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Archive for February, 2012

 “No one could be more steeped in the lore of his home state, Arkansas, . . . than Jimmy. He has a publishing business for religious needs and he also writes homespun stories about the region, drawing on his childhood experiences. Our favorite is the one about getting electric lights for the first time in his boyhood home. Jimmy is easy to identify with as most of us can find ourselves in his stories.”
—Virginia Peacock Whitehead, Peacock Family Association of the South, 1985

In an earlier post titled “Occupation in Exile, Deliverance in Time,” I wrote about being forced to leave my beloved Arkansas homeland (the “Holy Land”) and come to Oklahoma (“Babylon”) in 1977 (“the year that King Elvis died,” see Isaiah 6:1) to take a job in religious publication.

In that post I mentioned the many quotes that I have accumulated over the years on the subjects of home, exile, and the writer. I also mentioned the many self-quotes I have composed on these three subjects, all of which are of great concern to me both personally and professionally.

It is part of that collection of my own quotes on writing and writers that I would like to share in this post. I think they will reveal the depth of my feelings on these subjects as evidenced by what I have written about them over the past thirty-five years–along with my parenthetical comments that I added later.

I begin with a quote on home and the writer by the late Mississippi author Willie Morris which I cited in the introduction to this blog:

Quote on Home and the Writer

by Willie Morris

“‘The writer’s vocation,’ Flaubert wrote, ‘is perhaps comparable to love of one’s native land.’ If it is true that a writer’s world is shaped by the expression of childhood and adolescence, then returning at long last to the scenes of those experiences, remembering them anew and living among their changing heartbeats, give him, as my writer friend Marshall Frady said, the primary pulses and shocks that he cannot afford to lose.

“Yet, justly, when a writer knows home in his heart, his heart must remain subtly apart from it. He must always be a stranger to the place he loves, and its people. His claim to his home is deep, but there are too many ghosts. He must absorb without being absorbed. When he understands, as few others do, something of his home in America . . . that is funny, or sad, or tragic, or cruel, or beautiful, or true, he knows he must do so as a stranger.”

My Quotes on Writing and Writers 
(emphasis in italics)

My Quotes (about myself):

“I have no visible means of support . . . I’m a writer!”

“Although I call myself a writer, in twenty-five years of writing, I have earned exactly twenty-five dollars from it—a staggering one dollar per year. It seems that God has gone to great lengths to preserve my amateur standing.”

“I spent thirty-five years writing my ‘memoirs’ only to discover that, like me, they are outdated and irrelevant!” (That’s why I’m giving them away free on this blog!)

“I already write a column; it’s just never been published.” (It’s still not, except in this blog.) (Jimmy Peacock in letter to Charles Allbright, the Arkansas Traveler columnist, of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper, dated July 28, 2001.)

“I am such a mess that it seems that even God doesn’t know what to make of me—literally or figuratively.” (I had hoped it would be a writer!)

“It seems that I do my best and most creative writing when I am being both truthful and rueful—which for decades have become my natural state.” (Which happens to be the slogan of my beloved native state of Arkansas: “The Natural State.”)

“I am going to write if I have to do it on rest room walls—which I probably will!” (I am at the age and stage that the only way left for me to look at life is through a rearview mirror—the struggle is the story.)

“I’ll keep on [writing] ‘til they wipe the drool . . . I haven’t lost my enthusiasm yet.” (Paraphrased from a statement on acting by Robert Duval, quoted in Today’s Cryptoquote in the Tulsa World on April 4, 2009.)

“With the possible exception of lighthousekeeper (of which there are very few, if any, left today), I can think of no occupation more lonely than that of writer.” (Yet at age seventy-three that is what I aspire to be—when I grow up—even though I sometimes write so much that I cry out: “Help me, somebody! Stop me before I ‘quill’ again!”)

“To communicate in the sound bite age, you had better be sound bite sage!” (That is, you had better keep your message short and sweet and in words of two syllables or less—note that I just violated my own rule!)

“The reason I quote Jimmy Peacock so much is because I know I’m the only one who will ever do so.” (I say that I write for posterity because it seems that the only way I will ever get published is posthumously.)

“Give up? I have not yet begun to write!” (Or at least I have not yet begun to get published—”one of these days…” The problem is that at my age, “one of these days” has already come and gone—with the wind, see quote above. The only two things I ever had going for me were my mind and my time—and now I’m losing both!)

“One of the tragedies and travesties of my seven decades of existence is that all of my life I have been a writer but somehow I never managed to become an author. I haven’t just missed my calling, I have missed my destiny.”

Select Quotes from Others (about me, emphasis mine):

“Stay away from writing. It will suck the life out of you.” (That’s when I wrote back, “I am going to write if I have to do it on rest room walls–which I probably will!”)

 —Robert Shields, Arkansas columnist,
in email to Jimmy Peacock

“An essayist is a lucky person who has found a way to discourse without being interrupted.” (That’s one reason I want to be an essayist [i.e., a columnist/blogger].)

