Averyell A. Kessler
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Talking Honey©Averyell A. KesslerAs the child of midwestern parents, I was not taught the language of the south. Instead of Ohio, Daddy said Ahiya. Mama attended Northwestern in Chicaga and rode the “L” – whatever that was. My conversion happened by osmosis, as gentle expressions and soft southern words covered me like a fine mist. Unspoken lessons came from my backyard playmates who explained what an ice box was and insisted on drinking coke, not pop. I also learned to say Biloxi, not Bulocksee, and that it was ok to omit a syllable or two from the name of my home state. My Baptist friends explained that up yonder meant heaven and the minister was really the preacher. Also, that a revival could occur in a tent, a baptism might take place in a cattle pond, or a burial in the middle of a pasture.My only relatives lived far away in Columbus Ohio, a foreign land. They rooted for Ohio state (treason), grew unfamiliar vegetables such as swiss chard and wax beans, and ate food that even the most incompetent southern cook would have tossed out immediately. They spoke in squawks and beeps that sounded like a jackhammer on pavement. Thankfully, I only saw them once a year, but when that time arrived, I braced for the onslaught. My youngest cousin, Sue, always welcomed me with the same greeting “Eeew, you talk funny.” I tried not to say y’all, but it slipped out every so often and she laughed.“You-all havin’ fun up nawth,” Sue teased.“Y’all is plural,” I replied. “It’s a lot better that you guys.”I was suspicious when my aunt and cousin invited me out for a special lunch in downtown Columbus, a ladies’ only affair. My mother and I put on Sunday School dresses and met them at the Lazarus, a massive department store big enough to swallow Jackson’s Kennington’s in one gulp. It boasted gleaming escalators, sold everything from clarinets to canaries, and was taller than the First National Bank building. An elegant lunchroom was on the second floor.“Guess what?” Sue announced as we were seated by a long wall of windows with a panoramic view of downtown Columbus. “We’re going to be on the radio.”I smiled but said nothing.“It’s the Lunch on the Town Show with Robbie Robertson,” my aunt continued.“Who? Mama asked, rolling her eyes. Certainly, this was not Farmer Jim Neal or Woodie Assaf.“He interviews people having lunch here every Friday. I thought it would be fun. I’m sure he’ll want to talk to you and Averyell.”“Oh no,” I thought. “Here it comes. More teasing.”As I nibbled my way around the edges of a chicken sandwich, I tried to make myself small by an exercise of will. It didn’t work. When Robbie entered the room, he headed straight for our table like a streaking arrow. The next moment he lifted his microphone close to my lips and said, “I understand we have some folks from Mississippi here today.”“Yes, sir,” I answered. His eyes blinked once, twice. “What a polite young lady,” he said. The interview continued for ten eternal minutes as he asked benign questions about life in Mississippi, nodding and urging me on when I fell silent.Suddenly, Cousin Sue interrupted, “Don’t you think she talks funny?”Robbie turned and leveled Sue with searchlight eyes. “Sweetheart,” he answered. “I was born and raised in Memphis,Tennessee. She sounds like honey to me.”Sue shrank in her seat, her face flamed red. No one mentioned my accent again. I left the lunchroom with a bouquet of roses and a $100 gift certificate from Lazarus. Sue left with a sullen face, and tight, pressed together lips. It was a small but gratifying triumph.So, what exactly is a honey voice. For starters, it neither black nor white, young or old, or solely in the possession of women. It’s the gentle tone of home. I hear it when a childhood friend calls to invite me to lunch, or the grocery guy says, “You need a hand with that ma’am?” It’s a grandmother singing into a baby’s ear, or a little boy licking his thumb and asking, “when are we gonna cut that pie?” I recognize it when a gospel choir stands for Just a Closer Walk with Thee and tender harmony flows like sweet cream. A honey voice whispers softly like wind sweeping through pine trees and gives respite from the constant noise of electronic clatter. It speaks with a rhythm that can’t be duplicated and tells a tale like nobody’s business.A small caveat – a honey voice can raise a ruckus when needed. I remember an irritated Delta lady shrieking “Hush your mouth! You’re as drunk as Cooter Brown.” It’s an SEC