Q: I’ve heard you poke fun about how country folks talk about their health problems. I live in a small town far away from Atlanta, and I cringe every time I hear such talk. How should I respond the next time this happens?
A: Kick back and enjoy it. After all, these are rich vestiges of a vanishing culture and vernacular.
One day I’m going to set a novel in the waiting room of a rural Southern hospital. That way I can use the language I grew up hearing whenever illness was the subject.
Two dominant traits emerge when my people speak about being sick:
1. Extreme exaggeration of one’s actual condition (gruesome details are a plus) and
2. Mispronunciation of words related to health.
So here’s what my characters in the waiting room might well say…
“Lord, I can’t believe Buddy’s back in the hospital. Just last week they drained six quarts of fluid off of his neck.”
“I know. Hospitals will kill you fast. Remember when that foreign doctor took a knife to Jolene Sugg’s back? When they saw what was inside, all they could do was just sew her back up. She was eat up with the cancer. And you know once that air got to it she was dead within a week.”
“Me-Maw, when did you start having so much trouble with your eyes?”
“Oh, I’ve had Cadillacs on my eyes for 10 years now. I can’t get ‘em fix-did ‘cause you know Crazy Aint Carrie will steal my pain pills. She’s already been banned from the pain clinics in a three-county area. I caint let her get me in trouble. Bless her heart—I think she got hooked on the Oxycondoms after they gave her that croat-a-zone (cortisone) for her bron-i-cal tubes.”
“I just hope Scooter don’t have another tumor. That last one was the size of a grapefruit.”
“I know it. I still can’t get over the trouble LaDonna went through. I mean, they said her uterine fibroid was the size of a broiler chicken.”
And so it goes. My own Me-Maw relished poor health more than anyone. She embellished her angioplasty to become open-heart surgery.
But when asked about the “surgery,” she gave the most succinct description of angioplasty that I’ve heard: “They went in down here by my right grind (groin)—down here by my privates—and undid that clog in my heart.”
She also had a sinister explanation for her robust appetite. “Now you can believe this or not, but there’s something inside of me that’s eating my food besides me.”
I still have family members whose first-aid kits overflow with the ingenuity of poor folks. WD-40 is relied upon to ease stiff joints, and our time-honored solution to all dental problems and deep cuts is Super Glue.
Health care professionals in these rural areas also engage in the melodrama.
They told my then-58-year-old mother that she had the bones of a 99-year-old. That if she risked having a colonoscopy she’d leave the hospital…feet first, through the back door, and in a body bag. They actually said “feet first” and “body bag.” (The colonoscopy proceeded without incident.)
I think I’ll go ahead and work the waiting room scene into a short story that I have in progress. I can’t resist it.
Let’s don’t disapprove of these things; let’s preserve and celebrate them while they still last.
As for me, I need to go now. I feel a little peaked and need to see what I have in the medicine cabinet. After all, it takes 1,000 milligrams of anything to work on me.
Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lauretta Hannon, a resident of Powder Springs, is the bestselling author of “The Cracker Queen — A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life” and a keynote speaker. Southern Living has named her “the funniest woman in Georgia.” See more at www.thecrackerqueen.com.