Sherry Hopkins Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 20, 2007

Relatively speaking of relatives

You know I’m a southern gal. I speak southern — that long slow drawl that turns one syllable words into two and three syllables.

Like sshhuurre, (sure) and whhaaat (what) maauumm (ma’am) riiiigghhtt (right). I’ve tried over the years to sound a little more sophisticated but the real me comes through eventually.

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Dear Don used to tease me about using words like purty (pretty), warsh (wash) and rench (rinse.) I don’t do that anymore.

But this story isn’t about my “suthern speak” this is about growing up southern and the family tree that goes with it.

I would never talk about my relatives when I was growing up. My kinfolks didn’t embarrass me, but their names surely did.

Most of these names came from my Daddy’s side of the family. Now my Mama was the one from the Delta and my Daddy was a 4th generation Memphian. So it was a little surprising to hear such odd names coming from his city side of the family. There was Uncle Fore and Aunt Sister, my Daddy’s baby sister and her husband.

My Daddy’s oldest brother Earl had a wife named Putt (?). I’m told that her given name was Maude and she detested that name. When she began to talk she prefaced each word with put and so the name stuck.

My paternal grandparents were Big Mama and Big Daddy and my maternal grandmother was known only as Mama, which could be real confusing when you’re a youngun’.

I’ve already told you about my Uncle Porkchop, one of my Mama’s brothers. My Daddy also had an Uncle Red, but the worst names by far belonged to the brood of my Great Aunt Maggie and her husband, Uncle Thea. They lived way out from Memphis proper in the country.

The area was called Egypt. Even in the ‘60s they didn’t have running water or electricity. I think that that was a personal decision. They owned many acres and had beautiful vegetable gardens and a large pecan grove. On the front porch of the old house was a dipping well. A long, slim, tapered wooden bucket that was lowered down by rope and pulley would bring up the coldest water you ever tasted. The dipper was metal and on the hottest summer days it would have condensation from the deep cold water. It was always a treat to this city girl.

Aunt Maggie and Uncle Thea had four boys still at home during that time. In order of age were Phelan, Elan, T’do and Nance. To a young girl’s ear those were the most peculiar names I had ever heard.

When my brother was born my Mama named him Dale. That didn’t sit too well with my Daddy. So to carry on the peculiar family name tradition, from the day my brother came home from the hospital, he was and still is known as Buster. I don’t know how he feels about it, but I would have preferred the name Dale.

All these names seem less peculiar to me now and I don’t embarrass quite as easily as I did when I was young. But there were a couple of other things, relatively speaking, that still make me shudder.

My Big Daddy had false teeth and a glass eye. He kept them in a dresser drawer at night and I accidentally discovered them early one morning while he was living with us. I haven’t gotten over the shock of that yet.  I still have a hard time looking at eyeballs, even in the socket.

You get the picture.

(Email Sherry at