Friday, March 6, 2015

Subtleties In Dialect

On the few occasions that mom and dad ever went out for a date-night when we were little, they would use the same young woman to babysit my sister and me.  This young woman, Debbie, came from a good, working-class family like us and lived only two houses away.  Debbie may have only been eight or ten years older than us, but she seemed like such a grown up.  My momma sometimes looked after her momma, as her momma suffered from recurring seizures (and my momma, being a stay-at-home momma at the time, often looked after neighbors who were ailing), so we knew them well enough to come and go in their yard as we pleased and to knock on their door at any hour of the day to play with their chihuahuas and/or play on their organ (which, thinking back, may have been a famed Hammond Organ...I enjoyed just listening to the preset marimba percussion more than actually playing any songs). 

One day, sister and I decided to walk all the way to Pedo's quick shop to buy penny candy.  This was long before sister and I were allowed to walk to the store or to Old Harmony Cemetery alone, so momma must have asked Debbie to come accompany us, or perhaps we pestered her into coming.  Either way, Debbie was there with us on the day when we looked up to the sky across the road from our friend Norma Jean's house and noticed something blood red wrapped around the power lines.

"What's that?" I asked, squinting up.

"It's a cat," Debbie replied.

"A CAT?" I queried.

"Yes, a cat."

"How did it get there?" I squinted up at it harder, trying to make out its tail or ears.

"I guess it just got caught up there."  She shrugged at my wide eyes.

We walked away that day with me looking back over my shoulder every once in awhile to make sure the cat didn't move.

For several years after that I would roller skate, bike, or walk down the street just to look at that cat on the power lines and try figure out how a cat got caught up there in the first place.  Did the cat climb up the power pole and try to walk the lines like squirrels did and then get 'lectricuted?  Did someone throw the cat up there as a mean prank?  And why was Debbie so calm that day we discovered it?  If I was a grown up, I would've figured out a way to get that cat down and give back to its family.  If it had been my cat, I would've wanted its body returned so as to lay it to eternal rest on the family property.  That way we could sing to it and read poetry to it and just generally keep it from being lonely...

But time and growing up made me forget about that cat.  And it wasn't until about twenty-five years later as I reminisced about roller skating and biking and walking to Pedo's for penny candy as a child with my sister that I thought about that poor cat caught up in the power lines again.  I still couldn't for the life of me figure out how that cat got up there...and then a thought occurred to me.  Debbie was born and raised in Gadsden, AL, a place where mysterious things tend to happen to vowels in our mother language, a language that I was exposed to daily, but a language that was not spoken as fluently in our house of transplants from the north.  I realized then that the thing caught up in those power lines long ago was not a cat, but a kite.  A KITE.  Unlike the older me, subtleties of dialect were completely lost to my adolescent ear, an ear that would become well educated in dialect through many years of deep immersion in my chosen southern land, a land where glasses occasionally get "wrenched" instead of rinsed, and you may hike up a "mounting" instead of a mountain.

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