Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Where I'm Coming From

or
Peevish Advice”: Where It’s Coming From

Most readers of this blog know I've written a redneck humor column since 1998. Since 2004, the column has appeared every other week on the editorial page of the Smith Mountain Eagle. The column fits there because it's actually social commentary. It just looks like redneck humor.

The last time I received a letter of complaint was in 1999 when someone thought I'd disparaged doublewides. That wasn't true. At the time, I was coveting a simulated log cabin doublewide that a friend had just bought.

Recently, another person found fault with what I write. This letter appears in today's issue of the SML:

Yo Editor,
I am requesting that you immediately remove from the "Smith Mountain Eagle" the insulting column "Peevish Advice" by Becky Mushko. I suppose your intent is to provide a comic relief from every day life in this area, but to the residents of Franklin County you are mocking the way we think and express ourselves. Your portrayal of a county of backwoods bumpkins is neither accurate nor funny. Even though we may abuse the English language to some degree, we do NOT appreciate your constant insult to our usage.

Furthermore, I find it puzzling that you place such an insulting, childish column on your editorial page. Most papers treat this page as a serious place for debate (no pun intended) and comment.

Perhaps Ms. Mushko should be directed to a venue where her talents would be better appreciated. Comic books and fishing magazines come to mind.

Thanks for your attention.
Ciao J** W****

Although real people (mostly my buddies in Lake Writers) send Ida B. Peevish letters which she answers in her column, “Peevish Advice” is fiction. Rock Bottom isn’t—and never was—a real town. None of the characters that populate it are real, including my alter ego, Ida B. Peevish. I created her in 1998 when Jeff Foxworthy had hit it big with redneck humor. I thought there should be a female redneck humorist.

Rock Bottom is purely imaginary—a Mayberry that's a just turn off center with an out-spoken Steel Magnolia-type running a beauty shop that also sells live bait. The name of my fictional beauty shop comes from an old Jeff Foxworthy joke: “How do you know you’re in a redneck town?” Answer: “You can buy live bait and rent videos at the same place.” That started me thinking: What is stranger than live bait and videos? Ah, live bait and a beauty shop. A friend once gave me a picture of “Nancy’s Beauty Shop and Concrete Lawn Ornaments” down Route 29 someplace, so “Ida’s Salon of Beauty & Live Bait Shop” isn’t so unique after all.

Rural humor, whether from Artemus Ward or Jeff Foxworthy or anybody in between has been popular for generations. A rival newspaper of the Eagle runs "Snuffy Smith," a cartoon I liked when I was a kid. When I was a kid, I also listened to the Grand Ol’ Opry on radio, and watched Tennessee Ernie and Minnie Pearl when we got a TV. I loved their down-home humor. Later I watched and enjoyed The Real McCoys and The Beverly Hillbillies. My daddy, in the years before he died, enjoyed Hee-Haw and was a big fan of Grampa Jones.

When I went to college, I grew too sophisticated for rural humor, but thank goodness I got over it. As an adult, I enjoyed the Andy Griffith Show, Hee-Haw, the Dukes of Hazzard, and Dolly Parton in Steel Magnolias. Once I even took a Radford University class in Appalachian humor; rural humorist Loyal Jones was one of the lecturers; he and Billy Edd Wheeler, authors of Laughter in Appalachia, had just published More Laughter in Appalachia, two books I highly recommend.

My roots run over 200 years deep into Franklin County. I own the cabin that my grandparents lived in and where my father grew up. It never had electricity or indoor plumbing. I remember visiting as a kid and having to use outside facilities.


My daddy had less than a sixth grade education, but—like his daddy before him—he could play the fiddle. Not violin, fiddle: there’s a difference. I guess he didn’t use indoor facilities until he went to work in the West Virginia mines. When I was born, he ran a gas station on Williamson Road in Roanoke.

My maiden name is Smith—like the mountain. I’m probably kin to a good percentage of Franklin County—the Browns, Hollands, Englishes, Forbes, Dillons, Smiths, Pasleys, and a bunch of others. My most well-known ancestor is Brigadeer General Joseph Martin. I descend from his second wife if you don’t count the Cherokees; through his fifth wife if you do. Some of my ancestors were indeed backwoods bumpkins, but they did OK for themselves. I don’t know how many were involved in manufacturing Franklin County’s most famous product, but there probably were some.

The grammar and usage I select is what I heard my daddy use. I remember the wonderful thick accents my grandparents and older relatives used to have. A few local people still talk that way, but not many. They’re dying out, or else TV converted them. Even though I have a master’s degree in English, I sometimes lapse in bad grammar and still use some of the local expressions. My favorite is “won’t,” which can mean “weren’t,” “wasn’t,” or “won’t.” As I age, I’m starting to drop the g off any -ing ending. Recently a woman who serves on a committee with me told me I had a local accent. I was so proud.

So—if I'm making fun of somebody's heritage, it's mine. I think we should be able to laugh at ourselves. I have a heckuva good time laughing at me.

When I first started writing “Peevish Advice” back in 1998 for another fine publication, Rock Bottom, a fictional small town unidentified by either county or state and populated by “agrarian professionals,” was purposely hard to find. But if you ever hit Rock Bottom, you knew it.

