How to Talk Foothills

“You ain’t from around here, are ya?” Despite my best attempts to learn local vernacular, I’ve been interrogated with this question a lot over the last ten years. I’m from “down east” where people put vinegar on barbeque and eat cohn on the cob, so locals here can tell I’m a flatlander whenever I open my mouth to eat or speak. My in-laws have tried to rehabilitate me with only meager success. 

My wife’s clan hails from Shelby–really Patterson Springs to be exact, or Pleasant Hill Church Road to be more exact. Using precise levels of exactness is a good way to endear yourself to locals. However, mispronouncing a place is a tell-tale sign of a newcomer, if not a downright insult to inhabitants. If you’re new to the Shelby area, you’d best learn to say Cherryville (Churvuhl), Mooresboro (Moesburo), Polkville (Pokevuhl), and Rutherfordton (Roughton) properly. Casar (Kayzer) is the benchmark pronunciation. Most out-of-towners have no idea how to pronounce the small Cleveland County town, population 296. Nearly all newcomers guess Caesar like Caesar salad. Make that mistake in Casar, and you’ll be fed to Knobby, the local sasquatch.

Throughout the foothills, the aw sound is widespread. While walking through the woods, you might see a frawg sitting on a lawg. Or inside watching tv, you might take a fawn call while watching Game of Thrawns. The drawn-out aw often takes the place of the letter o

Occasionally, it’ll be included with an i, too. Look no further than the word hill itself. Natives to the foothills pronounce it with a little extra emphasis and stretching. For instance, a Foothillian might say, “Did you go sledding down that hillawl?The bigger the hill, the more drawn out the pronunciation. The same goes for addition of the awl in God, or Gouawld. The more drawn-out the pronunciation, the more Baptist the speaker is or the bigger the swindler he is. Sometimes both apply.  

The best way to learn the foothills dialect is to listen to my wife’s popaw, Lowry. He’s eighty-five and was born and raised in Shelby. He speaks old-school foothills, which is reflected in his use of the letter r. Confusingly, he drops the r in some words and adds it to others. For instance, he refers to Charlotte as Shalut, but says wash as warsh. He often adds ar to the end of words like fellar. Then he’ll turn right around and remove the ar by saying something like backerds instead of backwards. To me, a former flatlander, none of this makes a lick of sense. In fact, as Lowry might say, it’s got me buffaloed, which is his go-to term for baffled. 

Lowry calls coke, as in Coca-Cola, dope, which he claims was once common terminology in Shelby. However, I tried ordering diet “dope” from a local eating establishment in Shelby, and the teenage waitress threatened to call the police.  

That said, talking foothills does have one perk. We used ain’t down east, but up here it’s also used in cain’t. Personally, I kinda like that because my mom (an English teacher) used to make me put a quarter in a jar every time I said ain’t. She strictly enforced this policy till I went bankrupt, after which I still avoided using it in her presence for fear of future reparation. At least now as an inhabitant of the foothills, I can say ain’t by hiding it cain’t and not run afoul of my mom.

In Defense of the Small Truck

Last week I complained about large pizzas getting smaller. This week my gripe is about small trucks getting larger. I had hopes when Ford reintroduced the Ranger that the small truck might reemerge from car maker exile. The old Ranger was more or less the equivalent of a go-cart with a truck bed, a nimble little truck that when stuck could easily be unstuck by gently rocking back and forth in the driver’s seat. There was no need for an extreme four-wheel-drive package because the Ranger was so lightweight you could tie a tissue to the antenna and the truck would sail away. But the new Ranger is not small, and Ford even admits as much. They market it as a “mid-size” truck, which means it’s the same size as a mammoth truck a decade ago. 

Furthermore, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but most trucks nowadays are just minivans in disguise. Take, for instance, my neighbor’s SuperCrew King Ranch. I can’t remember the last time I actually saw it do anything ranch or farm related. My neighbor’s actually afraid to put stuff on the back for fear of scratching the truck bed. I kid you not, the only farm-related task he uses it for is bragging (he’s a nice guy, who hopefully doesn’t read this blog, but he’s one of those annoying farmers who spends half his time complaining about the financial hardships of farming and the other half gloating about how big and expensive his equipment is.) My little four-cylinder Tacoma has done more farmwork in a day than that waxed-up behemoth parked under his carport will do in an eternity. 

