True South

Did She Say That Out Loud?

Favorite utterances I have known and used

 

By Susan S. Kelly

Southerners are big on sayings that are peculiar, well-worn, and whose origins — never mind meanings — are vague. “Bless her heart” comes to mind. We also love our book-or-movie lines that translate well to reality: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

For my money though, nothing beats the casual comments friends and family have unwittingly uttered in the presence of a writer — me — who keeps entire notebooks of minor observations such as new wallpaper smells like Band-Aids, and what people have in their Costco cart. Herewith, a few of my everlasting favorites.

Scene: Driving my 87-year-old mother on the Interstate.

Mother: “Do you ever use the left lane?”

Me: “When I need to pass a car, but otherwise, you’re supposed to stay in the right lane. The left lane is for speed, and for passing.”

Mother: “I drive in the left lane all the time.” Pause. “I consider it my privilege.”

Ensuing jaw drop.

Scene: Discussing acquaintance X with my friend Trish.

Trish: “Anyone with hair that long at her age is bound to be tough.”

Ensuing fall off the chair laughing before wryly agreeing.

Scene: Charlestonian pal Ginny visiting Greensboro, wandering through the rooms of my house: Ginny: “I forget how much stuff y’all have up here.”

Interpretation: It’s so tropical in Charleston that rugs and objets are superfluous and just make you feel even sweatier.

Ensuing anxious reassessment of household décor previously considered cozy and now viewed as cluttered.

Scene: Someone my friend Sarah and I slightly knew in college moves to town.

Me to Sarah: “You and I should probably have some kind of welcome get-together for her.

Sarah, with slow blink: “I have all the friends I need.”

Ensuing appreciation of Sarah’s chop-chop ‘tude freeing me from entertaining responsibility.

Scene: Dressing room of bathing suit marathon try-on with sister Janie.

Janie: Big sigh, followed by: “I just look better with a few clothes on.”

No interpretation needed.

Scene: Discussion with friend Marsha about recent debatable behavior of hers, mine, and others’.

Marsha: “Well, who cares? I’d rather be controversial than boring.”

Ensuing decision to be controversial rather than boring.

Scene: My great-aunt comes to pick up my grandmother for a luncheon in early April. My grandmother is dressed in a lavender crepe suit and, as frequently happens in April, it’s 48 degrees outside.

Great-aunt: “Jewel, aren’t you freezing?”

My grandmother Jewel: “Sure, but I look good, don’t I?”

Ensuing decision upon being told this story: Never to name anyone Jewel.

Scene: My mother-in-law telling her friends that her son is getting married to “just the nicest girl.”

Friends: murmurs of assent and congratulations.

Mother-in-law: “And the best part of it is, she’s already Episcopalian!”

Ensuing gratitude for whatever makes my mother-in-law happy that I didn’t have to work at.

Scene: Famous writer turns to me at a dinner party, and out of the blue asks, “Have you ever had a serious operation?”

Scene: Friend Anna’s withering riposte to being wronged by others: “I have a big mouth and a wide acquaintance and intend to use both to your detriment.”

Ensuing decision to: 1. Stay on Anna’s good side, and 2. Adopt this adage myself.

And, in the spirit of the season, a couple of Christmas-themed favorites.

My older son to his sister: “I’m outsourcing my Christmas thank-you notes this year. Interested?”

His sister: Withering look.

My sister to me: “I’m giving my children electric blankets for Christmas this year. Do you think it will give them cancer?”

Me: Withering eye-roll.

Morals:  1. You can’t make this stuff up, and 2. Sooner or later, a writer is going to bite the hand that feeds it, and use your unforgettable utterances.  OH

Susan Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and proud new grandmother.

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