Some of us speak a 2nd language: IowanPublished 9:24am Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Column: Tales from Exit 22, by Al Batt
Back when the movie “Fargo” was in the theaters, a friend from Texas called me. He thinks of Minnesota as being a state where the Vikings play when it’s not too cold. He brags me up as being a guy who can speak both English and Minnesotan. He said that I should see the movie because the people in it sounded just like me and my ilk.
Ilk? I didn’t know that I had ilk. That figures. Some people have people. I get stuck with ilk. Maybe we could start an Ilk’s Club.
I informed the caller that Fargo wasn’t located in Minnesota. Fargo is in North Dakota, a wonderful state that I’m sure prefers to keep Fargo within its borders.
I told him that I’d see the film. The movie theater wasn’t far to go. I was certain that the fictional characters presented on the big screen would sound nothing like momma and them and me. And I was right. I watched the movie, paying particular attention to the voices. They sounded nothing like my people, er, my ilk.
The next day, I went into the cafe sharing my zip code to enjoy lunch with some folks traveling through the area. I got there a bit early and exchanged pleasantries with some of the locals, or as we are known fondly, the local yokels. None of whom was named Ole, Lena, Sven or Lars. As I listened to those of my ilk talk, I heard “You betcha,” “Oh, yeah, sure,” and “Don’t you know.”
As I kept an ear open, I heard pop drinkers say “rassling” (wrestling), “warshing” (washing), and “Minasoda” (Minnesota). I listened to “root” sounding like “foot.” As I listened to those good folks talk, I realized something. They talked just like the people in the movie, “Fargo.”
I sent an email to the Texan, telling him that he was right. I didn’t add the fact that I was wrong. It’s not easy for a man to admit when he’s wrong. It’s easier for us to say “I’m sorry” a thousand times than to say “I was wrong” once.
The Texan emailed back that the world’s smallest violin was playing “My Heart Cries for You.”
I mumbled, “Uff-da.”
Minnesotans are fond of saying, “Uff-da.” We’re not sure why. We say it when something good happens. We say it when something bad happens. We say it when nothing happens. When we’re too tired to say, “Uff-da,” we say, “Uff.”
I was working in Alaska one year and had visited 33 Mile Roadhouse north of Haines to feed my face. When I entered the eatery, the waitress was singing a happy birthday song to a patron. The song wasn’t the traditional happy birthday song. Instead of saying, “That’s different,” I joined in the singing, concentrating my efforts in the key of off.
The song completed, the waitress asked me, “What part of Minnesota are you from?”
She asked because I knew the words to the song. I knew the words because of Casey Jones, a beloved figure in Minnesota television. Casey was a man who portrayed a railroad engineer, dressed in a pinstriped jacket, cap and overalls, with a red handkerchief around his neck. From 1954 through 1972, Casey appeared daily on WTCN-TV, Channel 11. He entertained youngsters with cartoons, comedy bits, songs, banter with sidekick Roundhouse Rodney, and birthday greetings. “Lunch with Casey” was extremely popular and Casey sang his own original, nontraditional birthday song that went like this, “Happy, happy birthday, to every girl and boy! Hope this very special day, brings you lots of joy! Hope that birthday present, you get from Mom and Dad. Will make this very special day, the best you ever had!”
Another day, I did more than nothing and attended the ultimate Minnesota wedding.
“Do you, Mary, take Jim to be your lawful wedded husband?” asked the minister.
“And do you, Jim, take Mary to be your lawful wedded wife?” the clergyman said.
“If anyone has just cause why these two should not be joined together in holy matrimony, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.” The minister paused for response. “Nobody? Even though the divorce rate is about 50 percent. If an airline had half its flights crash, you probably wouldn’t book a flight. Still no objections? That’s comforting. Minnesota nice is alive and well here today. You may now kiss the bride. Uff-da!”
Remember, nobody in Minnesota talks like we do.
At least, not as much as we used to.
Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.