—Charles Poore

“I will say this. You seem to be ready [to become an essayist/writer/columnist]. You just need a place to put it.” (I still do–thirty years later!)

—Charles Allbright, Arkansas Traveler columnist,
to Jimmy Peacock in letter dated April 25, 1982

“I have look [sic] over your material, and it’s not something that we could use.”

–John R. Starr, managing editor,
Arkansas Democrat, June 23, 1981

“Thanks for writing; it’s always good to hear from you. . . . Thanks for the letter. Hope you continue to do well & keep writing.”

—Notes to Jimmy Peacock from Paul Greenberg,
editorial page editor, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,
July 21, 1996 and September 22, 1996

“This book would certainly be a first cousin to those on our list but would benefit by a publisher with more concentrated distribution in the South than we have.”

—Letter to Jimmy Peacock from publisher,
August House, Little Rock, Arkansas, March 3, 2000 

“I fear that you are just too nice (and too civil, the very model of civility) to achieve the outrageousness needed to become a valued public commodity [i.e., a media columnist].”

—Dr. Paul Talmadge, Southern Baptist educator,
to Jimmy Peacock in email dated September 12, 2009

“There is talk of making me a [columnist, published author]. The problem is that the only one doing the talking is me.”

—Jimmy Peacock, paraphrased from Dagwood Bumstead
in Blondie cartoon in Tulsa World, nd 

“It is far more impressive when others discover your good qualities without your help.” (But sometimes it seems they need a little help in making that crucial discovery!)

—From forwarded email titled “Great Wisdom” in June 2000 

“You are the most interesting person I know. No one else has lived your story. You really must tell it. . . . Who else has known the agony and ecstasy of your life? Who else do you know who has the ability to write it as you do? . . . Just let it all hang out—the aspirations, the frustrations, the repressed impulses, the hopes and regrets, the longings and the rewards. So go to it!” (Suggested tongue-in-cheek titles for my “memoirs” by Dr. Talmadge: My Great Obscurity and How I Achieved It, and Living by Faith and Fear and the Manners My Mama Taught Me.)

—Dr. Paul Talmadge, Southern Baptist educator,
to Jimmy Peacock in email dated September 13, 2009 

“I, too, enjoyed your wonderful account of getting electricity in 1947. I was right there with you as I read your piece and loved every minute of it. What a good writer you are!”

—Beth Brickell, native Arkansan
and Hollywood actress and author,
in a letter to Jimmy Peacock, dated November 8, 1987

“Thank you belatedly for your letter and the article you wrote. I loved it on many levels. . . . Your article touched me very much.”

–Mary Steenburgen, native Arkansan and
Academy Award-winning actress,
in note to Jimmy Peacock, dated March 19, 1990

“I think the story will speak to anyone who has ever wanted to succeed at something others told them was impossible.”

—Producer of planned movie about the Tuskegee airmen,
story also written into a book edited by Jimmy Peacock

Note: In my next post I will publish selected quotes from others on the subject of writing and writers. It is a bit longer than this post, but it offers a greater variety of writers and sources.

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 “When I speak of home as the ‘Holy Land,’ I am really not being facetious; on the contrary, I am painfully serious.”
—Jimmy Peacock 

“I start every day with the [Tulsa] World in one hand and the Word [the French Bible] in the other!”
—Jimmy Peacock

Over the almost thirty-five years of my “Oklahomian Exile” I have written many letters to a variety of people and organizations, as evidenced in some of the preceding posts on this blog. Here are a few miscellaneous letters that were either left out of or did not fit into any of the categories previously presented.

All of them are humorous, or at least tongue in cheek.

The first one is a letter I wrote to Reader’s Digest about an amusing incident that occurred when I was diagnosed with lymphoma.

The second one is a letter I wrote to the international general manager of a Christian evangelistic organization in Tulsa for which I worked in the late seventies and early eighties as a French translator and later as an editor.

The third letter, a more serious one I wrote to that same lady, deals with my continued interest in Christian missions, especially foreign missions.

I hope these are of some interest as a further indication of my love of home, memory, land, the past, missions, etc., and my sense of humor in regard to them, though they are all of serious importance to me. 

A Word of Wisdom When Down in Space and Spirit

13 December 1992

Excerpt Editor
Reader’s Digest
Pleasantville, N.Y. 10570

Dear Editor:

As a middle-ager fighting the effects of several chronic and age-related maladies, I was already feeling the weight of my advancing years.

Imagine my reaction when, much to my shock and dismay, my latest “old-timer’s” complaint was diagnosed as lymphoma and I was summarily informed to report to a downtown medical facility for further tests to determine the nature and extent of the malignancy.

Not wishing to waste a moment in filing a claim for medical insurance benefits, my ever-dutiful wife was insistent that as I finished each exam I was to make sure I picked up official copies of all the proper forms and reports from the various doctors and labs I visited throughout the multi-storied building.