coach taunting his opponent with “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay under the porch.” It was the growling curses of my grandfather when a cadre of squirrels attacked his fig trees. “Get outta here, you $#+&% varmits!” Thankfully, honey voices are still around, despite the efforts of some to neutralize deep south culture and transform us into a vanilla society. I’m not buying it.. Speaking honey is a trademark of my state and a warm greeting that never fails, especially when I’ve traveled far from home. It’s our southern identity, our poetry, and the quiet trademark of our way of life, slow, open, and welcoming. We may disagree, but we still share a cup of coffee on the front porch. Of course, there are rotten eggs, always have been, always will be, but if enough of us speak honey, we’ll drown them out. My remedy may seem simplistic, but it’s a start. “Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”*Proverbs 16:24
Madam Editor©Averyell A. Kessler In the olden, golden days at Murrah High School, I was editor of our newspaper, Hoofbeat, during my senior year. Sadly, I was forced to choose between prancing across the football field in a short white skirt, boots, and cowboy hat and editing the school newspaper. Words won, as they always do with me. So, my dreams of Murrah Miss glory vanished in the foggy mist of halftime and I learned to love ink on my fingers, the five W’s, and basic headline writing.The toughest part of the job was coming up with an editorial for each edition. Looking back, most were a mediocre combination of simpler times, ruthless faculty supervision, and teenage idiocy. Sneaking a cigarette in the upstairs bathroom was a serious crime, as was a speeding ticket resulting from the after school drag race on Riverside Drive. Graffiti was an unknown concept. I was once called to the principal’s office when a photo of a misplaced Budweiser can appeared on page 3. My bad! Thankfully, the business of uprooting history and parsing pronouns had not yet come along.I’ve often wondered what I’d say now with years under my belt and a bit of life experience. Instead of addressing the debacle at the debate team’s concession stand, maybe I should have said….Do not wear a black dress to the homecoming dance. Coco Channel was a genius and her little black dress looked great on Audrey Hepburn, but its hard to be sophisticated at sixteen. And a low neckline may cause trouble.Algebra and Geometry are critical components on a college application, but you’ll not use them in the vegetable section of the grocery store. The words protractor and compass may appear in the Sunday crossword puzzle, but they won’t be must-haves in your office. No one will ask you “If a train departs Jackson for a 185-mile trip to New Orleans at 45 MPH, and a second train leaves New Orleans traveling to Jackson……………..” You know the drill.Be careful in the backseat of anybody’s car.Congrats to those of you in typing class. You will not be taking dictation in the boss’s office or chained to a Remington Rand as big as a sea turtle. In the future, the typewriter will be a white elephant relic, but you will be a wiz on something called a laptop.Do not allow lipstick to melt in an evening purse, sit idly by when a coach tries to produce chlorine gas in chemistry class, or allow your eyeglasses to drop into a toilet. (You know who you are!)Take you gym clothes home to be washed at least every six weeks or you can just wait until they become gray, stiff and smell like sour milk.Be wary of eating a mustard drenched pronto pup at the fair before riding the ferris wheel.The assassination of JFK was a life changing, “where were you when” event that never goes away. Unfortunately, it will be the first of many. Buckle up.Our teachers are just as anxious as we are for summer vacation. They are happy when we do well, and unhappy when we do not. Only the worst of them don’t care. Step around those as you would a foaming puddle of sludge.High school has a lot in common with Wordsworth’s There was a Little Girl. When she was good, she was very, very good. But when she was bad, she was horrid. High school years are a time in life when we know everything and nothing. The horrid part is short. It will end. The good part lasts forever.Some friends last for a lifetime, but not many. Choose carefully.Find you passion. Kiss it, rock it like a newborn, and hold it in your heart. Some dreams are not fulfilled until later in life. Much later.As Shakespeare said love all, trust few, do wrong to no one.
