Where Do You Stay? Or Playing with Words

Good morning! I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July! I’m glad to be back and playing with words.

Ages ago my granddaughter, who was maybe six or seven, said something like this in reference to her brother, “I can do (this) because I’m bigger than him.” I told her it was because she was older, not bigger. They were physically the same size. She asked what was the difference. So I explained one had to to with size, the other had to do with age. She might not always be bigger, but she would always be older. She rather liked the idea of always being older.

My Grandpa Schmitt introduced me to crossword puzzles when I was in 1st or 2nd grade. He loved them and worked them daily in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Columbus Dispatch, the big newspapers in our area. One of those papers also had a Young Person’s Puzzle, using both picture clues and word clues. Grandpa would cut them out and save them for me, to either work alongside him as he worked his or let me figure out on my own.

Hubby likes working crosswords, too, and we sometimes do them together – like during long drives between South Carolina and Ohio – but most often we’ll fill in the same puzzle at different times. There’s sort of an unwritten rule or understanding that if a puzzle hasn’t been filled in for a while, it’s fair game for the other person to tinker with it. And that’s where it gets interesting. He and I don’t always read the clues the same way, so our answers can be different . . . which either fixes or totally messes up the puzzle. One would think coming from similar background and upbringing we’d be more in sync, but that’s not the case. One time the clue was something like, Anticipate the future, or Anticipate an upcoming event. He filled in with the letters: d-r-e-a-d. And then got stuck. I read the clue, read his answer and immediately thought d-r-e-a-m. Changing that one letter – and having a different mindset – made all the difference and the rest of that section fell into place.

My sisters and I grew up playing board games and that’s a place where having the same background and upbringing has had its advantages. We’ve instilled our love of board games in our children, but there was a time when my son vowed he’d never play with us again. He was eleven or twelve at the time and partnered with his grandma, and probably his younger sister. My sisters and I were a team. We were playing Taboo. Taboo is a word game where one tries to get the rest of the team members to guess a word by giving clues. When it was The Girls’ turn, the clue-giver barely had a word out of her mouth before the other two of us guessed the word. We were racking up the points, our mom was cracking up laughing . . . and my son was not happy. He accused us of cheating. He was sure we were somehow showing each other the words, or we’d picked out certain words beforehand because there was no other way for us to rapid-fire our answers the way we were doing. Or we had a secret code. That was probably closer to the truth. We obviously didn’t cheat or have a secret code, but we understood each other so well we knew what word clue would trigger the right response.

A current project of mine is editing a friend’s manuscript. He’s from my hometown and I’m so enjoying the short vignettes he’s putting together for his family. Part of that enjoyment comes from the stories themselves, but another part is the language – they take me home. The thing is, some of the wording is not grammatically correct, but it sounds right to my ear because that’s the way I heard my grandparents, parents, and hometown friends speak. In fact, I first wrote ‘ . . . they bring me home.’ because that sounds right even though I know it’s not. I’ll note those places in his manuscript, but caution about editing all of them out at the risk of losing the voice of the storyteller. Some of what he’s written and how it’s written would sound odd to someone not from the Midwest, but for his family it will be familiar.

I’ve now lived in South Carolina longer than I did in my birth state of Ohio, and yet Ohio will always be home. Language and understanding where I come from is a big part of that feeling. That’s not a unique sensation. In making my new home more familiar, I had to learn some new language. I’m not talking about the stereotypical things people always say about Southern phrases because that would be, well, stereotyping and degrading. But there are specific words that still catch me. I heard one just the other day. Down here the word ‘stay’ often means where one lives. So one may ask, “Where do you stay?” and what they want to know is ‘Where do you live?’, meaning a specific address.

The meaning makes perfect sense, it’s just not the context in which I’d use the word. For me ‘stay’ usually means a temporary location – When I go to Ohio I stay with one of my sisters. Where do you stay when you go to the beach or the mountains?

Once when my dad came to stay for a week or so, he attended a Scout ceremony with us. We introduced Dad to our son’s Scout leader, Larry, and Dad being the friendly sort that he was started a conversation. Larry, being the gentleman he was, simply smiled, then asked Dad to repeat what he’d said. And repeat it a second time. Finally Larry laughed and in his wonderful Southern drawl said, “Sir, you talk about as fast as I talk slow.” Dad understood that, laughed along, slowed down and repeated a third time. That time Larry got it.

Words are wonderful things to play with, they introduce us to new cultures and experiences, and of course they’re part of how we communicate. But like in the situation with my dad and Larry, even when we have the right words, they don’t matter if we don’t slow down and listen.

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