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June 14, 2005

Ya'll vs. y'all vs. all yall. Dammit.

"Grammar? I don't even know her!"

The correct spelling of yawl is, I think, y'all, seeing as it's a contraction of "you all." But where I'm from we still read "litterchure" and say things like "I need to get some brisket out of the freezer to unthaw." (Unthawing is what you do when you want it to not be frozen. Ya'll'd know this if you read your litterchure.)

So, I spell it ya'll. Because in my mind, I hear "yawl" and it just seems right to write it that way. It's wrong, of course, but the word itself isn't exactly the Queen's English, so I have dealt with my spelling idiosyncracy and moved on.

Where I'm from, the plural of ya'll is "all ya'll." Where you're from it may be "ya'll all." Or "Your mama 'n them." I do not know.

When my Uncle Dayton got sick last year, I spent more time in Texas than I had since I was a kid. And all these years of living away from the South and refining my California-sounding dialect and trying to rid myself of the Southern accent was erased in 15 minutes upon landing in Longview, Texas.

Well, correction. I didn't exactly land in Longview. I flew to Shreveport and then took a tin can with a propeller on it to Longview and as soon as I freed myself from the sardine can of death, I promptly threw up. I tell you what. It would have been cheaper, and probably safer, to build a dugout and hire an Indian guide and ford some river passes than to fly to Longview, Texas.

So my parents and my Uncle Truman and Aunt Ruth Ann and my Uncle Ronnel and well, pretty much every cousin and kin and neighbor and the entire Great Stet Of Texas conspired to have me sounding just as country as ever in under fifteen minutes flat. And when I flew back to Los Angeles, Jennifer was around me for two seconds and the South began to take her, too, by proxy. It's just that way. The drawl is a powerful thing.

That time in Texas with my family was also sort of the beginning of the end, the end of my illusions of who I wanted to be, illusions and lies and aspirations for a life I don't think was right for me, ever. It's hard and painful to watch someone you love die. It shakes you to the very core and melts away all your carefully arranged exterior, and leaves you with just your real self, and the love you have for your family, and the knowledge that only living true and trying to be happy and honest makes a damn bit of sense.

Also, my Uncle Dayton? FUNNIEST DAMN MAN WHO EVER LIVED.

uncle-mouse.jpg


We called him Uncle Mouse. He played the guitar (the "gi-tar") and he sang and had the ability to make everyone fall apart laughing, always. I loved him so much. He was the warmest, kindest man you'll ever meet. And FUNNY. Even when I see a picture of him just sitting, all quiet, I smile from ear to ear. That's the kind of life I want to live, too. A smiling life. A funny, honest life.

At his funeral, I got cornered by my Great Aunt Francis-Allen and my Great Aunt Mary-Annette, both of whom were relations I never knew existed. They are from a certain generation of Southern woman, and they are about eleven hundred years old and live together (having both buried husbands and children) and they talk about the past as if it still lived on. And on. AND ON.

They somehow got me in a corner and started quizzing me. "Who do you belong to, young lady?" "Are your people the ones from up in Florida?" (Mind you, Florida? Directionally south of Texas. But old Texans? Think everything is up north.) Then I got to hear the story of Mary-Annette's husband, the first one, who was captured during the war and his people went back to the days of Sam Houston himself and did I know whether I was from the Beams side of the family?

Before long I was getting a history lesson about the War of Northern Aggression and I had to do some frantic math in my head because Mary-Annette, her husband? No way he could have fought in the Civil War, right? But man she's old. Like, she could be in a bonnet with a wagon train kind of old. Churn her own butter kind of old. And she just said "Appomatix" in a sentence. OH SOMEONE PLEASE COME RESCUE ME FROM THE TALKING.

And my family? My loving mom and dad and brothers and Uncle Truman? They perched right there in the sitting room and pointed at me, who was pinned in a corner by two grand old Southern dames in long swishing skirts, and they laughed at me. Laughed at me at the wake.

That's my family. God love 'em all. And all ya'll. And y'all, too.

Posted by laurie at June 14, 2005 9:17 AM