Sunday, December 26, 2004

I listen to my voice as I talk, and I can tell that, as I always do when I come back for a visit, I've fallen back into my old southern drawl. It'll probably last a few days past my return home, so if you talk to me right after I get back, don't be surprised to hear peaches and magnolias blooming in my voice.

It's not just the accent, either. There are some local turns of phrase I'd forgotten about. Yesterday my mother used an expression I hadn’t heard in the longest time. It was one of those moments when hearing something whisks you back in time – in this case, to my Florida childhood, when I heard lots of people say this, or something like it.

We were talking about the varied and aggressive insect population of the south, and went from there to a discussion of spiders. My mother recalled a time when I was little when she thought a large spider had jumped on her (not an unreasonable fear in Florida). She said, “Oh, if that had happened, they’d of just had to take me off to Chattahoochee.”

Most people from Florida will know what this means, especially central or north Florida. But for the rest of you, Chattahoochee, (CHAT-a-hoo-chee) is a small town where the Florida State Hospital is. The mental hospital, that is.

It was Florida’s only mental hospital until 1947, and even after that, for a long time it was the only place that dealt with the poor mentally ill. At one point, it’s inmates – and I use that word on purpose – made mattresses, and thus it was nicknamed “the Mattress Factory”. So I also heard the phrase “going to the mattress factory” as a slang term for “going insane” when I was a kid.

Apparently there was a lot of abuse of the inmates at various points in the hospital’s history – I believe some books have been written about it, and perhaps even a movie has been made about the place - and it definitely had a bad reputation. The hospital is still in existence, and of course they say the abuse of the patients is all in the past, but even now, nobody wants to “go to Chattahoochee.”

So, just an amusing example of a regional expression that used to be part of my vocabulary.

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