It All Boils Down to This

It’s New Years Day and y’all know what that means, right?  Black-eyed peas and greens, at least for us Southerners.

new years peas
As long as I can remember, my mother forced us to eat at least one bite of black-eyed peas each New Years Day, “For luck,” she said.  Later I learned that greens are also required, if you want to make money in the new year.  And who doesn’t want that, right?

new years greens 2
Luckily in this house a majority (read:  everyone but the little people) like either the peas, the greens, or both.

I’d never realized until this year that this tradition is strictly a Southern one.  I looked up its origin this afternoon while I was cooking and learned that it started post-Civil War, when supposedly those affected by Sherman’s March to the Sea were left with precious little to eat except for the black-eyed peas which the Union soldiers (who called them “cow peas”) assumed were only good for fodder for the Southerners’ long-gone cattle.  The erstwhile Confederates grew strong again on this minimalist yet healthy diet, and the foods eventually morphed from a generic “new beginnings” meal to one symbolizing future luck and prosperity.

As I perhaps have mentioned, I am an English major so I found additional meaning in today’s meal.

Just look at these collard greens, y’all.

new years greens
I don’t know if you can tell but that’s a LOT of greens. (And for only .99 at Kroger, too!)  It’s three enormous bunches which were too big for the plastic produce bag and took up the entire bottom shelf of my refrigerator.  It probably took me an hour to wash and rip them up so I could cook them.  The picture of them in the pan?  That was less than half of them.

Yet after ten minutes cooking, we were left with this:

new years greens 3
Yes, that’s what they boiled down to.  So that’s the source of that saying! I thought, cleverly, to myself.

But I also really did think, and announcedto my husband, that I am going to try to apply the lesson of the greens to any situations (I won’t say problems yet) that arise this year.  Whatever big tangled things I have to deal with, I’m going to envision them as a big mess of greens that haven’t been cooked yet.  I’m going to know in advance that really there’s just a little kernel at the heart of whatever it is that I really have to deal with.  Before I get all worked up and confused and overwhelmed, I’m going to think about what it all boils down to.

Happy 2014 to you!

Southern Vocabulary: Useful Words

“It’s impossible to explain to a Yankee what `tacky’ is. They simply have no word for it up north, but my God, do they ever need one.”
                                  — from The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy
I think that “tacky” may be universally understood by speakers of American English by now, but there are surely other Southernisms that are at best misunderstood and at worst mocked by non-speakers.  I did not realize myself that some of the words I used regularly were regional until I went away to college and got laughed at for saying them.
“Don’t be so HATEFUL!” my friends would say with an exaggerated drawl.  Well, at least I was in good company.  The word makes frequent appearances in that Southern masterpiece, Gone with the Wind:   “Ashley’s so mean and hateful!” says Scarlett to Melanie at one point.  We were regularly ordered not to be hateful when I was a little girl.  I say it to my little ones all the time.
Another thing parents often say to children in these parts: “Stop acting so ugly.”  I don’t think I need to explain what that means, do I?
I didn’t grow up using a lot of specifically East Tennessee vocabulary.  My mother is only a second generation East Tennessean, and we learned what was “proper” from her.   My father’s family, here for over 200 years, speak very differently.  My Granny would greet us with, “Give Granny some sugar.”  She’d tell me that what I was looking for could be found “over yonder,” and she’d say “I reckon” instead of “I suppose.”
I reckon if I am an East Tennessean there’s no reason I shouldn’t sound like one.  I’ve already decided I want to be “Granny” when I have grandchildren, and I’ve added the very useful helper “fixin’ to” to my vocabulary.  For example, I’m tired, and I’m fixin’ to go to bed now. 🙂