 

Marion and Jimmy

Mari and me as we looked in the 1990s

After traveling up and down the several stories from one location to the other for what seemed like an eternity, I was in a bit of a daze as I stood muttering to myself and dismally shuffling through my bristling handful of papers as I waited in front of the elevator.

Suddenly the door opened and the lady at my elbow gently nudged me awake from my mournful reverie by noting, “Here’s your elevator.” Glancing up at the bright red arrow above the door, I distractedly mumbled, “No thanks, I’m going down.”

Just then from behind me came the officious voice of the receptionist in a tone clearly reserved for patients suffering from severe short-term memory loss: “Sir, you are in the basement. If you want to get out of here, you will have to take the elevator!”

Back home I was sheepishly recounting the insult-to-injury incident to my family, when my grown son remarked brightly, “Dad, don’t feel so bad. You should take it as a sign—you’ve got no way to go but up!

Sincerely yours,

Jimmy Peacock

xc: Life in U.S. Editor

Now I am going through a similar but even more serious health crisis, but am not as able to keep that “up” attitude as I did twenty years ago.

Note: Sometime later Mari and I recognized that young woman from the clinic who was sitting right in front of us at Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Tulsa. After the service I introduced myself to her and told her my story about her. She seemed to thoroughly enjoy it and afterwards always greeted us with a warm smile when we met at Trinity. So it turned out that she was not officious at all.

Trinity Episcopal Church
Interior of Trinity Episcopal Church in Tulsa

PS Speaking of Trinity Episcopal Church in Tulsa, here is an entry I wrote in my dreams books not long after I wrote the above letter. As you can see, it too reveals my longtime and ongoing longing for home:

“Our last nite home over Thanksgiving I dreamed I went uptown to the railroad station in [our hometown of] McGehee [Arkansas] to pick up an attractive redhead from Trinity [Episcopal Church in Tulsa] loaded down with excess baggage. Her name? DIXIE!”
—Message I had scribbled on a day calendar
for a Saturday in December 1995

Purchase of a Piece of Paradise 

December 18, 2004

International General Manager
The Osborn Foundation
Tulsa, OK

Dear Madame:

“I must admit that I cannot prove that God is from Arkansas, but I know for sure that He has family there. (Blessed art thou among women . . . . [for as I tell all Okies] thou art not far from the Kingdom!)”
—Jimmy Peacock

I am glad that you have joined “God’s Family” by purchasing “a little bit o’heaven” as the Irish say, over in the “Holy Land” [Arkansas]. The only piece of that “Sacred Soil” that Mari and I own is a plot just big enough to bury us in.

Of course, our tiny “parcel of Paradise” is located down in the southeast corner of the “Celestial Country,” right next to Mount Tabor Methodist Church, which is situated halfway between two farm communities: my birthplace of Selma (where I lived in total bliss until I was ten), and Mari’s childhood home of Florence (where she lived with her mother and grandparents until age three when her father came back from World War II and saw her for the first time).

Mt. Tabor Church

Mt. Tabor Methodist Church which was founded by one of my Peacock ancestors and others (click on the photo to magnify it and view the tin-roofed "brush arbor" and a portion of the cemetery where Mari and I will be buried with our ancestors)

A Methodist minister, my great-great-great grandfather Jesse Peacock was one of the founding fathers of the Mount Tabor Methodist Church, beside which my ancestors and Mari’s are buried. So when we go home—we go home!

Jesse and his father Levi (for whom our grandson Levi Jesse is named), were both Methodist ministers who founded churches in North Carolina, Georgia, and Arkansas. However, the members of my immediate Peacock family were “Baptists of the Baptists” because my mother was the daughter of a country Southern Baptist preacher, pastor of the Selma Baptist church, which they helped found.

Selma Baptist Church

The Selma Baptist Church, founded by my grandfather, my mother, and others

So church founding runs on both sides of my family, though it had about run out by the time it got to me. All that to say that there is a reason I call home the “Holy Land.” And I am glad you have recognized its true identity and have decided to become one of its “elect.”

Sincerely yours,

Jimmy Peacock

Note: For a later letter I wrote to this lady about foreign missions, see the next entry. To read a humorous memo I sent her about a swivel armchair I requested from her to ease my aching back, click here.

The Prophet from Arkansas 

January 12, 2007

International General Manager
The Obsorn Foundation
Tulsa, OK

Dear Madame:

 “I moved to Babylon (Oklahoma) from the Holy Land (Arkansas) in 1977 (the year that King Elvis died, see Isaiah 6:1) to take a much-needed job in religious publishing. If ever a man put his hand to the plow looking back, it is me. I only miss home two times–night and day!”
—Jimmy Peacock

I am sure you recognize this blatant self-quotation that I send you every year in recognition of the anniversary of my coming to Tulsa to work at OS/FO. This year I am sending it a bit early since I actually came in February 1977—thirty years ago!

One reason I am sending it early is because I have time to write now (no work today) and because in taking advantage of my break I came across an article on missions/evangelism that I thought might interest you. I discovered it while doing some background research in a sixty-year-old book on Methodism, since Mari and I recently joined the local Methodist church to be with Keiron and his family. 

