Since moving down South I’ve loved collecting Southern phrases, words that had no possibility of filling my Northern ears in the past. Lovely clerks will call me “Darlin” for no reason, and speak to a single person in the plural “Y’all” ALL the time. There’s calling a grocery cart a “Buggy” and “Directly” could mean soon or a month from now. You will hear me say that’s the “High Doller” restaurant, and I am partial to the word “Catawampus” but the funniest phrase I’ve heard is “Peckerwood Mayhem.”
Unlike Redneck mayhem, which if I watched that Duck Dynasty show I’d probably understand, Peckerwood Mayhem is in a class by itself. It found it’s way into our vocabulary by way of a Southern author, Julia Reed. She wrote “Queen of the Turtle Derby and Other Southern Phenomena.” http://www.gardendistrictbookshop.com/content/queen-turtle-derby-and-other-southern-phenomena In her book she talks about a shrimper in Louisiana who is trying to deal with an Austrailian giant jellyfish invasion that manages to eat the shrimp in his nets and yet elude capture. His theory for why this is happening in the Times Picayune is;
“They got some kinda sonar connected to ’em or somethin…that’s what I think anyway and it’s good enough for me.”
Anyway, she explains the difference between rednecks, who will “aspire” to things like nice watches and trucks and a house “…that looks like Tara” etc and “peckerwood.” The latter are people who are too pitiful to even aspire to much according to Reed. In her opinion, these are the people, direct descendants of the Celts, who leave their broken down washing machines and cars in their front yard. Makes me happy Bob finally fixed that John Deere tractor we had sitting out front for a week!
All this to explain my day at the hand therapy clinic yesterday. First of all, there’s a sign on the door that says “No Guns Allowed” and my first thought is “Nice” and of course my second thought is “What the #%*+ is wrong with Target?” Right? Then I realize that I’ve been in the South for almost ten years and the signs about guns no longer surprise me!
So they sit me down and stick my hand in a machine that blows hot corn husks at me. I’m sitting there pretending my hand is in some tropical HOT (really really HOT) Caribbean beach trying to catch sand blowing in a typhoon and I look over right next to me is a policewoman, with obvious guns and locks hanging all over her and she’s wearing a bullet-proof vest. Across the table from her is a policeman, decked out in much the same fashion. They are talking with the therapist about speeding tickets in a good ole Southern drawl. And right next to him is a nice looking man, quiet, in an orange jumpsuit with his hand in some painful contraption. And right out of my mouth loud and clear since all these machines are making noise I say,
“Are you a prisoner?”
He smiles and says, “Yes,” and I say, “Well, orange is the new black!” And then we’re off to the races talking about that show which is my guilty pleasure on Netflix and those cops are totally oblivious since they don’t have Netflix and never heard of it. And I can tell they are uncomfortable… but the prisoner, he’s feeling good, like finally someone is talking to him, seeing him. Then he tells me they only have basic cable in prison and I could almost cry.
And in all my years on this earth I’ve never talked with a prisoner or been inside a prison, but now I feel like I want to know how this well spoken, thoughtful guy found himself there. I want to get all those non-violent criminals paroled and out of the feedback loop of our justice system, and get rid of “For Profit” private prisons which seem to be cropping up all over the South. Because we all know if you have money in America, you can OJ the system just fine.
Watching the woman cop place his handcuffs back on and sling a metal chain around his waist and shuffle the prisoner out of the hand clinic, I feel like I had a little taste of Peckerwood Mayhem, corn husks and all.