by Cathy Pickens
Grammar Quiz: Which of the following is correct?
A. A. The setting includes a farmhouse with a wraparound porch.
B. B. "We’ll be setting on the porch when you get ready to leave.”
C. C. They were setting out the plates when the preacher arrived.
All y’all who grew up in the South know all three are just fine, even if, once upon a time, your third-grade teacher turned all purply-pink when someone announced he was fixing to set himself down at his desk.
That’s what “setting” is all about, isn’t it? Inviting readers into an interesting place where they want to set a while and visit.
In our lives, we’ve each found ourselves set out in all kinds of places. My mama found herself back in the Southern Appalachian Mountains after a magical childhood on the Tampa Bay Keys. I found myself in the big city, loving Charlotte but missing small-town hill-country life.
A friend of mine found herself in Charlotte, coming from even bigger Boston. Some of us take to our new settings better than others. Paula deserves to live in the South, she’s settled in nicely.
On a visit back to Boston, she stopped in the big box drugstore on the corner. Just like she was back home, she set in to chatting up the clerk. “How are you?” she asked in her thick Boston accent. “Sure has gotten hot quick this year. Will you be able to take some time off to enjoy the holiday weekend?”
The clerk nodded faintly. Her hand slipped beneath the counter while she kept a wary eye on Paula.
Uh-oh, thought Paula. Silent alarm. Her accent had given the clerk the wrong setting. If Paula had a Southern drawl, the clerk would’ve written her off as a slow-talking kook of the harmless variety. Paula’s Boston brogue told the clerk she might be a kook of the launch-herself-over-the-counter-without-warning variety. Real Bostonians don’t carry on polite, directionless conversations with strangers. Real Southerners can make strangers comfortable enough to show us their gall bladder scars, even when we don’t want to see them. It’s all a matter of setting.
Finding ourselves in all kinds of settings—in the books we read and in real life—keeps life interesting. We know some settings and their rules with an ancient wisdom we can’t explain. Others, we acquire like a taste for cracklins in cornbread or chit-chat with strangers or humidity, because we become our settings.
I would allow as how that’s part of the fun. So set yourself down, grab a glass of ice tea and a good book set wherever you would like to visit, and enjoy. It’s too hot to do anything else. (I might be South Carolina born and bred, but that doesn’t mean I can’t complain incessantly about the heat. No setting is perfect.)
The setting of Cathy’s 5th Southern Fried mystery, CAN’T NEVER TELL, includes a hot South Carolina July 4 carnival.