Sunday, February 28, 2021

I Totally Heart Leslie Jordan ...


(Edited, content added - bonus video added on 3/1/2021 :)

After seeing an ad for Mayim Bialik's new show, "Call me Kat," about a woman who opens a cat cafe in Louisville, KY (which would never actually happen or fly, here in Kentucky, btw), costarring Leslie Jordan, I was reminded of the video of Leslie Jordan below that my sister-in-law sent me, a few months ago lol.   I think it was on Mother's Day, in fact lol.

For those unaware of who Leslie is, you've seen him 1,000 times in movies like The Help and on TV shows like Will & Grace and Boston Legal, and you would likely recognize his face and thick Southern (Tennessee) accent, but many may not know him by name, but it's Leslie Jordan. 

The accent, by the way, is a 100% authentic Kentucky/Tennessee rural (but still middle-class) accent (as opposed to true, full-blown redneck rural, though people not from our area may not be able to tell the difference lol). 

He grew up in an extremely religious Southern Baptist conservative family, and was baptized 14 times out of guilt, because he knew he was gay.  (He also later moved to LA and became an alcoholic/addict and has been sober for 22 years.)

I absolutely love him, he's adorable - he reminds me of one particular gay friend I made while waiting tables, back in college, telling crazy-but-true stories with whip-snapback sharp wit :)

Anyway, Leslie is also a true Southern storyteller, entertaining millions during COVID quarantine with his stories - and the one sent to me by my sister-in-law a few months ago tells this story of his mother and twin sisters' trip to Florida in the early 70s, about trying to decide the correct way to pronounce, "Kissimmee, Florida" that ends with an unexpected twist, due to misunderstanding and someone's misassumption that his Southern-drawl family must be ignorant - LOL.

(I switched out the video for another one that also includes some of his other quarantine lockdown stories and life observations, immediately after the initial Kissimmee/Burger King story.)

Let that first story be a lesson to you, America - some Southerners - like Leslie - may talk slower, but are much sharper than you think - and sometimes, the joke's on you lol ;) 

Note how he alternates between calling his beloved mother, "Momma/Mama" and "Mother" - never "Mom" or "Mommy"- that's the true old-school Southern way, white or black.  

"Momma/Mama" was traditionally said by the working and poor classes; but in the Southern "gentile" and wealthier classes - actually middle-class on up - it was always "Mother" -  never "Mom" or "Mommy."  In fact, that used to be a "tell" that you and/or your family were actually from the Midwest, North, or West. 

Since those times, "Momma" and "Mother" are interchangeable between classes, in the South; but still, to this day, it's rarely "Mom" or "Mommy"  - except in the urban/suburban South.

For example, in cities like Lexington, Louisville, Nashville, Knoxville, Atlanta, Kansas City, Little Rock, Birmingham, and Dallas/Ft. Worth (and their greater metropolitan/suburban regions), depending on where their family was originally from, they often call their mothers "Mom" and "Mommy," too, rather than "Momma/Mama."  

As interesting example of this old-school class distinction was my maternal grandmother, Granny "Do"  for Dolores. Granny "Do" (pronounced "Doe") was born and raised as an upper-middle-class Southern city gal, riding the Lexington Trolley everywhere and whose family owned a car before most of the rest of Lexington.

Her father (my great-grandfather), Robert Taylor Mann, was one of five electrical engineers who started the electric company co-op that would eventually become Kentucky Utilities.  Her brothers were all college-educated engineers at UK (University of Kentucky) - one of whom worked on the Panama Canal - and her only living sister went to nursing school, became an RN, and was an Army nurse in WW2 and in Korea, who never married.

My grandmother, on the other hand, was the pampered baby of the family, who preferred the idea of being a fairy-tale princess finding her Prince Charming to her studies, and she never even knew how to make her own bed or how to cook until she was married - either her mother and/or their maid did it lol.   

After her sister persuaded her to at least attend business school for two years instead of college for backup (just in case she was widowed young, like their mother), she received a certificate in business and accounting before marrying my grandfather, but still went with the young-bride plan - except she chose to "marry down," as we say in the South, and fell in love/married my grandfather in a "lower class" during the depression, when everyone else had lost just about everything, and if you had land, you actually likely fared better, as you could farm for your own sustenance and was a smart move.  

My grandfather was a blue-collar electrician and farmer, but who was actually one of the most brilliant outside-of-the-box thinkers I've ever known, despite having only an 8th grade education, quitting school to help his family farm - what a scientist or lawyer or politician, he could've been. 

