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I Writ the Hole Thang in Hoosier Twang, Almost

Some Hoosiers are sad this year that native son Jim Nabors, who is ailing, won’t be able to sing “Back Home Again in Indiana” at this year’s Indy “500.” He’s sung it for decades at the track. If Florence Henderson (from Dale, Indiana) performs it instead, who’s going to exclaim, “Goll-ee”?

Well now, the book is done, by golly, for the very last final time, and I’m here to tell ya’s it was fun to write so much Hoosier Twang. Land sakes, I love where I’m from!

Who doesn’t like this gal?

It’s about these two young men who fall in love; one’s city, one’s country. One’s tall, one’s short; one’s dark, one’s blond. They’s both of ’em hot, and they loves each other.

My mother would probably die. But, um, she actually took care of that already, and I hope she’s havin’ fun up there in the clouds readin’ about them two boys-a mine.

I wrote these guys to be so close to each other that contrasts are obviously necessary. Jamie’s speeches are meticulously crafted, while Kent’s, uh, freelance.

The city boy’s originally from the country, though, which oughta tell ya somethin’. If he weren’t, I’m not sure they could have ever quite gotten together. As happens in any relationship, they influence each other in thought, word and deed. Toward the end of the story, Jamie loosens up a little. He can talk Hoosier with the best of ’em, which I compare to The Americanization of Emily, a wonderful ’60s film with Julie Andrews and Jimmy Garner.

“I’m grotesquely sentimental,” she said. “I fall in love at the drop of a hat.”

Kent’s the butch one; farmboys always is, ’cause of all that time they spend plowin’ up the dirt. I dunno, it makes ’em butch somehow.

But Jamie’s studly too, which is one of the themes I explore. Gayboys get so hung up on masculinity, who’s on top and who ain’t. When ya think about it, it’s kind of a useless thing to worry about; ya are what ya are, buddy. If bugs in the house scare ya, then they do; ya can’t help it, except with fly-swatters, Raid ‘n’ a bazooka, so don’t be too hard on yerself. “Ya’s just that way, that’s all; ain’t nothin’ wrong with it, even if I do kinda tease ya sometimes.”

The city boy can build things the country boy cannot; that’s one of the reasons I like this book.

Mind you, it’s been 40 years since I heard an authentic Hoosier Twang; our native dialect has been obliterated by pervasive television and radio, where all the announcers speak Standard American English (which is Midwestern, by the way). For reasons I’ve long forgotten – because I was cruising – I ran across these two guys in the woods. We spoke; I don’t remember the first guy, but there was this fellow from Monticello (Indiana, due east of here maybe 30-40 miles) who took my breath away. I couldn’t tell you what he looked like, but I’ll never forget that twang.

I had to listen hard; I could barely understand him. I knew he was speaking English, but from a hundred years before.

He was what we all sounded like once upon a time. We were illiterate; we talked the best we could, but man oh man. That pore child was a mess.

I don’t remember what he looked like, whether he was hot or not; these two friends were probably ready to get it on with me, but I walked away. He was too different from me; my mother insisted on “creek,” not “crick,” “garage,” not “gararge” – “Chicago,” not “Shicahga.”

I don’t remember feeling superior to him; it was more that he was foreign.

Funny, that; he was native. I was foreign.

My mother grew up dirt-poor, but she insisted that we speak Standard English. And I have ever since; it was a kind of loyalty test, and of course I was loyal to my mother.

She didn’t want us held back because of how we spoke.

She was doing us a favor – though now I wish I’d had a tape recorder while tramping in those woods and hearing what Honest Abe used to sound like.

People hated Lincoln; his voice was high-pitched and he sounded like the prairie he came from. He overcame that with the eloquence of the Gettysburg Address.

The Hoosier Twang has been lost. We still drawl our way through most of our sentences, especially among friends, but the old dialects have been buried.

I’m a little sorry to see them go; not entirely sorry, because education’s a good thing, but losing our twang has cost us our history, and the teachers never mentioned any of that.

“Creek!” “Chicago!” I remember just a few old words.

I’d be even poorer than I am if I spoke the old dialect; that was probably why Mom was so insistent. I don’t blame her, she did me a favor. I learned; I’ve been a careful speaker ever since.

Well, except for this: my brother Steve, who’s gone now too. He was from Northwest Indiana, same as I am; he got the lectures too, and attended to them just like I have.

But then he moved to southern Indiana, and being there changed how he came across.

He didn’t want to speak a different language than his customers did; he adapted, he relaxed. Good for him.

He managed small electric companies, co-ops and such, after spending years rising through the ranks at NIPSCO in the northern part of the state.

If you look up Hoosier Twang online, Wikipedia wants to collapse it into “Midland American English.” This is unfortunate, not detailed enough; the article lacks nuance – when the fact is that language is largely a result of geography and demographics. If there’s a hill that “people from here” don’t cross, “people from there” speak a little differently. Scotland and Wales are still bitching about being part of Great Britain, centuries after England walloped those places. (And God bless ’em for it; uniformity is not the ultimate goal here.)

Steve started talking a little southern; and in our last few years together, after Mom died, I did too.

The Hoosier Twang is not primarily Southern; the state borders Kentucky, which has its own rich accent, but the Twang isn’t southern, it’s northern. And it’s illiterate. I’m not ashamed of that; why would I be?

The state I live in was settled by two main routes: by the Ohio River from Kentucky, which is where Steve settled, and by the National Road from Richmond on the Ohio border, the central and northern overland route. (Richmond is fairly prominent in That Book.)

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think the Twang is a northern Thang. Monticello is north; I could barely understand that guy.