The Young Methodist

The Young Methodist, published in 1881, which I inherited from one of my Peacock Methodist minister ancestors

Given my family history of church founding, naturally the subject of Methodist missions is of interest to me. However, I was struck by the universal application of this article to all churches and believers—which made me think of your family who was responsible for my becoming a “foreign missionary,” even though a confessed reluctant one. (“Can anything good come out of Arkansas?”)

Hope the article (although sadly now outdated perhaps in regard to the Methodist Church) will be of interest to you and inspire a renewed emphasis in missions.

Sincerely,

Jimmy Peacock

Note: Sadly I no longer have a copy of that article on missions. However, I do try to keep up my French by reading the French Bible every day and listening on tape and online to a French evangelist for whom I worked after I left the Osborn Foundation back in the eighties.

French Bible

The French Bible in which I still do my daily Bible reading each morning (to magnify and read the title, click on the photo)

As much as I may regret the loss of my French, my current health situation does not allow me to pursue it as rigorously as I would like. As I say, “Since my health has become so precarious, all my joys must now be vicarious.

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“An [American’s] way of speaking absolutely classifies him,
The moment he talks he makes some other [American] despise him.”
–Paraphrase of “Why Can’t the English Learn to Speak?”
from My Fair Lady, based on Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

I originally wrote the following piece back in about 1981 when I had been living in Oklahoma only about four years.

I titled it “The Columnist Manifesto” as a paraphrase of the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who wrote in “The Communist Manifesto”: “Workers of the world, unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains!” A paraphrase of those words appears toward the end of this piece.

The subtitle of this piece, “Two Great Peoples Divided by a Common Language” is a paraphrase of a statement about the British and Americans made by George Bernard Shaw, an Irish-born playwright. I, of course, used it to describe the differences I noted between the speech of Northeast Oklahoma and Southeast Arkansas after I had moved here from my beloved native state on February 16, 1977.

Finally, the play on words between “Communist” and “Columnist” refers to the fact that I originally wrote this piece as part of a proposal I made at the time to several Arkansas newspapers to let me write a regular column titled “Arkansiana.” Obviously, since I am still here in exile thirty-five years later, that proposal was never accepted.

So now here is that tongue-in-cheek linguistic/cultural observation I made just as I wrote it for an Arkansas audience so many years ago, which means that some of the terms and other aspects of Okie and Arkie language may no longer be entirely accurate or even exist. (Note: In the piece I have inserted a few updates in brackets.) 

The Columnist Manifesto:
Two Great Peoples Divided by a Common Language

      “Ever’body says words different. Arkansas folks says ’em different, and Oklahomey folks says ’em different. And we seen a lady from Massachusetts, and she said ’em differentest of all. Couldn’t hardly make out what she was sayin’.”
—John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath

How true, Mr. Steinbeck. To those sensitive to words, there is, indeed, a difference between the way “Arkansas folks says ’em” and the way “Oklahomey folks says ’em.”

Oh, I’m sure you wouldn’t notice it so much between Fort Smith and Sallisaw, but when my family and I moved up to the environs of Tulsa from the deep southeastern corner of Arkansas some four years ago, we quickly became aware that we had crossed over into a cultural and linguistic Twilight Zone.

Down there, sandwiched between Mississippi on one side and Louisiana on the other, life—and therefore dialect—is definitely more Southern-oriented than in “the greater Tulsa Metropolitan area.”

Hot to Speak Southern
How to Speak Southern

I once read an article in which Tulsa was referred to as “America’s most northern Southern city.” Interpreting that statement to mean that Tulsa was America’s northernmost Southern city, I concluded that that distinction should go to Richmond, with perhaps Louisville or even Baltimore as possible contenders for the title. Baltimore has been said to be the place where migrating Southern blacks think they are “up North” and vacationing Northern whites think they are “down South.” Louisville, on the other hand, has been called a “Mid-Western city with a Southern exposure”—not a bad description of Tulsa, which, although geographically south of the Mason-Dixon line, is definitely “Yankified” in many ways.

Located as it is “right smack” in the center of a transition zone where the Mid-South, the Mid-West, and the Southwest all come together, the Tulsa metroplex presents an intriguing blend of all three. Spiced by an influx of Easterners, Californians, and even foreigners drawn by its oil- and air-based economy, Tulsa’s cultural and linguistic milieu is a strange and fascinating brew indeed.

Nowhere is this inter-regional, multi-cultural mélange more evident than in its speech—a curious mixture of Yankeeisms and Southernisms, of Native-American nuances and frontier phrases, of Afro-American amalgams and Anglo-Saxon alloys, of big-city proprieties and down-home holdovers.

For example, Tulsans of all social and intellectual levels properly eat three meals a day—breakfast, lunch, and dinner (while we in South Arkansas always had breakfast, dinner, and supper). Yet incongruously some of the same Okies who “dine” in the evening will refer to what they had for breakfast in the morning as “aigs.” They will pronounce “on” Yankee-like as “oh-un” [or “ahn”] (we Arkies say “own”) and “bought” as “bot” (our “bawt”), but will then turn right around and take the “aigs” they have “bot” and “putt” them “oh-un” [or “ahn”] the table.

