This story about Jackson and Opal is a true one, with just a smidgen of poetic license.

The names are changed “to protect the innocent” and the dialect is the result of my meager attempt – as a Yankee – to write it as it may have been spoken Down East ... 

Jackson’s family had seven young’uns, him bein’ the eldest. They were a very strict Baptist tabacca farmin’ family from down east of Little Washington, North Carolina.

Thar was lots of pickin’ an’ chores an’ preachin’ growin’ up, more than any of the young’uns really wanted, but it weren’t thar choice. An’ thar was no gamblin’ an’ cussin’ an’ no dancin’ or courtin’ before daddy said so, an’ no backtalkin’ or idleness allowed. Daddy didn’t never say much, speakin’ mostly with the back a’ his hand an’ switches whether deserved or not. He didn’t spare no rod an’ spoil none-a his young’uns, no suh. Daddy valued that woodshed as much fah switchin’ as fah wood storin’.

But Jackson, who cut his fair share of green stick switches fah his daddy to use on him an’ his brothers an’ sisters growin’ up, somehow made it out a’ that woodshed to courtin’ an’ then marryin’ age with his backside in one piece.

Jackson was to be wedded to Opal — cold in her traits an’ plain in her looks — in the whitewashed, one-room Baptist church in June, a day that was pitiful hot an’ humid, unfairly so. Standin’ next to his bride to be, all gussied up in his church coat, sweatin’ up a storm, an’ before recitin’ his vows, Jackson felt woozy an’ then went an’ fell out cold right thar at the church alter in front-a God Almighty an’ Opal an’ all his kin.

Crumpled to the ground, Jackson lookin’ like a pile a’ dried tabacca leaves, his bride to be showed her true nature an’ what was to come-a that union. She just stood thar like a pillar-a-salt from Sodom an’ Gomorra rollin’ her eyes an’ shakin’ her head over Jackson’s poor condition, not offerin’ even a word a’ tenderness to help him et’all.

After sittin’ him up an’ fannin’ him with the stale church air fah a spell, his daddy decided to move the weddin’ outside under the oak tree where the party might, with the shade an’ a wisp of breeze, have some relief from the cruel heat an’ offer Jackson a chance to finish his “Ah do’s” an’ git on with it.

His left arm steadied by his daddy, an’ urged on by the preacher, Jackson had just started recitin’ his vows agin under the oak tree when he went an’ fell out a second time. Opal threw her bouquet to the ground an’ stomped off in a hissy-fit while his daddy propped Jackson up against the oak tree to compose himself.

The wedding party moseyed off to whisper about Jackson an’ Opal’s dire chances, samplin’ the weddin’ suppah of frahed chicken, biscuits an’ sweet tea put up yonder in the church yard.

“Boy,” his daddy said when Jackson was clearheaded enough to hear, with a fervor that reminded Jackson of the fire an’ brimstone sermons he heard growin’ up, “God struck you down twice as a warnin’. If ya got a nicket’s-worth a’ sense ya won’t marry that girl. Yawls lives’ll be pure-t-mommicked if ya do.”

Jackson, though, had his mind made up. Worn out by all the switchin’ he endured as a young’un, he’d growed to be just as pig-headed as his daddy anyways. Opal made her way back to the oak tree still fumin’ but aware her chances otherwise of gittin’ hitched were slim an’ still rollin’ those eyes, she an’ Jackson who finally mustered up a nicket’s-worth-a strength (if not sense), finished thar “I do’s” an’ were, at last, gladly pronounced by the preacher as man an’ wife.

Jackson, almost before finishin’ his frahed chicken, biscuits, an’ sweet tea, was as his daddy warned sorry he went on with that weddin’. Afterwards, not much fah church no more, he wore his coat mostly fah buryin’s.

Over the hellish years wedded to that calculatin’ an’ heartless Opal, thay was pure little sugar from that woman for either Jackson or the young’uns, just barely enough ta breed. Jackson wished he’d passed out a third time under that oak tree, making it the last straw fah Opal who might have, if he’d been lucky, stomped off in another hissy an’ outa his life fah-evah.

But Jackson’s life weren’t meant to be in high cotton an’ some things are meant to be whether we choose them fah ah own selves or not. An thar’s a big world out thar keepin’ on goin’ no matter what happens to us durin’ ah own short an’ troubled lives.

An’ though Jackson tried to pass along to his own brood of five the wisdom he gained from his daddy an’ his experience under that old oak tree, his young’uns – like Jackson his-self – had to go off, larn from thar own choices an’ those events chosen fah ‘em, an’ figure thangs out fah thar own selves.

That’s the way-a the world, ain’t it?

Tideland News columnist Barry Fetzer lives on Queens Creek.

(6) comments

David Collins

Yup .

mpjeep

Trying to read this article, with its Downeast vernacular, was like me trying to read the book “Where the Crawdads Sing”.

Although I paid a lot of money for the book, I stopped reading halfway through, just like I did in this Commentary.

Even a southerner like myself can’t handle but so much of the dialect.

JusticeForAll

Found this story quite well done. This is how we learn. Understanding comes when you see life through the eyes of others. Nothing should be modified to make it easier to read. The popularity of Mark Twain should give a clue that it works.

mpjeep

Mark Twain frequently used vernacular and dialect to evoke a strong image of the way people spoke and behaved in the South. In the modern world, his books are often deemed offensive because of the way the slave characters speak.

drewski

The down east vernacular is finally dying out, the Elisabethen english that was spoken was a result of generations of relative isolation in what were primarily remote fishing based communities. When was the first land bridge to harkers island installed 1940? We have a few more generations of mommicked this and Hoi toid that, but like all things it will continue to become more dilute and homogenized. eventually the dingbatters will not know what they missed.

Sandman

The Down East or Hoi Toid brogue is slowly dying because the overflow of dingbatters moving in and buying up all the real estate and calling it home. God Bless the true Down Easters and their heritage. And by the way, now boys we’re mommicked.

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