As an interesting side note, the business school that my Aunt 'Lizbeth persuaded her to do turned out to be a smart move and came in handy - because during WW2, she was approached by a member of the Jessamine County City Council, while hanging clothes on the line to dry, asking her if it was true she'd been to business school, and if she would be interested in becoming the interim manager of the Jessamine County ASCS office while the current manager, and most local men, were overseas at war!   

The ASCS  - which stood for the Agricultural Stabilization and and Conservation Service - was one of President Roosevelt's new government programs set up to help stabilize the economy after the depression.  It set the amount of tobacco you could sell, as well as temporarily also set the price, because tobacco was super easy to grow, and at that time, we had more supply than demand, so tobacco was worth basically nothing during the depression.  

Later, in rare example, my grandmother was actually not replaced by the former male manager after his return from the war, or even another man, at the end of WW2 - she kept that management job for another 30 years and was adored by all of her farmers.

And yes, by the way - she learned how to make her bed, cook soul food with gusto, and even kill chickens for Sunday chicken dinner, because my grandfather and family would have none of that pampered city-girl stuff on the farm - living on a farm, you better learn how to do a bunch of often non-feminine stuff you have to do to survive - especially during an economic depression - that you never thought you'd have to do and don't want to do lol.

In fact, if you've ever seen the movie, "Cold Mountain," Nicole Kidman's character, Ada, being taught by farm-girl Ruby how to do for herself and tear up her useless ball gowns for quilts,  throw off the gloves and fans, hike up her skirts to dig in the dirt and live off the land, killing chickens and hogs, and learning to use a rifle to protect her farm and herself during the Civil War? That was essentially my grandmother - 75 years later, during The Great Depression lol.

Can you imagine?  

I mean, my grandmother was the spoiled-rotten baby of the family, but she was never snotty and arrogant, her mother made sure of that, instilling in her part of being a lady was also being kind and compassionate like Christ - and yet this life still must've been a huge wake-up call.

"Hello, Fairy-Tale Baby Princess - welcome to the Great Depression, and you married a farmer and essentially moved to Little House on the Prairie - so get to stepping - start digging, stripping feathers, and learning how to hold a rifle and shoot, should the need arise lol. "

Also, can you imagine that happening today, or even then, right after the depression, someone walking up to you, while you're doing your laundry at home, asking you if you want a federal government job, which gave you federal-employee benefits for life  - or any job, for that matter? lol

Anyway - back to the "Mama" word choice -  we all called my grandmother's mother - my great-grandmother - "Mama Mann" - but my grandmother would die before she'd ever call her own mother "Momma/Mama" or "Mommy" or "Mom" herself.

So even though by the time she passed, she had been so surrounded by a rural community, after marrying young, that she mostly spoke "country," as if she was raised on a farm her whole life, there were sometimes still rare little "tells" of the original class she was born into - and one of those "tells" was she always both spoke to, and referred to, her mother by the full, formal "Mother." :)

She'd also die before she ever used the word "ain't," even though she was surrounded by it in later life lol :)  

She said this was because her mother would send her, and her siblings, away from the "supper" table for 10 minutes, if caught saying it. 

Mind you, this also also happened if she went into a fit of giggles (which she'd call "got tickled") at her 3 older brothers' antics at the dinner table (which happened frequently with my grandmother anyway),  until she could get a hold of herself lol.  

It also happened with her older sister, my Aunt 'Lizbeth (short for "Mary-Elizabeth" - pronounced "Mury-'Lizbeth" in the South, shortened to "Aunt "Lizbeth" by her great nieces, because you try saying "Aunt Mary-Elizabeth" as a toddler) -  but being eight years older, she could get a handle on it quicker than my grandmother. 

This was part of the proper social training for well-bred Southern ladies, you see, as men didn't get in trouble for being silly at the dinner table, nor trying to make ladies laugh; thus, it was your job, as a lady-hostess-in-training, to set the tone at dinner, control yourself and your "hysterical giggle fits" regardless of what the men said and did, even changing the subject of conversation if things got too silly or too tense, instead.

Thus, Mama Mann would say, "Young Ladies?  If you can't control your hysterical giggles, you may be excused from the table, and you may only return when you have composed yourselves and remembered proper decorum." lol ;)

This "never-say-ain't" rule was also instilled in my mother by my grandmother, despite being raised on a farm - never use the word "ain't" - it was like a cardinal sin in my mother's mother's side of family, except my usually quiet grandfather used it loudly when being irritated and sarcastic - i.e., "Ohh, well, ain't he proud, acting thatta way?" LOL.

(This "never-say-ain't" rule was ingrained in me too, though mostly raised in suburban Cincinnati -  but like my grandfather, I sometimes use it when I'm being sarcastic, because it's just - funny  :)

However, one rule that was NOT continued past Mama Mann's supper table reign was the silly/giggle/"gettin' tickled' rule at the table. 