Hmmmmm.

Arkansas’ “cain’t” is much less heard up here, but other country gems such as “pert near,” “fixin’“ to do something, and the verbal non-distinction between “ten” and “tin” and the like are all alive and well and living in Tulsa. Again, though, Tulsans will usually distinguish between “want” (“wahn’t”) and “won’t” “(“woh-unt”), whereas in our native Arkansas vernacular they are the exact same word: “I `woen’t’ do it `cause I don’t `woen’t’ to!”

Unlike most Tulsans, who invariably address two or more as “you all”—or even the disgusting Yankee-Yuppie, unisex “you guys”—back home the universal plural form of you is “y’all.” (We only use “you all” on those rare occasions when we “woen’t” [want] to sound refined or cultured—such as when the doting dowager announces regally at the luncheon meeting of the New Carthage Arboretum and Floral Society: “Ladies, would you all please be so kind as to take your seats? Miz Yancy has graciously consented to continue her fascinating discussion of the care and feeding of the climbing Clematis!”)

These Okie “you alls” sound Southern (except that I have also heard them used by Kansans and other mind-muddling Mid-Westerners), but will sometimes be inserted into most definitely un-Southern sentences as: “If you all would have stayed, we would have won the game.” The use of would have (where we Arkies prefer the proper conditional form, had) is as Northern an expression as “you guys.”

Funny. Seems like Okies don’t know which side of the Mason-Dixon Line their Indian frybread is buttered on.

Okie Dictionary

The Good Ol' Boy Okie Dictionary

This type of hybrid speech takes many different forms and is, even after, lo all these years, still a source of amazement and curiosity to us “downstream people” (the original Indian meaning of the word “Arkansas”). [Now some cultural, geographical, and linguistic experts claim that the word means “South wind people.”]

But probably the most noticeable habit of many native Tulsans is that of their use of the phrase “anymore.” Now we all say things like: “I don’t go there anymore,” or, “He never does that anymore”—but always in conjunction with a negative. Not so these stalwart descendants of the settlers of Old Tulsey Town. Sentences like “I do all my shopping at Wal-Mart anymore,” and “Robert’s grades anymore are terrible” are still shockers to us transplanted Razorbacks.

But the topper is when an otherwise half-way normal Tulsan starts a sentence with this clever linguistic device: “Anymore crime has got so bad people are scared to go out at night,” or, “Anymore we just turn off the TV at ten o’clock and go to bed.”

Curioser and curioser.

Oh, I’m fully aware that “Arkinsaw speech” is just as illogical, ungrammatical, inconsistent, and unfathomable to outsiders as is Okie dialect. (Native South Carolinian Harry Ashmore, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the now defunct Arkansas Gazette—“Oldest Newspaper West of the Mississippi”—once noted: “To the practiced ear, Arkansans, when explaining their peculiar ways to outsiders, sound as though they are accustomed to dealing with fools, but are too polite to say so.”)

I Speak Arkansaw

I Speak Arkansaw Tee-shirts

My point is not that Okies talk “wrong.” It’s that Okies and Arkies do in fact “say ’em different.” But that’s the fascination of language—its wonderful and infinite diversity. Without that we would all sound just alike—and incredibly dull. This verbal kaleidoscope provides limitless opportunity for interesting, and often amusing, observations.

Take, for instance, the time I overheard a newly arrived Pennsylvanian “correcting” an Okie who had used the word “pop” to refer to a soft drink (another of our inherent differences—where we come from they are all lumped together under the generic name “coke”).

“It’s not `pop,’” declared the erudite Easterner in that condescending tone we all know, and loathe, so well, “it’s soda!”

I couldn’t help but wonder what would have been the reaction of this urbane Seaboard sophisticate had she been able to hear her astute pronouncement corroborated by the slovenly, stringy-haired young Ozark Mountain girl who once whined to my wife: “Teecher, kin ah pleze go git me a sody?”

How to Talk Pure Ozark

How to Talk Pure Ozark

Despite our differences, like feuding members of the same family, the thing that binds us Okies and Arkies together more than anything else (except perhaps our shared disdain for the orange-shirted, finger-hookin’, Stetson-struttin’ scourges from Baja Oklahoma) is for some “smart-eleck” outsider to attack our geographical brother. There this Yankee was trying to straighten out the speech of an Okie when she herself “said ’em differentest of all. Couldn’t hardly make out what she was sayin’.” I do declare, the nerve ’a some people!

So, Okies and Arkies of the world, unite! Between the Texans on one side (yuck!) and the Yankees on the other (shudder!), we must band together! We have nothing to lose but our “twangs”!

You all for one, and one for y’all! 

