“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

No Spitting on the Premises



Nice people simply do not spit. Common people spit.

“Nice People” is outdated Southernspeak for people from “nice families”; “nice families” is outdated Southernspeak for those whose background passes muster, whose genealogy goes back a long way, which is far more important than money unless your money goes back a long way.

Common people are those who have no upbringing. When they say “nice, white, rice,” the “nice” rhymes with “ass,” the “white” rhymes with “brat,” and the “rice” rhymes with . . ., well, I’m not really sure. It’s country-fied.

“Tacky” is Southernspeak for, among other criticisms, nouveau riche people who have no taste. Their “people,” who were probably Yankees, might go back one generation at the most. These ancestors probably did spit.

But smart Southern women of a certain age, even those from nice families, have likely resorted to “spittin’ grits” at some point in the past. I have.

In 1965 after college, I was driving in La Jolla, California, on some jaunt or other. Even though I had grown up as an Air Force officer’s brat and lived all over, I still had my Southern accent and I had never been to California. I was driving the wrong way on a four-lane one-way street at night. How tacky.

Not very far into this stupid maneuver, I saw the flashing lights of a police car that had made a U-turn and was behind me. I have no memory of where I pulled over. It must have been into a service station lot, one where your gas was pumped for you, your oil was check for you, and for dessert your windshield was cleaned for you.

I remember thinking, “You’d better start spittin’ grits ASAP.” The cop leaned down.

I said, “Good evenin’ suh. Ah know what Ah’ve done hea-uh (here), but Ah’ve nev-uh been to Califon-yuh.”

You add to that verbal sprawl your fluttering eyelashes and a big smile. You morph into a combination of Scarlet O’Hara and a Valley Girl. I didn’t get a ticket.

Spirit and Image of Grits

But I damned well wouldn’t resort to such trickery now. First, it’s against my principles. (Yeh, right, lady.)

Second, the idea of a 65-year-old Southern woman (who is myself) spittin’, grits is grotesque. Plus I’m a grandmother from a nice family.

Third, the Southern accent, like so much else distinctively Southern, has become watered down by all the moving around people do these days -- except for grits, which you indeed water down and which is the subject of another post.

“Spittin’ grits might not have to be such a crass, unladylike phrase after all. In my 1987 edition of The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins says that “spittin’ image” could be a corruption of “spirit and image.” This means, of course, that “spittin’ grits” is in the spirit and image of Southern niceties. (http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-37073764_ITM).

There. That’s solved.

Except For This Part

Fourth, my father used the phrase, not as a Southern nicety but very specifically. When I was 14 and 15, in junior high school at Bellingrath in Montgomery, Alabama, in the mid-1950s, we went to Sock Hops. I am not making this up.

My father, an Air Force officer and pilot of jets, was an imposing Southern gentleman, stationed at Maxwell A.F.B. and an Alabama native. We were not allowed to ride unchaperoned in cars with boys, not even to Sock Hops. That policy put quite a damper on “dating,” which was probably the real intention of the policy. Anyway, I had been asked to this Sock Hop by this boy I was nuts over.

Dad said to me, “Young lady, you are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving, and that’s THAT. I am not spittin’ grits!”

I knew the dreamboat’s parents weren’t going to be driving. He and his friends were 16 and already at Lanier High School. I promised dad the parents would be driving. I sneaked, snunck, or whatever the verb tense is.

We had not been at the Hop more than 30 minutes when my 6-foot 3-inch dad marched in, got me by the arm, and marched me out.

He was not one for Spittin’ Grits.

NOTE: There will be no post tomorrow. I will be at a reunion.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for the correct pronunciation of nice, white, rice. The high humidity of the South does crazy things to our vowels. Once at a brunch buffet hosted by elderly Southern Baptist ladies, my new-to-the-U.S. friend and I were asked our opinions of "crime of white." My English friend, who thought the woman was asking about slavery, was relieved when I explained that in some parts of Alabama, "crime of white" is Cream of Wheat.

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