Now, you still weren't allowed to play with your food, make bubbles in your milk with your straw, or stick carrot sticks up your nose, use bathroom humor, or anything like that, at the supper table - male OR female - (which I know because of course I tried all of those things at least once lol) - but giggling and silliness during "supper" was welcome part of family togetherness - as long as you kept your mouth closed or you covered your mouth with your hand, so no one could see your food while chewing, and you didn't spit out your food; if you did, then you were politely asked to be excused for a moment ;)

Also note that especially in these urban/suburban communities in the South, you have to earn the title of "Momma" or "Mama" as your actual nickname - it's an honorary title bestowed upon you - meaning you have to be both a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother AND a mother to an entire community, white OR Black, and often also a widow.

For example -  our own "Mama Mann" was not only mother to 6 children (one sister, Marguerite, died at age 12 from appendicitis and a ruptured appendix, before Granny Do was born), 6 grandchildren (most of her children only had one child), and 8 great-grandchildren, and widowed by age 40,  but she was also president of both the Lexington chapter of the Southern Baptist "Women's Circle" and the local chapter of "Samaritan's Purse" Baptist charity, as well as also fed much of the city of Lexington soup, from off her back porch, during The Great Depression - thus, everyone, related to her or not, called her "Mama Mann"  :)  

In fact, her first name was actually "Anna," which I didn't even know until I was like 15, because nobody ever called her Anna, or even Mrs. Mann - it was always "Mama Mann" lol.

Often in Southern black urban communities, such a family/community matriarch is called "Big Mama" - which non-Southern people erroneously think is due to a large size, which is sometimes the case, but not always, and not the main reason - the title is actually bestowed on them more because they are a mother to many :)

Otherwise, it's "Granny" or "Gramma" or "MaMaw" or MeMaw" in the South - rarely "Nana."

Also interesting is that she often used the word "mustn't" when correcting us - i.e. "Now, you mustn't do that ..." 

That was another "tell" of her original Southern upper-middle-class city-gal upbringing - because nobody uses the word "mustn't," anymore, especially in the rural south; in fact, when it was used, 95% of the time, it was someone from the upper middle class on up, regardless of region - but use of the word mostly died out by the 1950s lol. 

Back to Leslie, note also how sometimes second pronouns get skipped before a verb in the second part of a compound sentence - i.e., "Mother asked the girl, said, 'Where ARE we?'" 

Yep, dead on Kentucky/Tennessee accent/vernacular :)

Yeah, so being raised in the Cincinnati suburbs, with my entire family from different classes in Kentucky, I'm a mixed-class, mixed rural/urban/suburban, mixed Midwest/Southern-culture gal who can speak both Southern and Northern and interpret one to the other - no wonder I'm always so confused lol.

Perhaps it's also why I'm so interested in dialect and the varying use of language; in fact, if I ever went back to college, I'd probably study linguistics, I just find it so interesting - because I've always naturally noticed the sometimes small variances in the language people use, even slight variations, sometimes from the same region but different social classes, to the point where I can almost tell the city or suburb you're from, and the social class, at least in Cincinnati and Kentucky, because my family was such a mix  :)


PS - after switching out the above video to include other clips of Leslie's, I just now saw one I'd never seen, with him singing and dancing a song from his one-man NYC show, called "Hysterical Blindness and Other Southern Tragedies (That Have Plagued My Life)" - the lyrics of a song called "Ain't No Queers in Heaven," which include, "Another queen for Satan's choir, singing show tunes in the fire" - HAHAHA! 

He's joking, of course, out of guilt and what Southern people say about his being gay, but that's a Southern-Baptist-raised gay man for you that "failed conversion"  - there's a lot of pain under that master-class shade throwing/make 'em laugh exterior :(


PPS - BONUS - Leslie's interview with Katie Couric, discussing things you may not have known about his life, including the death of his father, a Lt. Colonel and pilot (his plane went down when Leslie was only 11), as well as how supportive his father was, despite his asking for a bride doll for Christmas when he was just 3 years old, and originally exercise-riding race horses in his 20s, due to his short stature (he's 4'11") with dreams of becoming a jockey, as well as being arrested and jailed for 12 days, at the same time as Robert Downey, Jr., and writing RDJ a letter when he left, asking him to look out for the HIV-positive guy that no one would eat lunch with (which RDJ carried around with him for a long time), and being clean and sober for 22 years :(  

By the way, he pronounces Louisville the "correct" Kentucky way - "Luahvuhl" :)

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