Jimmy Peacock
August 1981

A Southern Speech Web Site

To test whether you speak Southern or Yankee, go to the following Web site and take the quizzes on it:

Are You a Rebel or a Yankee? Quizzes on Southern speech and more: http://www.alphadictionary.com/articles/yankeetest.html

Note: I scored 100% Southern on both quizzes which prompted the computer question: “Was Robert E. Lee your grandfather?” I was tempted to reply, “No, but my great-grandfather was a member of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia!” (For more on this subject see my earlier post titled Some Southern Stuff I: Self-quotes and Robert E. Lee.)

By the way, as evidence of the difference between Southeast Arkansas dialect and Northeast Oklahoma dialect, in the thirty-five years I have lived in Oklahoma, because of my accent I have been asked if I am from: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia–and even England and Australia–but never from Arkansas! As our Yankee friends say, Go figure!

Source of Photos

How to Speak Southern, personal copy. By Steve Mitchell with illustrations by SCRAWLS (Sam C. Rawls), Bantam Books, New York. 1976, reviewed at: http://www.amazon.com/How-Speak-Southern-Steve-Mitchell/dp/0553275194 

The Good Ol’ Boy Okie Dictionary, personal copy. Compiled by Daniel Hudgins, Copyright 1979 by The Chase Organization, P.O. Box 1916, Tulsa, OK 74101, reviewed at: http://www.kountrylife.com/forum/messages/12696.html

I Speak Arkansaw tee-shirts. Taken from Web site where the shirts may be ordered: http://www.bearstatesupply.com/2011/11/i-speak-arkansaw/ (Note: Since I added this Web site a few days ago, for some reason it no longer works. Perhaps you can access it by Googling it.)

How to Talk Pure Ozark. Image and information available at: http://www.amazon.com/talk-Ozark-thout-hardly-tryin/dp/B0006S3012

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“Are you from Dixie? I say, from Dixie?
Where the fields of cotton beckon to me . . .”

—“Are You from Dixie?”
George L. Cobb-Jack Yellen/M. Witmark & Sons, ASCAP
(To hear this song performed by
Glenn Campbell, Jerry Reed
— and Tom Jones!
click here)

“If you’ve got to ask yourself
whether you’re from Dixie, then you ain’t!”
–Jimmy Peacock

Any time the subject of the South and Southerners comes up, there is always the question, “Where is the South?” with the accompanying question “Who is a Southerner?”

In an attempt to answer these questions objectively, a statistical survey was taken and the reports were published in an academic periodical.

Following is that article that appeared originally as “Where is the South?” in Southern Cultures 5 (Summer 1999): p. 116, a publication of The Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina under the direction of John Shelton Reed, a noted Dixieologist who provided the article to me personally. (For more complete information about John Shelton Reed, see the note at the end of this survey.)

The article is presented here exactly as it originally appeared except that underlining has been replaced with italics and some of the longer paragraphs have been divided into shorter segments to fit the format of this blog.

Notice that Oklahoma was included in these surveys. But also notice the percentages of those Oklahoma residents who identified their communities as being in the South and themselves as being Southerners as compared with those Arkansans who identified their communities as being in the South and themselves as being Southerners. I think you will see that the statistics support my personal conclusion after living in Oklahoma for thirty-five years that Oklahoma is not as Southern as my native Arkansas. (This subject will be discussed further in future posts with emphasis on the difference between Okie and Arkie speech, for example.)

 WHERE IS THE SOUTH?

The South has been defined by a great many characteristics, but one of the most interesting definitions is where people believe that they are in the South. A related definition is where the residents consider themselves to be southerners, although this is obviously affected by the presence of non-southern migrants. 

Until recently we did not have the data to answer the question of where either of those conditions is met. Since 1992, however, 14 twice-yearly Southern Focus Polls conducted by the Institute for Research in Social Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have asked respondents from the 11 former Confederate states, Kentucky, and Oklahoma “Just for the record, would you say that your community is in the South, or not?” 

Starting with the third of the series, the same question was asked of smaller samples of respondents from West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, and Missouri (all except Missouri included in the Bureau of the Census’s “South”). 

Respondents from the 13 southern states were also asked “Do you consider yourself a Southerner, or not?,” while starting with the second survey those from other states were asked “Do you consider yourself or anyone in your family a Southerner?,” and if so, whether they considered themselves to be Southerners.

The numbers below are based on pooled data from these surveys, which now give us big enough samples from individual states not only to characterize each state as a whole but also to say, for example, where in Texas the South ends. (A project is now underway to do just that.) 

It is clear from these data that if the point is to isolate southerners for study or to compare them to other Americans the definition of the South employed by the Southern Focus Poll (and, incidentally, by the Gallup Organization) makes sense, while the Bureau of the Census definition does not. We already knew that, of course, but it’s good to be able to document it.

