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NOVEMBER 2004
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If Pigs Speak Latin, Do Turkeys Speak Gobbledygook?
By Linda Germain

A recent trip to Massachusetts turned out to be an educational experience in the English language for this Southern girl. Every person I met was warm and gracious, though we certainly had more than one befuddling conversation.

One evening after dinner, as we sat lingering over a bowl of ice cream and reminiscing about our day in Boston, my aunt sighed contentedly, and then suggested, "We might as well finish up the cotton."

I wasn’t sure I could muster the energy to hoe a row, but I was willing to give it a try. The only problem was that I truly could not remember seeing a field of the white stuff. It took a while to figure out that ‘cotton’ is the Yankee word for ‘carton’.

Good humor is the ultimate decoder ring. Accents and drawls, open to interpretation, were deciphered with laughter, or with "laf-tah," depending on your mother tongue. I learned that milkshakes are frappes, water fountains are bubblers and kahs are things you drive on the pahkway. What delightful differences.

Trite as it sounds, knowledge can build bridges to understanding; an understanding that continued a path right through the kitchen. Blatantly regional foods may seem alien to us at first, but a willingness to risk a small jolt to our complacent taste buds can be a wake-up call. I learned that keeping an open mind and mouth pays big dividends.

"Lobstah" and clam "chowdah" needed no translation and they were outstandingly yummy, but my offer to bake a pone of delicious cornbread was met with some perplexity. Like any self-respecting Southern woman, I required an iron skillet and a carton of buttermilk.

"An IRON skillet?" someone asked, honestly straining to understand.

"A cotton of buttermilk? Do you mean milk with butter in it, or that bad tasting sour stuff?"

"Well honey," I harrumphed in a tacky, kiss-my-grits, unspoken retort, "How else would you squish up the cornmeal?"

Judging from their expressions, it is a good thing I didn’t ask where they kept the lard.

In all fairness, I would be clueless in any attempt to cook some of those delectable New England dishes. Take lobster for example. I mean, I know the poor things are alive, but how do you get them to jump into a pot of boiling water, especially all trussed up with those rubber bands on their paws. It seems to me that good ole grease would be better. I must be looking in the wrong cookbooks because I just can’t find a recipe for deep fried lobster.

Cell phone companies try to convince us that clear communication can be purchased. If that were true, my Uncle Alvin would have signed on for a pick-up truck full. His antics during the televised Thanksgiving Day parade are more entertaining than those giant puppet-balloons hovering over all that high stepping and dippity-dooing.

The station that broadcasts the parade sends out its signal in good faith, but some adjustments are needed at Uncle Alvin’s house in order to sharpen up a fuzzy picture.

He counts on Cousin Nelson to wear his steel-toed work boots and stand on a metal stool exactly fourteen inches to the right of the television. Uncle Alvin makes him take a firm grip on the antennae with one hand and with the other he points a little aluminum foil flag toward the big oak tree.

So far, this formula produces a nice clear picture, except when Nelson’s arms get tired, or he has to go to the bathroom. Maybe next time, I’ll try to run interference for the poor guy.

In the same way, Christian lingo may sound comforting to one but like Greek to another. Since intention and reception are not always in agreement, a translator may be required.

We are already planning a holiday visit to New England. We’ll no doubt exchange a few more English lessons, have a lot more laughs and share lovely unfamiliar recipes. Maybe we’ll even start some new cooking traditions. After all, there are as many ways to serve grits, as there are ways to serve a good message.

Instead of black-eyed peas, we are more than willing to try Boston Baked Beans. With my right-out-of-the-oven, crispy on the outside and smothered in butter cornbread, it might just work.

Being good pilgrims, we are thankful for family who speak the same language in different ways. It is a blessing that improves our hearing, broadens our horizons, and challenges our palates.

This time, however, I am taking my favorite iron skillet with me, even if it means I have to drive. Explaining southern cornbread to airport security would simply take too long.
Linda Germain enjoys reading, writing, acting, traveling and her wonderful church. For many years she was privileged to work in a major teaching hospital as a Registered Nurse, then went back to school for a degree in English "just for the fun of it." Other major contributors to her education have been Motherhood and LIFE. Her dream is to traipse around the country meeting people, having adventures, making observations and writing about the whole thing. She resides in the beautiful mountains of East Tennessee.


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