I just had to call Skeeter Skates with the news. As many of you know, Skeeter is the owner and operator of Skeeter Skates Tree Stump Removal and Plow Repair in Ryo, Georgia. He is also the current presiding chair of the Ryo Morning Coffee Club, a collection of Great Americans which includes Walleye, who runs the bait shop over in Red Bud; Booger Bledsoe, who operates a local roadside vegetable stand on State Route 136 near Sugar Valley; and Uncle Coot, recently retired from the port-a-potty transportation industry and an olfactory challenge to the group who are careful to seat him downwind at coffee.
Usually, it is Skeeter and friends calling me seeking my views on political matters, although they feign little interest in the subject. Skeeter is also quick to remind me that churning out quality award-winning columns week after week, as I do, pales in comparison to repairing a built-in differential on a dual-shaft transmission stump-grinder or knowing which forktail soft minnow lures will attract crappies or the high protein content in chickpeas or the intricacies of the port-a-potty transportation industry. These are regular topics at the Ryo Morning Coffee Club.
So, I was delighted to call Skeeter for a change and share some information he and his colleagues didn’t know but might find of interest. I had just read a study saying our Southern accents may be gone with the wind. There was silence on the other end of the line. Very unusual. Skeeter may be a lot of things but silent he is not.
“Hoss,” he said, “just what are you talking about? You had better have your Ps dotted and your Qs crossed” — Yes, I know, but it isn’t wise to correct Skeeter Skates — “because that kind of talk don’t go well around here.”
I said a collaborative study between the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech showed that the current generation doesn’t seem to have the Southern accent of us older Georgians.
Skeeter said, “Is that all them folks got to do? How come they ain’t teaching readin’ and writin’ like when we was in school?”
I wanted to tell him that those attending the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech as well as those teaching them were already proficient in their communicative skills, but I didn’t think that would go over well with Skeeter Skates. The intricacies of higher education don’t seem to interest him.
Walleye wanted to know if the QAnon crowd and Hilary Clinton were responsible. He had heard they were kidnapping and selling innocent children at some pizza parlor in Washington and it would be just like them to try to destroy our way of talking. I told him I was pretty sure they weren’t involved.
Uncle Coot said he wished I would write something about the challenges of port-a-potty transportation. That had nothing to do with the subject at hand, but Uncle Coot, a pioneer in port-apotty transportation, never misses an opportunity to promote the industry.
Booger Bledsoe wanted to know why Southerners weren’t talking Southern. I said the study seemed to show that it is Generation X group, born between 1965 and 1982, that is dropping their accent. But the study shows that it is true not just in Georgia but is happening across the country in places like Boston and California and Detroit. We are all beginning to talk alike.
“Hoss, hold on a minute,” Skeeter interrupted, “them pointy-heads are saying Southerners are going to start sounding like them liberals out in California and up north? Ain’t a one of them would know a 3-point double- bottom turn plow from a sack of sweet corn. All they do is sip wine and vote for Democrats.” I could only tell him what the study indicated.
I sure wasn’t going to tell the group that one of those involved in the UGA-Georgia Tech study claims that by using transcribed audio a computer could estimate where you put your tongue in your mouth when you pronounce each vowel which would give them a quantitative metric of accent. I have a feeling they would find that obscene.
The members of the Ryo Morning Coffee Club assured me they would be talking Southern now and forever and if the academics didn’t like it, to kiss their grits. I can’t imagine anyone in Boston or California or Detroit putting their tongue in their mouth and coming up with such a quantitative metric. I’m glad I called.