 –John Shelton Reed


Percent who say they are Southerners
(percentage base in parentheses)

Mississippi     90  (432)

Louisiana     89  (606)

Alabama     88  (716)

Tennessee     84  (838)

South Carolina     82  (553)

Arkansas     81  (399)

Georgia     81 (1017)

North Carolina     80 (1290)

Kentucky     68  (584)

Texas     68 (2053)

Virginia     60 (1012)

Oklahoma     53  (410)

Florida     51 (1791)

West Virginia     25   (84)

Maryland     19  (192)

Missouri     15  (197)

New Mexico     13   (68)

Delaware     12   (25)

D.C.     12   (16)

Utah     11   (70)

Indiana     10  (208)

Illinois     9  (362)

Ohio     8  (396)

Arizona     7  (117)

Michigan     6  (336)

All others less than 6 percent.

Percent who say their community is in the South
(percentage base in parentheses)

Alabama     98  (717)

South Carolina     98  (553)

Louisiana     97  (606)

Mississippi     97  (431)

Georgia     97 (1017)

Tennessee     97  (838)

North Carolina     93 (1292)

Arkansas     92  (400)

Florida     90 (1792)

Texas     84 (2050)

Virginia     82 (1014)

Kentucky     79  (582)

Oklahoma     69  (411)

West Virginia     45   (82)

Maryland     40  (173)

Missouri     23  (177)

Delaware     14   (21)

D.C.     7   (15)

About John Shelton Reed,
the Dixieologist

I first met John Shelton Reed at a conference titled “Southern Fried Culture: A New Recipe, A New South, A New Conversation” held in Tulsa on March 1, 1996. John was one of the speakers at that conference in which he gave two presentations titled “What is Southern About the South?” and “Oklahoma: Southern State?”

Since that time John has been gracious enough to respond to my endless letters and emails about what he has termed “the Western South” (Oklahoma and Arkansas) and my writings about them. Over the years he has provided me some fascinating information about many aspects of the South (such as this survey), a subject in which he is an acknowledged and respected expert. 

1001 Things Everyone Should Know/South

John and his wife Dale have written four books together, the most important being 1001 Things Everyone Should Know about the South and Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue

Image of John Shelton Reed

In addition John has written a dozen or more books by himself. He has just finished one called Dixie Bohemia, about New Orleans in the 1920s, which will be published next year by Louisiana State University Press. Currently he is working on one about Southern barbecue in general (not just North Carolina barbecue) for the University of North Carolina Press. (To view a list of John and Dale’s books on Amazon.com, from which this photo was taken, click here. For a full formal biography of John Shelton Reed, click here.) 

John’s wife Dale was a piano teacher and copy editor for many years. They both grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee, and dated in high school. They have two daughters, a musician and an artist, who live in Texas and California. Each of them has a daughter.

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Thoughts for a Winter Day

“I have a great confidence in the revelations which holidays bring forth.”
—Benjamin Disraeli

This post contains four anecdotes about winter, the month of February, Groundhog Day, and Valentine’s Day.

I wrote up the first one back on January 27, 2009, during a winter storm. It was just a thought that occurred to me during a particularly difficult time in the year and in our life.

It will serve as an introduction to the next piece which I wrote about a seemingly inconsequential incident that also took place during a similar cold, hard time of the year.

The third piece is also topical since it is one I wrote up on Groundhog Day, February 2, 2009.

The final piece is an early Valentine’s Day message to Mari for the reason explained.

Thought for a Winter Day

“Birds don’t sing because they have the answer but because they have a song.”
—Lou Holtz

Since we are in the midst of a winter storm of freezing rain and sleet that has covered everything with a thick coating of ice, this frigid morning I braved the elements to go out into the back yard to scatter seed for the birds.

When Mari asked why I was risking life and limb against my doctor’s explicit orders, I replied, “I thought maybe if I feed God’s songbirds, He will feed His Peacocks.”

As someone has said, “While it is true that God feeds the birds of the air, He doesn’t throw the food into their nests.” So I’m trying to do my bit to help Him and His “other feathered creatures.”

A couple of God's old Peacocks

Marion and Jimmy: A couple of God's old Peacocks

Uncle Went

“Nowhere, I think, does God speak more powerfully to us than through the events of our own lives, but more often than not we don’t take the time to listen.”
—Frederick Buechner

One January Saturday several years ago I drove down to the car wash (as I do every Saturday) to wash one of our cars.

I was in a big rush (as I always am) and had to wait in line behind an older man in no hurry.

He moved so slowly washing his old vehicle that I was impatient and was muttering (and cussing) to myself (as I so often do, part of my “dark side” that most folks don’t know about) and silently urging the old guy to “move it, move it, move it!”

Then I noticed that he looked and acted like my late Uncle Winfred (pronounced Wentford in Southeast Arkansas), so I tried to settle myself down by saying, “Be patient, Jimmy; remember, it’s Went.”

Uncle Went with Murray and Dude

Uncle Went (right) with brothers Julian "Dude" (center) and Murray (left)

Then to my chagrin he came over to me and motioned for me to roll down my window. When I did so reluctantly (it was freezing cold), he leaned down and grinned and said, “You better watch out, they’s a big ole patcha’ ice over there, and you li’ble to fall and bust ya butt.” I made some gesture of thanks, and he ambled back to his washing.

