My people come from Western North Carolina. When I say my people, I mean my mother’s family. And when I say from, I mean as far back as I can document. I usually refer to my mother’s family because they’re so mysterious. A very insular lot growing up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in a small town called Morganton, North Carolina. I’ve never been there, but feel a strange pull towards the place on most days. I think the force is so strong because my mother hated it so much. So it goes. I looked up Morganton in Wikipedia (the fount of all debatable wisdom) and saw that it was profiled in 50 Best Small Southern Towns, and, most surprisingly, it features in a Jules Verne novel – The Master of the World. Apparently, he went there in the 19th century and loved it. Whoda thunk? Neither point would have impressed my mother, however. Once you’re over a place, you are over it.
So anyway, back to The Haints. My mother’s family is full of words I have never heard anywhere else. Some of the more interesting ones are not printable (the only Rated G example I can think of is bone-tum for butt), but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered some of them have an Appalachian lineage. For instance, a toboggan wasn’t a sled in my house, it was a winter hat. I once looked ridiculous on a school band trip when I tried to argue, unsuccessfully, that a sled could also be a hat. My mother also used words like dreen, which means “a little bit” (e.g. “There’s only a dreen of orange juice left.”). I haven’t been able to find any information on this word other than the being the Chinese word for drink. Or more likely, it could just have been a case of onomatopoeia (a word that sounds like what it means). I often wish I could recollect more words from my family, but the longer I’m away from the nucleus, the more I forget. I called my middle sister to see if she could remember some words, but we were both unsure if we grew up with the word, heard it in a movie or read it in a book. That’s kind of sad. Memory is like a muscle requiring a lot of exercise. One of the words I do remember though is the haints. Now, we had a very particular way of using this word which I think may be even different from the good folks of Appalachia. When you were tired and needed a nap (or to get dropsy as my sisters and I like to say), you had to get the haints off you. Haints in Appalachian speak comes from haunts or ghosts. So I guess being tired meant you had to shake the spirits off. I think about this phrase when I am writing, hence the name of this blog. If you don’t get the words on the page, it’s like the ghosts stay in you and the words become all misty and elusive. So when I write I know I’m getting the haints off me.