THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
Last Tuesday my wife Gwen the Beautiful and I packed up the truck and took a nice, leisurely drive to St. Louis. The first leg of our five hour journey was from the ranch up to Branson, Mo., home of Andy Williams, Mickey Gilley, and all your favorite entertainers who died twenty years ago but are keeping it quiet.
From there we continued up to Springfield, home of Bass Pro, the makers of fishing gear treated by my neighbors pretty much the way I imagine the ancient Israelites treated the Ark of the Covenant.
The remainder of the drive consisted of three hours of straight four-lane highway, definitely a major treat. The highlight of this stretch was the drop-off of the Ozarks at Rolla, where all traces of Southern geography abruptly vanished. From there to St. Louis it was pure Midwest.
Neither Gwen nor I had ever stopped in St. Louis before. Turns out it’s a nice little city of about 270,000 people. Small by urban standards, but bigger than anywhere I’ve been in years.
St. Louis is a city of neighborhoods, laid out on a rectangular grid. Easy to navigate, and easy on the eyes. Classic Midwestern architecture. Brick buildings. Cafes, bars, and international cuisine. We gorged ourselves on delicious Indian food.
The people we met were much different from those we’ve become used to in the South. Their body language clearly established that we were in the North.
In the South people lean back even when they walk forward. In St. Louis everyone I saw was angled forward into their lives. Their movements were quicker too. The scratching of a nose took place in the blink of an eye, a task to be gotten over with. At home in the South taking care of an itch is an experience to be savored, something worth doing in and of itself.
In St. Louis, people walk with a vengeance. Putting one foot in front of the other is a means to an end, and that end is reaching their destination as quickly as possible. This can be especially gratifying in a restaurant, where you know your wait person is getting your order in for you while it’s hot.
In the South, walking is a kind of kinetic sculpture. When a wait person walks to the kitchen he or she is creating what I can only think of as a scenic cruise – a body rolling casually and, on a good day, seductively into its next adventure.
The way people speak in St. Louis is of course much different from the way we speak in the south. Intonation is flat, slightly nasal, and the word “all” sounds more like “awl.” We’re not talking anything as strong as in the states bordering Canada, but I could hear the beginnings of the habits that blossom in St. Paul.
Here in the South English has evolved into a more inflected language. Meaning and communication come not only from what word is used but also from how a word is said.
It’s not a matter of irony or sarcasm – very little of that makes its way past the polite Southern exteriors that have continued from ante to post-bellum days. It’s about varying syllabication.
The same word can be pronounced with one syllable or two or even three. Gwen, for example, can be “Gwyn,” or “Gwy-un,” or “Ga-we-un,” depending on who’s saying her name and how they feel about her and how they want her to feel about herself.
I liked St. Louis. As tourists, Gwen and I had a great time. We’ll go back and sample more of its culture. We may even explore the possibility of me spending a few months as a visiting professor at one of the zillion universities there. But my St. Louis Adventure taught me that no matter what the North has to offer, I’m really a Southerner at heart.
Not just because I was born in Nashville, Tennessee, but because even though I’ve traveled and lived pretty much all over the world, I find that the one thing I can’t imagine living without is the sound of a Southerner’s soft-voiced “Hi…”
Because in spite of how low-key it seems, every word a Southerner says is packed with everything the speaker has to give.
And you can’t find that kind of attention anywhere else on this earth.