Kate Strikes Out©Averyell A. KesslerKate Beacham was still fuming. Her untimely exit from the horse show party at our house was a hot topic for weeks. Belhaven gossips worked overtime. Sadly, no photo existed of me modeling Kate’s rubberized girdle and heavily decorated brassier, but the scene was still as vivid in everyone’s mind. My mother was ecstatic. Kate, fully aware that achieving social status in Jackson was now impossible, purchased a pair of binoculars, a Smith and Wesson 32, and three cartons of Pall Mall. She spent days shadowing my grandfather WG until she learned his routine.During the week, he stayed at the Robert E. Lee Hotel because it was close to his business; weekends were spent in his small cottage in Avery Gardens, located on a two-lane gravel road north of Jackson known as County Line Road. He’d almost forgotten about Kate when he arrived home late on a Friday afternoon. The October sun was almost down. The day edged to darkness as WG pulled inside his gate, hoping for a quiet weekend. It had been a long, brutal week, and he was exhausted. He parked in front of his house, tossed his cigar into the bushes, and gathered up a 1000-piece jigsaw he planned to attack on Saturday. Ping! He stopped. What the #%@$##? A pinecone falling onto his hood? A squirrel scampering across the roof? He saw nothing. A single Jay fluttered into a giant camelia near the driveway, but the air was still and twilight quiet.Ping. He heard it again. He knelt by his new baby, a black Lincoln Continental Mark II, and inspected the tires, running his fingers over the treads and checking the hubcaps. Nothing. Then he saw it, a small indentation in his left front fender. It looked like….. holy #$%$#! A bullet hole! Crouching low, he dashed into the house, locked the door, and telephoned his pal, Robert Stockett. “Get out here quick, Stockett,” he screamed. “Some son of a bitch is shooting at me.”“Stay inside,” Robert growled. “I’m on the way.”The third ping hit hard, shattering the rear windshield, and sending a shower of broken glass onto the driveway. All he could do was watch as a small man in a leather bomber jacket and plaid pants oozed from behind a spreading yew tree near his car. A brown fedora concealed his face and he held what appeared to be a police revolver as well as shiny Louisville slugger. Ping, ping. In an instant his two front tires hissed and went flat. Then mystery man waved his bat.“Where the heck are you, Stockett?” WG screamed, as he watched in despair as his front windshield crumbled into a spider web of cracks. The next moment, sirens wailed in the distance, and Robert and the Hinds County Sheriff screeched into the driveway. The attacker dropped his bat and fled into the bushes. WG dashed out of his house, waving his arms and yelling, “That way! He ran towards the pond.”An intense foot chase ensued, with all three men searching under azaleas, slogging through day lily beds, and galloping around pine trees like skiers on a downhill run. They found the culprit almost half a mile away when the sheriff spotted a pair of skinny legs dangling from a low hanging branch.“Get down outta that tree,” the sheriff shouted, raising a Remington 12 gauge. “You’re under arrest for destruction of private property, attempted murder, assault and battery, kidnapping, perjury, grand larceny and whatever the hell else I can think of.” He fired a thunderous blast into the clouds; the tree branches rattled like skeletons in the wind.“WG Avery’s not worth that air he breaths,” mystery man yelled. “He’s a no-good skunk, as useless as tits on a bull.”“Last warning,” the sheriff yelled. “Next one’s going between your eyes.”Mystery man dropped from his hideout and fell on the ground in a heap of misery. “Stand up, “the sheriff ordered. “Who are you?”When he stood, the fedora fell off exposing a tumble of raven hair and flaming brown eyes. The leather jacket opened, revealing Kate Beacham’s lush figure.“It’s a woman,” Robert yelled. “Dadgummit, the guy’s a woman!”“Don’t care if she is,” the sheriff shouted. “She’s going to jail.” The next moment, Kate was in handcuffs.“You can’t arrest me,” Kate yelled. “I’m a friend of WG’s. I was just jokin’.”“Had me fooled,” Robert said.“Mr. Avery, do you know this woman?” the sheriff asked.WG rubbed his chin and inspected Kate’s face. Her eyes were saucers. “No,” he replied. “Can’t say as I do.”“How dare you,” Kate screamed. “You know me as well as the back of your hand.”“What about you, Mr. Stockett? You know her?”“Nope,” Robert said. “Never seen her before. Could be a gypsy.”“A gypsy?” Kate hissed. “I swear to God I’ll make you pay!” Her cheeks were scarlet, her lips sputtered like an outboard motor. She was still screaming when the sheriff loaded her into his car, cuffed her to the door handle, and turned towards town.“Hell hath no fury,” WG said as the sheriff drove away. “I must have scorned her pretty bad.”“What are you planning to do?” Robert asked.“I’ll bail her out in the morning.” WG answered.In the end, my grandfather agreed not to press charges. Kate promised not to contact him again. She returned to the coast, opened Kate’s Cut and Curl, and married a shrimper from Moss Point. WG settled with the Great Peril Insurance Company, repaired his car, and decided to stay away from flamboyant women with raven hair. At least, for a few months.
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