Well, let’s come to some conclusions now; both Kent and Jamie are from northern Indiana. The Gay One is a mama’s boy and speaks precisely; the Not So/Just as Gay One is a daddy’s boy, who sounds just like the farm. (This makes sense; he’s a police officer, dealing with the public, and people who come into contact with law enforcement are not, by and large, BBC announcers. He adapts; if it helps him relate, he drawls.) (It does not hurt that he speaks exactly like his Daddy did.)

I hope people enjoy the book; I’ve had a blast writing it, even though it cost me ten years of blood, toil, tears and sweat.

Playwright and columnist George Ade.

Meanwhile this last fact: I live in the birthplace town of George Ade, who was once a very famous, rich columnist and playwright. A hundred years ago he had four comedies playing simultaneously on Broadway, a feat that wasn’t matched for 70 years, until Neil Simon came along. It mattered to me in childhood that a famous writer was born and grew up where I did.

He wrote in dialect, which must have been hilarious at the time. It isn’t anymore, he’s completely forgotten, except here. Come Tuesday I’m going to tour his nearby estate with members of the county historical society. He had quite a place, which he called Hazelden, with 1920’s flappers and pols and movie stars. I’m looking forward to the tour.

He never married; the amateur historians don’t want to think about that. He was a single man, a bachelor, and that was allowed; it still is. You could even call me a bachelor, though I wish you wouldn’t.

George loved football players; so do I. Purdue University’s stadium is called Ross-Ade thanks to him.

Purdue never touches a question about Mr. Ade’s sexual orientation. Neither does the county historical society.

But he built a beautiful house, neo-Tudor, and filled it with artworks, especially Chinese jade. I’m looking forward to this tour – though as a kid I snuck up into his house above the golf course to see all his wonderworks there.

The Book is done; hail, hail and all that. What I remember the most was that Monticello boy who spoke an indecipherable language.

He was Indiana; I’m just an imitation.++

6 Responses

  1. Nice. Thanks you for whisking me through the various tones (around my house those are shades of color — I guess around your house they are too, just different). Mr. Ade´s sexual orientation doesn´t account for much, why should it, there was nothing historical about being closeted (when he had so many to choose from it could have been like the doors opening and closing in The Importance of Being Ernest)…but, alas, it´s the Jade collection that tells us most all…that clever fellow, buried his passion in shades of Jades–tones so to speak…no doubt he had big times in New York with so many hits…he no doubt was a hit all on his own uptown, downtown, midtown– we´ll never know, but it looks like the Jade collection survived him intact…a clue that none was stolen in a suite in the middle of the night at the Algonquin Hotel or drapped around the neck of a ¨flapper beauty¨ dancing for him as fast as can-can!

    You know my friend friend South Bend that I mention (over and over again)…she´s now 74 years old but quite the flapper/trapper — she dates a lot even though she´s running a little out of steam…one of the things that always amuses me is when she refers to a fine meal as ¨delectable¨…always has and I never heard that anywhere but coming from her satisfied lips…she thinks men are also…delectable that is (I wonder if Mr. Ade did)?

    Delectable.

    Hmmmm.

    Love to you and Luke,
    Len

  2. I wonder if he was friends with Cole Porter?

  3. Anybody can win – unless there happens to be a second entry.
    George Ade

    Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/g/george_ade.html#V2RGdKQDCuG63Spk.99

  4. I stopped to laugh when you invoked the slamming doors of “Being Earnest.” You could have said the same thing about the stage version of “Victor/Victoria.” (Which was a mess, except for the door-slamming sight gags. Pure Blake Edwards; nobody better.)

    I do think Mr. Ade’s jade collection might have an implication; and I do think he had flappers and chorus boys everywhere he looked. He was a Theatre Man, and you know what’s up with those guys. I admire him for escaping this cultural desert – and just as much, I admire him for coming back once he made it big. He got famous young; the Dave Barry of his day, a comedian in print. His best friend was another newspaperman from a few miles down the road.

    I am not one who believes that All Great Men Were, or that our self-esteem should be bound up in the careers of celebrities. If George Ade never met the right girl, that’s fine with me; if he never met the right boy, that’s a little tragic. (Or maybe he did meet the right boy, but in those days one never spoke about it.)

    I very much like that at the height of his fame, he came back home and built a big mansion, golf course and watering hole in Brook, Indiana. That’s so crazed; only an artist would do such a thing.

    He came back to the people he loved the best, and he was right.

    His sprawling estate hosted William Howard Taft and Teddy Roosevelt, as well as every Hollywood and Broadway star in the pantheon. Yet he was an unassuming Everyman, like his beloved Mark Twain.

    He was a Hoosier, and he’d have loved to meet that Gay boy from Monticello. He could have turned him into a column in less than a week.

    But he didn’t meet him; I did. And I’m grateful. He taught me more about my people than I learned in 12 years of school.

    We are Americans; we were illiterate, and we often still are. But we muddle through somehow, and I know for a cold hard fact that if I were ever in serious need, my neighbors would pitch in for me. And they wouldn’t ask about my private life or expect me to tell much of anything.

    As you can guess I’m a little proud of my Fable in Slang.

  5. You´ve got all the information…look for things (things only we would know)…the cartoonist in the back corridor sounds likely to me.

  6. John T. McCutcheon; they were fast friends, college boys together.

    Purdue University has Ross-Ade Stadium and McCutcheon Hall; they were both generous contributors. John T. got married, George did not. We’ll never know.

    It’s not that I want Mr. Ade to be Gay; I want Gay kids from this county to be safe, and have role models, and get famous if they want to; to write books, to have presidents come to them, to have flappers and chorus boys and parties all weekend, with a special train down from Chicago.

    If they have that, they won’t need me or him. No one in their right mind would follow me, but they could do worse than follow him. Two miles past Brook!

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