up in Georgia, I think I understand this and particularly the quote from Bragg:
“My people have the most beautiful, eloquent way of speech. I come from the knees of the best storytellers on the planet.”
This was not news to me because indeed I grew up at the knees of the best storytellers on the planet.
Southerners speak, much like the British, in metaphors and similes. The speech patterns are colorful enough to attract the attention of people like Elaine and even a friend of mine from Grants Pass, Ore., Gunnar Hardarson, an Icelander, who sent me a collection of Southernisms:
It is a long list, but I will only share few:
"If things get any better, I may have to hire someone to help me enjoy it."
We Southerners are often ridiculed for using y’all, so to help my readers understand this grammatical term: Remember, y’all is
singular when addressing one person, but y’all is plural when speaking of several people and y’all with an apostrophe is plural possessive.
I was once taking a story by dictation from my newspaper’s military analyst covering the Marines serving in Vietnam. He was a Florida boy named Buck Lanier. He began a sentence: "The Marines were fixing to…" I interrupted him by saying: "Buck, you and I know what that means, but we are writing for a bunch of damned Yankees."
There was a long international minute and finally Buck said: "Well how would you say it?"
For years I have read and relished Bragg’s books, magazine pieces and while he was writing for The New York Times, I would follow his work on the web. He is a typical Southern writer, but my all time favorite is the late Lewis Grizzard, who was a columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I own every collection of his columns, including the posthumous collection, "The Grizzard Sampler," produced after his untimely death from heart troubles in March 1994. The collection was published by Peachtree Publishers of Atlanta, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Lewis Grizzard Scholarship Fund at the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia.
This collection tells the story of how he became a book author in 1978 when he brought a brown paper grocery bag filled with his newspaper columns to Helen Elliott, founder of Peachtree Publishers. That brown paper bag produced his first book, "Kathy Sue Loudermouth, I love you" followed by six more books.
Perhaps the reason why he became a best selling author lies in what he wrote in one of his columns:
"As an only child in a traditional Southern family, I grew up around adults. Not just my parents, but grandparents and uncles and aunts as well. It was an extended family long before anyone decided to call it that.
"While they sat on the front porch rocking and shelling peas and telling tales, I picked beggar lice off my pants and listened closely. That was probably the best education I ever received and
as I look back on it now…I realize there was more wisdom on that
porch than I ever imagined. Listen to a few of these stories of senior citizens and you will see what I mean."
(Y’all can reach Bill Duncan by writing to P.O. Box 812, Roseburg, OR 97470)