After a while, some of my retiree buddies at the lake felt left out and wanted me to add a lake, so Slick Water Lake formed from farm run-off filling a sinkhole and thus provided a retirement haven for yankees. My husband of 40 years is originally from New Jersey, a state that a lot of my friends left, so I know a thing or two about the north and why folks leave it.

I can also identify with the lake residents. While my roots are in Franklin County, I wasn’t born here (but got back here as soon as I could). I’m educated (BFA, MAT) and affluent. My education provided me a means of making some money; my bred-in frugality from my Franklin County ancestors meant I didn’t waste money and made wise investments. While I don’t live on the lake, I do serve on some committees just like Slick Water Lake folks do. So I can identify.

Several of my lake buddies contribute ideas for the column. Some send me emails that begin, “Did you see in the news that —?” Sometimes strangers with northern accents stop me in Kroger and say, “Why don’t you write about—?” Often, I do. I rarely turn down an idea.

While “Peevish Advice” started as rural humor and nothing more, over the years it has provided social commentary about education, child-rearing, marriage, committees, church Bingo, school dress codes, tourists, visiting relatives, in-law problems, the Internet, and whatever else strikes my fancy. Hence, it belongs on the editorial page.

Sometimes the column just pokes fun at universal human foibles and frailties, many of them mine, but it still fits the editorial page.

Do I promote “backwoods bumpkin” stereotypes? I'm not sure what a "backwoods bumpkin" is. Hillbilly? Appalachian resident? Redneck?

I’ll have to pull my ballcap down to shade my eyes and ponder that question that while I drive my 94 Dodge pickup truck (with peeling paint and a couple of dents) down the road a ways to one of my farms. And my four dawgs will be riding in the back. Likely my pistol will be in my purse, but don’t worry—I passed my concealed carry class with flying colors.

While I don’t have a tractor-tire flowerbed in my yard (my husband won’t let me take a tire off his tractor), there’s a yard with several not far from me. I was real impressed when the owner painted them red, white, and blue after 9-11. I do have a couple of interesting lawn ornaments, though. Plus a couple of old horses that provide me with plenty of manure-shoveling experience.

So, if I’m mocking anybody, it’s me. Humor begins at home.

Warning: Semi-educational information follows:

If you want to know how a large part of the rural, mountainous South talks, consult the Southern Appalachian Dictionary. Another site, Dialectizer, can change a website into redneck or a few other, uh, dialects. For instance, if you were to change the letter to the SML editor to a redneck dialect, you'd get this:

Yo Edito',

Ah's requestin' thet yo' eemeejutly remove fum th' "Smif Mountain Eagle" th' insultin' column "Peevish Advice" by Becky Mushko. ah suppose yer intent is t'provide a comic relief fum ev'ry day life in this hyar area, but t'th' residents of Franklin County yer mockin' th' way we reckon an' express ourselves. Yer po'trayal of a county of backwoods bumpkins is neifer accurate no' funny. Even though we may abuse th' English language t'some degree, we does NOT appreesheeate yer constant insult t'our usage.

Furthermo'e, ah find it puzzlin' thet yo' place sech an insultin', chileish column on yer edito'ial page. Most papers treat this hyar page as a serious place fo' debate (no pun aimed) an' comment.

Perhaps Ms. Mushko sh'd be direcked t'a venue whar her talents'd be better appreesheeated, cuss it all t' tarnation. Comic books an' fishin' magazines come t'mind, cuss it all t' tarnation.

Thanks fo' yer attenshun.
Ciao J** W****

If you change a website (or parts thereof) into redneck dialect and don’t know what some of the words mean, try the Southern Sass website or the Country Humor website. They'll bring you up to snuff when it comes to rural Southern dialect.

If you're too sophisticated for down-home talking, and you want to talk real high-faluting, go here. If you want to impress folks with the current hot buzzwords, then the Global Language Monitor is for you.


Meanwhile, does anybody know how I can get a job writing comic books? I hear they pay real good money!

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3 Comments:

Blogger CountryDew said...

Generally, if you're upsetting someone it means you're doing a good job. Or so I tell myself when the occasional letter about my work appears. Sometimes they are hard to ignore, though.

9:09 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Becky, I don't read your column but I check out your blog every week or so. You may remember me, we moved here last month from Colorado Springs, pop. 350,000. I quickly noticed myself dropping the end of my "ing"s; I think it's my subconscious effort to want to fit in.

Via the internet, I looked for the "fanciest" Kroger in Roanoke and visited a few days ago. I was in heaven: Boars Head meat, pesto, sesame seed oil, things I am just not finding locally!

But the truth is that although we've never lived anywhere rural before and this is a huge culture shock (which we expected), we LOVE this place. We've had not one single regret or wish that we hadn't moved.

We came for the scenery, but the people make this place. And although I sometimes have (great) difficulty understanding the local accent, I so want to, want to be a part here, and want this to be my place too.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Debi said...

Hmm, that letter writer does not sound like a local to me. I suspect it's someone else with a different agenda.

Anyway, I agree with you about laughing at yourself. Kurt and I just had a little disagreement about it. Again, he says I make us, him especially, sound like idiots on my blog. I said no one will want to read it if I write about how smart we are.

10:55 PM  

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