Friday, September 08, 2006

Talk to Me Pretty

I miss colorful language. One might argue, I suppose, that modern discourse is filled with color - or maybe off-color. That's not the kind of color I crave. What I long for is the rich language of the south, positively luxuriant in its bounty of simile and metaphor, rooted in the country, delivered slowly, drawled, virtually sung.

My parents grew up in North Texas, almost to the Red River, sixty miles from Dallas, which along with Houston was the only "sophisticated" city in the state, in those days. Texas was really part of the south then; maybe not the "deep" south, like Alabama or Mississippi, but deep enough to have many southern characteristics. Among them certainly were gentility, courtesy, and sweet talkin', liberally infused with the ubiquitous y'aaaaaall. Texan communication that my parents knew was bright and rich and fertile with phrases that told stories, conjured pictures, conveying with florid precision the true spirit of the tale.

But this couple of kids from North Texas went north, past Oklahoma, out into the great unknown, where there were probably giants. All the way to Canada they went. And when they landed in a small Canadian community, they were foreigners indeed. The subdued, reserved Canadians, with their clipped, quick articulation, were impossible for Texan ears to understand, and conversely, Canadians could only widen their eyes in wonder at the elongated parlance coming from my parents' mouths. To some they sounded like hayseeds; but some found them charming, and would ask questions just to elicit the tones, the cadence - no matter the meaning.

Through the years, my parents lost much of the color. Their ears became accustomed to northern confabulation. Gradually all those sweet phrases evaporated. They sped up their own speech without even knowing, which caused great consternation among Texas kin when they returned home for visits.

In my parents' minds, Texas is lodged as it was more than 50 years ago. They think the language is still as luscious as it was then. Their ears still want to curl around that speech, as Texan as katydid or locust song in the summer. But, with the exception of some small towns where the older Texan generation is waning and disappearing, we Texans generally talk a lot like the full amalgum of all Americans who have moved hither and thither across the country, picking up idioms, losing others. We are homogenized. We don't talk so pretty anymore, for sure.

I long to hear the pretty, so on the occasions I do, I'm tickled beyond the words.

I've been making some changes in my medical care - new specialists and a new primary care physician. I visited him for the first time last week. His examination was thorough, and he remarked that I had a little (ahem) build-up in one of my ears. I made a face, and he said, "Don't worry. It doesn't look like it's been there for a century."

I said, "Hey, you shouldn't use words like 'century' when you're talking to someone as old as I am."

He winked his young, sly eye at me and said, "Aww, your breath still smells of mother's milk."

"I loooooove you," I drawled out, in Scarlet fashion, barely stopping the word "Suuuuugar" from following. (After a certain age, you can get by with that, though, you know.)

I suspect I have a pretty talk cohort.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Casualty of Re-Entry

I might jump in as if today was a new starting point, without trying to backtrack and explain anything. But, I have to talk about our vacation, which is now something of a distant memory; we were on the back side of it, coming home a month ago. For many people, a month can contain worlds.

Climbing up, up to the heights of Rocky Mountain National Park is physically, but also symbolically rising above the mundane world. We were lowlanders in rare air that made us breathe differently and altered our minds as well. We were incapable of contemplating problems we left fettered to our real lives. From that elevated perspective, the lower levels of life seemed to be attached to chronology in super fast motion, while we were privileged to visit a plane where time is measured in eons, and alterations are ascribed to percentages of eons. Like, when they say a chasm was formed 600 million years ago (half an eon), or a volcano erupted 60,000 years ago and scattered lava rocks about, which still lay where they fell, as if it were a mere moment past.

Nothing about those mountains has changed save piles of rocks that slid down a precipice 100 years ago. The only changes are man made in the form of roads or trails or inobtrusive villages, and that onslaught has been at snail's pace. Don and his grandfather visited Colorado every summer to camp when he was a boy. His grandfather took hundreds of pictures of visitas, which we revisited and appear absolutely unchanged. We can prove it.

The mountains are vast, the valleys are vast, the ecosystem is vast and oblivious to man. I was rendered so small, so without power or ego, like I was in the presence of God and completely undone by His immensity. The words of scripture, "Who is man that thou art mindful of him?" played in my head over and over. The miracle of what I believe: that He is ever mindful of me almost overwhelmed me.

Our days were simple - everything at the lowest common denominator. Who was showering when, where would we eat, what road would we explore? The smallness of basic existence in that setting was completely satisfying. I was sure I could stay there, on that schedule, for the rest of my life and not feel hunger for more.

I thought, "I'm changed. I will divest myself of everything when I return home. I don't need anything but half of what I packed in my bags." And I meant it when I thought it. How then, now that I have been back only a month, have I so reverted? How is it that I do want? How is it that I so quickly picked up speed, and fell into many of the same old patterns that felt foreign at re-entry? How could I so easily re-affix filters, like social expectations and modern thinking, that I removed on the high places?

Did you ever see Continental Divide with John Belushi? That's me. Going through the "normal" motions, with a look of bewilderment on my face.