Granted, there are times I’d like a little more heft to my truck, particularly when a loaded livestock trailer is defying the braking power of my brakes and pushing me downhill so fast I’d need a parachute to stop. But isn’t that part of the thrill of owning a small truck? Never knowing when your bumper might pull off is another, or when your tires might blow out because the load on the back makes your truck look like a lowrider. 

my truck loaded down with honey supers

Maybe one day my wife will buy me a big truck, but even then, I think I’ll keep my little Toyota despite the fact I’ve had multiple inquiries from complete strangers wondering if I’d sell it. Apparently, the used small truck market is hot right now because the new small truck market is non-existent. You’d think car manufacturers would catch on, but, then again, these are the same companies who gave us the PT Cruiser and Pontiac Aztek.  

 

A Two-inch Change You Can Believe In

I can remember a simpler time, a time when large pizzas were large and not paltry mediums in disguise. Yep, the modern large pizza is merely 14 inches in diameter, instead of 16 inches like it was back in the era of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles birthday parties. A two inch difference may not seem like much, but when you do the math it means the modern large is 24% smaller than large pizzas in the cowabunga era. I’m not sure when the shrinkage happened exactly, but it really takes the prestige out of scarfing down an entire large pizza by myself. Not that I do it often, but when I do, you can rest assured my wife is out of town. 

Indeed, one of the many sacrifices I made for marital bliss was giving up Papa John’s. I married into a Pizza Hut family, and when I made my wedding vows, I ostensibly converted to the Hut. But deep down in my heart of hearts, I still love the garlicky goodness of Papa John’s. That little banana pepper lying in the corner of the box sings to my taste buds with happy nostalgia. Which is why, whenever my wife leaves me home alone, I order a large Papa John’s pizza with chicken, bacon, onions, bell peppers, bbq sauce, and extra cheese and diligently proceed to devour it. 

Devouring an entire large pizza is basically the equivalent of running a marathon. Start out too fast, and you’ll barf midway through. The scientific reason behind this is the pizza’s salt content is a few kilograms short of The Dead Sea, so your stomach will engage in the reverse osmosis (a.k.a. barfing) if you eat too much without staying hydrated. That’s why I always add on a two-liter Coke to go with my pizza and proceed to guzzle it too. Unless you’re a competitive eater, the best approach is slow and steady, one bite after another, with short quick sips of Coke in between. If you can make it through the first 10,000 calories, the final 5,000 are a breeze. 

But the problem with the modern smaller large is that it really diminishes your sense of self-accomplishment once you reach the finish line. Claiming you ate a whole large pizza when you only ate an old-school medium would be like putting one of those 26.2 stickers on your car when you only ran 20 miles instead. Sure you accomplished a lot, but did you really eat a whole large pizza? I think not. 

So my point here is that we need to make large pizzas large again. In these divisive times, I believe this singular issue can unite our divided country, which is why I’m forming a third party alternative to the Republicans and Democrats called the Cowabunga Party whose sole purpose will be to increase the minimum diameter of a large pizza back to 16 inches. No matter whether you order veggie or meat lover, pepperoni or extra cheese, Pizza Hut or Papa John’s, there’s room in the Cowabunga Party for you. 

So if you want to make a positive change in the world, please consider changing your party affiliation to Cowabunga. On behalf of the future multitudes who will undoubtedly join, we appreciate your support in these early stages of mobilization, and you can rest assured knowing any donations you make will be put to good use to fight the scourge of  Larges In Name Only (LINOs).  

Thank you for your support!

(Dark money and bribes should be sent to our Political Action Committee, the Large Pizza Leadership Fund. I reserve the right to use any contributions to pay off campaign debt, namely that of my mortgage and any rusty tractors I may buy for campaign purposes.)

For Whom The Taco Bell Tolls

A long time ago, John Donne, a hoity-toity English chap, wrote the famous line “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Then Hemingway stole “for whom the bell tolls” for the title of a novel about a man who falls madly in love with a communist guerilla, blows up a bridge, and dies (all in three days). Then Metallica stole that phrase for a song title, which aptly describes the song’s melodic virtues–imagine inserting your head in a bell and letting someone toll away. Then a misfit farmer, piddling around in quarantine, used it for the title of a blog post. 

That is the provenance of “for whom the bell tolls” as I know it. I’m sure others have used it, and I’m not sure why Taco Bell hasn’t–can’t you imagine the little chihuahua in a Hemingway-esque beret saying, “Yo quiero Taco Bell. The bell tolls for thee.”?  

