I have always loved to listen to workmen talk. The sentence construction and grammar are so distinctive that I am constantly delighted. While looking at a horse trailer last week, Allen and I met two other elderly men. One of them, speaking of a large local family, said, “Ain’t enough brains between ’em to make a good house cat!”
That generation never “hauls” rocks or stones, they “draw” them. Allen recently bought a new truck and I was concerned by the very small size of the truck bed. He shrugged. “Don’t matter. Ain’t gonna draw nothin’.”
Babies don’t cry, they “blat.”
When Allen refers to a “chimbley” (chimney) I feel as if a history book is speaking.
Not only do I enjoy hearing dialects and accents but unconsciously I can begin to copy them. When he was small, my son would become agitated when I was on the phone with my mother (from the Deep South) for any length of time. My voice would gradually take on a drawl and my R’s would soften. “Stop it!” Jon would cry furiously. “That’s not how you talk!”
I try very hard not to slip similarly into the rural idiom when I’m working with Allen. I’m aware it could be taken as mockery or condescension if I suddenly began speaking with fractured grammar. However I often repeat his words in my mind, examining how his sentences are put together. It is a quiet, ongoing pleasure.
Yesterday Allen and I jacked up the roof of the run-in shelter where our post had sunk. He was giving me directions with the jack while he stood back to watch the roof line.
“You keep pumpin’ til I say stop,” he instructed. “Cabbage?”
I looked up. “What?” I began — and then the penny dropped. I started to laugh. I couldn’t help it. “Allen, are you saying capisce?”
He grinned at me. “Cabbage, caboose, it don’t matter none.”