Until Tink, a well-enunciating Yankee, came along, I didn’t realize how badly, or at least differently, I pronounce words.
Often, we quibble over the pronunciation of a word then we look it up and discovered that both were correct, just used by different parts of America. Sometimes Tink will try to teach me a new pronunciation because mine is truly wrong.
I try to repeat it after him and I can’t. One day, he said, “You hear with an Appalachian ear. You can only hear words the way you heard them in the mountains.”
Teaching me to enunciate perfectly correct English is akin to teaching an unfamiliar foreign language to someone else. I’m not ashamed of this. In fact, I cherish it as a special gift to my craft because it holds me true to Appalachian language and keeps my stories authentic.
Recently, though, I offended someone to the point that he gave me a real good telling off. There might have even been an ugly word or two in the message I got. I knew he was rip roaring mad because Dwain Easley is one of the kindest, humblest men I’ve met. After a brief time spent in his presence, I added him to a list of noble heroes I’ve had the privilege of meeting.
But don’t ever misquote his English. He speaks softly and I hear with an Appalachian ear so I scribbled in my notebook “knowed” when he was recounting the night that he and other heroes rescued members of the Lynyrd Skynyrd band when their band crashed in the swamps near McComb, MS.
Honestly, the morning I spent with Dwain and others involved in the rescue and the monument site was one of my favorite days. I have told the story over and over of their bravery and compassion.
Dwain was mad. Whew. “I do NOT appreciate you quoting me as if I am an ignorant redneck.”
In our home, where lives an Ivy League educated husband, he frequently uses the word “knowed” as do I because it feels like a beautiful, Southern verb to us. My Appalachian ear thought soft-spoken Dwain said “knowed” rather than “knew.”
He has kindly accepted my apology and realizes I meant no wrong.
That behind us, it gives me a moment to mention the Lynyrd Skynyrd series. It’s been an interesting experience because the Skynyrd fans are quite different from the fans of the Andy Griffith Series I wrote a few months earlier.
Matt Gardner, one of my publishers who loved the series, gently pointed out played that Leon Wilkeson was the bassist not drummer of the group.
The first grumbling letter I received was signed “Friends of Skynyrd” was long and included minute details of the crash. The letter was longer than the four-part series. Apparently, saying the plane ran out of gas was not enough.
One St. Simons reader wrote that he had recently met a member of the band (no need to name names here and start another barrage of letters) who told the reader that he was shot through the shoulder while wading the swamp trying to get help. I checked with first rescuers and this story would appear to be what my mountain people called, “a tall tale.”
With one exception, the Andy Griffith fans have all written to express appreciation for the ode to their beloved show. One reader, though, was upset that I credited Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas as co-creators. Technically, Carl Reiner received creator credit. He is correct. Even though Leonard and Thomas made the tweaks that turned a disastrous pilot into perfection. That’s a debate perhaps more than a mistake.
With Dwain Easley, it was a mistake that came when a word was misheard by an old mountain ear. Even if Dwain hadn’t forgiven me, I’d still consider him and his fellow rescuers, the greatest common man heroes I’ve been privileged to meet.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Let Me Tell You Something.” Thank you for forgiving her mistakes.]