But the point here is it all started with Donne. He wrote it because he was gravely sick and thought the local Quasimodo was hankering to ring his funeral bells. Turns out, Donne lived. And then the next year, the plague happened, and he lived again. Before his near-death experiences, Donne was mostly known for writing rather raunchy poetry by Elizabethan standards. Then afterwards, he got down to brass tasks and started writing serious heady stuff at a prodigious rate.  

Usually, I wholeheartedly embrace Donne’s advice, which is often modernized as “ask not for whom the bell tolls.” I pride myself on the don’t ask, don’t tell relationship I’ve cultivated with the Grim Reaper. But when I first got diagnosed with Covid, I had a moment of weakness and wondered if the Reaper was sharpening his scythe for me.    

In hindsight, my Covid case was nothing close to a near-death experience, but I didn’t know that going in. At the onset was likely the nearest to death my mind has wandered since the time I clung to a twenty foot extension ladder, a swarm overhead. But the fact is Donne was right: asking is pointless. Our bell is tolling no matter what.   

So hopefully something good will come from my days spent in quarantine introspection. Maybe I’ll get down to brass tacks and start writing serious heady stuff at a prodigious rate. Or maybe I’ll be a better dad and husband, call my parents and brother more, and quit being so cynical about the motivations of farm animals. 

But my first goal is to be more grateful. Thus, I’d like to thank everybody who reads this blog and comments from time to time. I started The Misfit Farmer a little over a year ago and committed to post once a week as a way to get more disciplined with writing. I had always enjoyed Gene Logsdon’s blog, The Contrary Farmer, and admired how he posted once a week without fail for years. He died in 2018, but his blog is still archived for anyone who wants to go back and read his posts, which are full of a lot of farming and life wisdom.  

I can’t say this blog is full of wisdom, but I am grateful for the merry little band of misfit bloggers that I’ve met through it (let’s face it, if you blog in 2021, you’re a bonafide misfit, too).

So thanks again everybody! Next week, I’ll be back to regularly-scheduled nonsense.

When Covid Comes to the Farm

Well, just my luck. Two days before I was set to get my first vaccine shot, I started feeling sore. I was hoping it was just soreness from pruning our thirty-two apple trees (yes, I know I’m about a month late pruning, but, in my defense, just a month behind is pretty good for me). Then I started getting a weird sensation in my head. I described it to my wife, and she said I had a headache. “Strange,” I thought — I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve gotten a headache in my life, and most of those involved blunt-force impacts of some sort. 

A few hours later, I noticed a cold sensation shudder through my body while my arm hairs straightened like a porcupine. Usually, this happens when my wife’s dead ancestors who still inhabit our farmhouse decide to scare the bejesus out of me. But this happened without the prodding of disembodied voices or footless footsteps. I told my wife about this sensation, which she diagnosed as chills, and in a matter of seconds she was bearing down on me with a thermometer. “Open up,” she said. 

“99.9” I read a few seconds later, at which point she banished me to the far room and I’ve hardly seen her since. I’ve only ventured out to go get the rapid Covid test, which was supposed to take thirty minutes to pronounce my verdict but instead came back positive in half that time. 

Since then, Natalie’s been living on the other side of the house, taking care of Thomas. Occasionally she reads this blog, so I’d just like to tell her I’m okay and to thank her for leaving food and Gatorade outside my door. We’ve got the baby monitor set up in my room so she can monitor my status remotely, but I’m pretty sure she’s not listening anymore. I think after she heard me listening to Jerry Clower on YouTube, she unplugged it on her end. 

So far, I’ve been really lucky and my symptoms are mild, as evidenced by the fact that I can write this nonsense. I will say it’s interesting what you turn to for comfort when sick. I haven’t thought about Jerry Clower in years, but as I was lying in bed I thought wouldn’t it be nice to listen to Jerry Clower again. For those who don’t know “Jay-ree” Clower is, he is the man who could make my dad belly-laugh while driving me to school in the morning. My dad is good-natured, but he’s not the jovial knee-slapping type, so to hear him laugh out loud was an odd occurrence. When it happened, usually Jerry Clower cassette tapes or Patrick McManus books were the cause of that phenomenon. I suppose since I’ve got most of the McManus books memorized, I turn to Clower when sick. 

All kidding aside, though, I would like to thank my wife for taking care of Thomas, putting up with sick me and regular me, and not banishing me to the barn. I’ll owe you when I get out of quarantine. And for everyone else, be careful out there. I can attest to the fact that Covid is still around, and even the mild symptoms aren’t much fun.