Just then to make matters worse one of his cronies pulled up beside me and got out, and the old guy stopped washing so they could meet right in front of my car and “visit.”

Finally, he got through, but before he left he came back around to my side, had me roll down the window again, and told me the same thing: “You better watch out, they’s a big ole patcha’ ice over there, and you li’ble to fall and bust ya butt!”

Again, I muttered something to get rid of him, and he turned away just as his old crony repeated what he had just said, “Yeah, you better watch out, they’s a big ole patcha’ ice over there, and you lib’le to fall and bust ya butt!”

Then the two old guys parted, and “Uncle Went” moseyed back to his vehicle and took his time getting back in, sitting there forever, and finally starting it up and slowly, ever so slowly, driving out.

By that time I was fit to be tied—so I squealed into the bay, crammed on my brakes, jumped out—again muttering and cussing—grabbed the wand, dropped in some quarters, and started rushing around the front of the car feverishly washing away.

Just then I stepped on that “big ole patcha’ ice.” Both my feet went out from under me, and if I hadn’t hung onto the hose I would have “fell and busted my butt!”—just as “Uncle Went” and his crony had warned me about three times!

It was so funny that when I regained my feet, I laughed out loud, looked up at God, and said, “Okay, Lord, I get the message. You sent ‘Uncle Went’ to tell me three times to slow down and ‘watch it, so I won’t fall and bust my butt!’—in life as well as in the car wash.”

The sad thing is that I still haven’t done so. Not Uncle Went’s fault—or God’s fault. Mine, all mine. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. 

Groundhog Day Message
February 2, 2009

 “I don’t have any trouble with chores like car and yard and clothes. I have a ‘couple of hands’ to do all that. I am Mari’s house boy, yard boy, car boy, clothes boy, and toy boy.”
—Jimmy Peacock

Dear Family and Friends:

Since the groundhog saw his shadow today, predicting six more weeks of winter, I thought y’all might like a bit of topical (if not tropical) humor:

I started out our marriage as Lord Jim, Head of the House, but ended up as Prince Philip, the Figurehead Spouse—consort to Queen Mari, daughter of the late Queen Mother Mary Elizabeth (Good Queen Bess(ie)). 

Prince Philip

Prince Philip in 1992 (photo taken from Web site above)

I wish that was a joke, but it’s not. For example, I told it to Mari after the boys left today while she was paying the bills and I was vacuuming the carpet and mopping the kitchen floor—which I will do again tomorrow in preparation for her annual Valentine’s Teacher Bunco Party. So I guess I’m not totally just a Figurehead “Prince Philip.”

 His Lowness, Lord (Have Mercy) James of Selma

PS I forgot to mention that for the next few days Mari will be working on the income taxes while I will be working on my writings, of which only one has been sold—for twenty-five dollars—a staggering rate of one dollar per year! That’s why I call myself (among other things) the Vincent van Gogh of Southern literature.

Early Valentine’s Day Message

“Le véritable amour est éternel.”
(True love is eternal.)
—Honoré de Balzac

Since tomorrow Mari will be once again having her annual Valentine’s Teacher Bunco Party, I could not resist the temptation to insert an early Valentine’s Day greeting to her.

That is nothing unusual. As I say, “I never have a conversation without talking about the two great loves of my life–Arkansas and Mari!” That is a slight exaggeration for effect, but it is close to the truth. Here is an example.

Back in the summers of 1964 and 1965 I attended two summer French institutes for high school foreign language teachers at what was then Kansas State Teacher’s College in Emporia.

Jimmy as a Frenchman

Me as a Frenchman at the 1964-65 summer French institutes in Kansas

One day in French Conversation class I was called upon expectedly to give an impromptu talk about any subject I chose. Naturally, I did not hesitate. I went straight to the chalkboard, drew an outline of the state of Arkansas complete with its geographical features, its primary landmarks, rivers, and cities, etc., and began to talk about the state–all in French. As a result of that totally unprepared and unrehearsed presentation I received an A for that course.

No one at the institute was the slightest bit surprised at my choice of subjects since I had talked about Arkansas for the entire course of both summers.

Neither was anyone surprised when, at the end of the second institute, I had Mari and her sister Janice drive up–from Arkansas, of course–to pick me up so we could take a vacation trip to the Colorado Rockies.

When the other participants saw Mari walk in to the hall where the graduation ceremony was to take place, they recognized her from the photos I had shown them. Instantly, they all rushed upon her, saying, “Oh, we’re so glad to finally meet you. We have heard so much about you. Your husband really loves you!”

I still do. As the poet says, “Love is eternal,” a truth that I have often expressed in one of my endless self-quotes: “If it ever dies, it wasn’t love to begin with!” (See 1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

“Happy Valentine’s, Mari!”

Marion and Janice August 1965

Mari (left) and her sister Janice (right) in the Colorado Rockies, August 1965 (to magnify, click on the photo)

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