Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

The Linguists

Paula Wall

While I was born south of the Mason-Dixon Line, I grew up in Alaska. My grandmother, who considers Boston baked beans ethnic cooking, says I’m bilingual. My mouth swings either way.

Leila, Cuz, and I are sitting on the front porch of Russell’s Store watching the rain fall. We’re drinking bottled Cokes, the little ones, and Leila has poured a bag of peanuts into hers. Being half Yankee, I take my peanuts on the side.

“She’s a good rain,” an old man rocking at the other end of the porch says.

Leaning sideways, the man next to him spits tobacco into a coffee can on the floor. “Slow and steady,” he says, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, “like a good woman.”

In our neck of the woods, “politically correct” means mounting your Rush Limbaugh sticker on the right side of the bumper.

It’s the noise that gets our attention first. Actually, more of a vibration pounding over the sound of the rain that’s tap-dancing on the tin roof.

“It’s the Boss,” Cuz says, identifying the beat as Bruce Springsteen.

Cuz is kind of an idiot savant when it comes to music. Being a certified psychologist, she’s also kind of an idiot, but we love her.

Swiveling our heads, we watch headlights feel their way down the blacktop. There’s a faded DUKAKIS FOR PRESIDENT sticker on the front bumper, so even before the car rolls to a stop, you know these people are lost.

Holding notebooks over their heads, two guys make a dash for the porch.

Suddenly Cuz drops her feet off the porch rail and sucks in her stomach, which is the universal sign for “Babe on Board.”

As the guys walk past us, the three of us lean forward.

“Nothing I like more than a man whose good-bye is as good as his hello,” Leila says as the screen door slams behind them.

By the time the guys return to the porch, the rain has reached critical mass and thunder is grumbling like Satan with a bad hand at a poker game.

“We’re linguists,” the first man says as he wipes the top of his Pepsi can with a paper napkin.

“. . . traveling the back roads of the rural South on a federal grant . . .” his sidekick adds as he sniffs a vacuum-sealed hoagie.

“. . . gathering data with the hopes of documenting the southern dialect,” the first guy concludes.

“Well, shut my mouth,” Leila drawls. “Who sez the federal deficit is the result of friv-vo-lous spendin’?”

“Shore wish you boooyz could be here at night,” I say, licking each word like it’s Neapolitan ice cream melting down a sugar cone on a hot summer day. “Them beetles bounce off that there screen like a pick on a steel git-tarrr.”

Stretching like a cat, Cuz leans back in her rocker and throws one long tanned leg up on the porch rail. Being a psychologist, she recognizes the importance of body language.

The rest of the afternoon, we girls dedicate ourselves to science. When the professors’ handheld tape recorders run out of tape, it’s time for them to go.

“Y’all come back now, yuh hear?” we girls wave from the porch.

As the old man at the end of the porch watches the forest-green Volvo drive away, the man next to him leans sideways and spits into his coffee can.

“Don’t believe there’s a road goin’ where them boys is tryin’ to git.”

© Paula Wall


In 1996 Paula Wall took a couple of "snippets" she'd written to her local newspaper. In 1997 she was named "Humor Columnist of the Year" by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Wall's column, Off the Wall, went on to become Universal Press Syndicate's #3 internet column after Dear Abby and News of the Weird, with a weekly readership of over 8 million. She was also a finalist for the Thurber Prize.

Two collections of her columns were published - My Love is Free . . . But the Rest of Me Don't Come Cheap, and If I Were A Man, I'd Marry Me, which stayed on the Top Requested Humor Books List for 28 weeks.

Wall's first novel The Rock Orchard (Atria/Simon&Schuster) was released in 2005. "Blending sensuality and wry wit to create a truly unique love story, The Rock Orchard is about powerful men, the power of God, and the ultimate power of extraordinary women."

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012