“Come her-ah, Je-an!” said Momma in a stern voice.
I was in a full gallop running around our small home Daddy had renovated from a meager tenant house. Both Momma and my second momma, Tootsie chased me around the house in an attempt to brush my honey-blonde curls momma called knots. We were all three running in the same direction.
Tootsie turned around and headed in the opposite way; I was doomed. “I gotcha, Dupe,” Tootsie said using her pet name for me as she grabbed me with her strong, black arms.
“Good!” Momma said. “I was tired of chasing you around the house with this assified brush.”
I said my VERY first BAD WORD!
My three-year-old response was, “I don’t like that assified brush.”
“What did you just say to me?”
There was no doubting Momma’s angry tone or what was about to come. Assified might not seem like much of a cuss word these days, but even at three I knew repeating my first cuss word was going to get me into a heap of trouble.
Tootsie to the Rescue!
Then my hero, Tootsie chimed in, “Oh, no, Miss Eleanor. You not gwine fuss at my baby chile. You done say dat word furst.”
I guess my fear of saying assified got branded by brain ‘cause that became my very first childhood memory. My native Johns Island is a place of multicultural languages: We got your Southernisms plus the Mother Tongue of the Sea Island, Gullah.
The Beautiful Poetic Language of Gullah
It’s nice to know that even the smart folks at Harvard University understand the value of this resurrecting this poetic language. According to Harvard instructor, Sunn Cheaux, “The Gullah language is a creole, the result of essentially taking multiple existing languages and mashing them all up into one. Mix in some other elements indigenous to the Sea Islands and surrounding areas, and you have a whole new language. That in a nutshell is Gullah. Still spoken by locals-with no regard to race, I had a front row seat to learning and loving this language.
Gullah developed independently on the Sea Islands off the coast of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
Two Great Blessings
God bless these Momma and Tootsie —they loved me, disciplined me and put up with my assified self until I was old enough to know manners and respect for others.
Here is one of my first sweet tea secrets from the deep-fried South…. we raise crops and rear children, but on Johns Island we were all accountable to one another to discipline children in a team effort and believe it or not, no one called the authorities. We respected authority and learned to respect ourselves.
I miss that
Jane Jenkins Herlong is a Sirius XM Humorist, international best-selling/award-winning author, professional singer, recording artist and award-winning professional speaker.
Jane is a member of the Speaker Hall of Fame and one of the 232 men and women to be awarded this honor including former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the late General Colin L. Powell. Jane has also achieved the distinction of becoming a Certified Speaking Professional by the National Speakers Association.