Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Part-Canadian, thanks to Sand Mountain
Jen had no idea I was bilingual, though I didn't exactly advertise that fact once I moved away from home. I never thought I would use hear the unique Sand Mountain tongue again, spoken mostly in North Alabama with a tiny sliver in Georgia - I never thought I would even miss it, but Canada, of all places, proved me wrong.
Canadian slang is fun to learn, and Canadians are very helpful to those of us learning what to say and when. Well, the English-speaking Canadians are. If you screw up a Canadian phrase in Quebec, the French Canadians suffer through indignant mustache twitches before quickly surrendering - they can't completely get rid of that French blood. For example, when you go to get a coffee (and yes, it is 'a' coffee, not coffee), you go to one of the most fabulous creations on the planet; Tim Hortons, named (like everything else in Canada, including the country) after a dead hockey player.
When you order a coffee at Tim Hortons, you have to remember that you are not at Starbucks, which means you are a real human being and not a Banana Republic model wearing giant, black-framed glasses that you don't need, using a hint of a fake accent and carrying a lump of coal where the sun don't shine. You don't order a Caramel Raspberry Frappamochacuppajingoistichino Frattiane Latte, Foamy, Skinny, Stacked, Packed, Smothered and Covered. At Tim Hortons, you get a Double Double. That's a coffee with two creams and two packets of sugar. Or you can get a Triple Triple, a Double Single...you get the idea. I could talk about Tim Hortons all day, but I hope that by now, our Canadian friends have gotten the hint that Jen and I are Jonesin' for a can or two or 14.
Sand Mountain folks ask for coffee in a much different and, in their opinion, more effective way, usually something along the lines of "git yer ace in the kitchin, woman!" In case you are wondering, the answer is yes, that only works for Sand Mountain men, and the word 'ace' has nothing to do with a World War I-era pilot. The phrase is also commonly used as a substitute for questions such as "what's for dinner, honey?" and "will you go out with me?"
Other typical Canadian words and phrases include:
Loonie/Toonie: The words for the one-dollar and two-dollar coins, respectively. Again, mocked by Americans, which is funny since we never could figure out how to use a dollar coin.
Tuque: Pronounced too-kay. A winter-style hat, sometimes with a cute little fuzzy ball on top.
2-4: A 24-can case of beer, as in "I'm going to buy a two-four."
Eh: The most commonly mocked Canadian word by Americans, though it can be inserted in place of approximately 20 different phrases, such as "ain't that something", "what do you think?", and "freakin' Leafs don't give a rats frozen behind about winning games anymore."
Sand Mountain has idioms similar to those:
12-gauge: Often used to acquire goods and services instead of money.
Bawgin: Pronunciation of 'boggan', short for toboggan. A winter-style hat, sometimes with a cute little fuzzy ball on top. Sand Mountaineers usually refer to the ball as, "the tittie."
Brakfuss: Pronunciation of 'breakfast.' A 24-can case of beer.
Git the dadgum snakes: Usually means 'Hurry up, kids, it's time for church.'
Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-yit: The most commonly mocked Sand Mountain word, though it can be used for approximately 177 different phrases, such as "golly", "that sure is a large raccoon on your head", "Amen", and "if she wadn't yer sister, I'd....well, I would even if she was yer momma. And she might be both."
As I said, I thought I had left Sand Mountain behind, back in the realms of my childhood memories. Every so often, I would see a copy of the newspaper of record, the Sand Mountain Reporter, marveling that an entire paper could be written using only six words to ensure that most of the mountain's inhabitants could read it. I'd get misty-eyed reading the obituaries, resplendent with the nicknames of the deceased, knowing someone was mourning the loss of their their Uncle Teeny Man who weighed 475 pounds, their Grandpappy Peevine, or Great Aunt Tootnanny. That's when I saw Sand Mountain again......in Canada.
It was several years ago during a trip to visit my wife's family. They live northwest of Toronto in the towns of Midland and Penetanguishine, and the first time we drove there, I said to Jen, "Wow, this looks vaguely familiar." Acres of gorgeous, untouched woodlands, beautiful two-story homes adjacent to rickety wooden shacks, naked kids playing in the front yards (of each); it was eerily similar to...gasp!, home! Later, Jen's grandmother started complaining about a house near her's which she said was infested with crack dealers, prostitutes, and tent revival preachers. Could it be?
Then, the clincher; I learned that Penetanguishine is a Native Canadian word meaning "Ray's wife's family." Yes, the town's entire population of 9,354 (as of the 2006 Canadian Census) is related to Jen, something even she didn't know. And they all came to see us during a get-together at Jen's aunt's house, though I'm not sure if we were the draw or if it was Jen's uncle saying he was going to The Beer Store to get a couple of two-fours. Since approximately 6,000 people materialized within five minutes of him saying that, I'm guessing it was the beer.
We mostly sat around outside, lots of guys in their best wife-beaters, many drinking cheap beer (Coors Light, for crying out loud!), laughing at stories I could barely understand, some folks plucking guitars badly and singing even worse, the kids (dressed, thankfully) playing nearby, and it was.....heaven! I was home, surrounded by my people, though I was more than 700 miles (or more than 1100 kilometres - gotta spell it the Canadian way) from my actual home. I had married the right woman, though I knew that already. Her family was now my family, and I almost cried. Shoot, I'm almost bawling right now as I relive it.
So before you make fun of Canada or "Canadian English", think twice. These days, I root for the Leafs even though they are about as bad as the Atlanta Braves of the '70s. I drink cheap Canadian beer (usually something with the Molson brand, though Molson and Coors are the same company now). I take afternoon tea, though sometimes with a buttermilk biscuit for a little bi-cultural exchange. I even watched the CFL's Grey Cup on TV, including the halftime performance of Bachman-Turner (Overdrive left the band over creative differences many years ago). I will defend Canada because I am part-Canadian, and not just by marriage. If you are from Sand Mountain or any other part of the rural South, you might be part-Canadian, too.