In Albuquerque, whenever I would tell a story about someone I knew or an experience I recalled from home, I found myself slipping into certain patterns of language. These might not even be patterns I particularly employed, but by which I had been surrounded my entire life. My subconscious is saturated with the roll and tumble of words in a way that is distinctive to my hometown, to Georgia, and more generally, recognized as “Southern.” I’ll talk more about the dialects and drawls another time. For now, if you need an example, Ron White or Daryl from the Walking Dead are pretty good aural templates for the way these things might sound.
My mother always has a story to impart about her adventures as a Paid Preschool Professional. To collect them all would be a book in and of itself. But she is fond of re-enacting the dialogue between herself and Ms. Peggy, a fellow teacher. These dramatizations are peppered with such things as “Lor-dee, Peggy, I’m slap dey-ed.” Lor-dee, or Lordy with both syllables emphatically pronounced is a call to attend the importance of whatever message that follows it. It’s big news, so listen up. If anything is preceded by “slap” (e.g. slap full, slap dead) this indicates a state of totality which cannot be increased in any way. For a container to be “slap full” means that you could not fit another drop into that container without risking overflow.
To say that someone or something is “slap dead” simply means the absence of all life energy. As well, if it’s that lifeless, it isn’t just “dead,” it’s “dey-ed.” The distinction is crucial. It cannot be overstated, and if it could, we would have already done so, because this is the South. So when Mom turns to her friend and says it, she is admitting that those 12 two-year old children have “plum tuckered” her out. She also has the habit of many people of her generation of leaving her cell phone in the bottom of her purse until it dies. It won’t even come on…because it’s slap dead.
This extra-syllabic emphasis has friends, too. Directional language is often used to emphasize how distant something is in relation to a desired location. If you have to park quite far from your destination, and perhaps even take a shuttle, you’ve just parked in East Jesus. True story. Just go with it. It makes the retelling funnier, more alive, and a little more interesting if you simply accept that this is where your car is now parked, irrespective of actual location or direction. Because, yeah. The South. Compass directions around these parts are used more like a seasoning than they are to tell you where you are or where to go. They refer more to an existential state. There is no East Jesus, but you’ll know it when you have to park there. Just go with it.