My great grandma’s name was Edna, but everybody called her Miss Sweet. She was known mainly for her skills in the kitchen. The woman could fix anything. She used only fresh ingredients and we went to market almost everyday.
When my sister and I walked a’piece, to “town” with Mama Sweet, we wore our sun bonnets and carried our parasols to prevent heat stroke. We looked like gangly chicks marching along behind the hen, stopping and bumping into each other as she paused to speak to every neighbor along the route.
They would call from their porches, “Hey Miss Sweet. How you feeling?”
To one family she might say, “Oh, tolly well.” And to another, she’d holler, “Fair to middlin’!”
As I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to move around my kitchen affecting my great-grandma’s speech and mimicking her tone. This morning when my husband asked how I was feeling, I responded, “Tolly well.”
“What does that even mean?” he asked.
I smiled, glad to finally examine and explain some of my Mississippi elder’s favorite expressions as she used them. Some of you may have heard them used in other ways. I can’t speak to your definitions. I only know how the little ole lady known as Miss Sweet used them.
Tolly well means I could be worse, but right now I am tolerably well. Fair to middlin’means I’m neither good nor bad, but right here in the middle.
My grandmother was another elderly lady whose Southern speech, while conversing with church sisters on her big black telephone, thrilled me. (Sometimes when I picked up the receiver, I could hear another family from the area on the party-line, but I digress). My grandmother’s conversations were animated and fun. I especially loved her vivid language.
“Chile, they sent him to the ‘crazy house’,” she’d say.
You can’t imagine the images the crazy house conjured in my mind. It took years to reconcile that the crazy house was a mental institution—a much more structured environment than the freewheeling crazy house I’d imagined.
Another time she shared that a friend had “Sugah” and they cut off her leg. I thought it must be weird to have sugar flowing through your legs. I would learn “Sugah” was short for sugar diabetes which eventually became just diabetes.
There are other phrases my grandmother and great grandmother used in their everyday conversations. I have complied a few of my favorites.
More than one way to skin a cat
If someone is being slick, untrustworthy and you’re at your wit’s end dealing with them, there is another solution. Today we might say, “What’s your Plan B?
You’re preaching to the choir
This means don’t waste time trying to convince me. I already agree with you. Take that argument to someone who needs it.
Chickens don’ come home to roost
This describes someone who has skated free for some time without accounting for a wrong he or she has committed. Now, for some reason or another, fate has caught up with them and trouble has found them. Today, we might say Karma.
If I live and nothin’ happens
This means I won’t promise because we never know when we’ll be going home to be with the Lord. But … “If I live and nothin’ happens…
Another way to say the same thing is, If the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.
Going to see a man about a dog
I took a couple years to realize that dog was never coming home. This was a lie to quiet a nosey child when adults didn’t want to divulge their destination.
Every closed eye ain’t sleep
When someone was finally outed for a deceptive practice, by the one they’d sought to deceive, my great-grandma would tell someone, “Every closed eye ain’t sleep.”
Like it or lump it
I heard this mostly when I was being served liver or sauerkraut with wienies.
If I continued to protest and make clear what I wanted instead of that awful slop, I’d hear, “People in hell want ice water.”
I don’t know him from Adam
Dialogue: “Mama Sweet, who is that?”
“Chile, I don’t know him from Adam.”
“Then why did you speak to him?”
I’ll be back direckly
Direckly (directly) is not a definite time. It could be an hour or it could be tonight, but it means expect my return. I’m coming back.
Well, I’m plum tuckered out trying to come up with these. If you have any you want to share or if you want to expound on how your folks used any of these, please comment. Right now, I’m fixin’ to head out until tomorrow.