Grits: Well Lawdy, Lawdy

Published 2:23 am Sunday, November 30, 2008

Back in the early 1960s, Yellowstone National Park was as foreign to a gal from South Alabama as Israel is to young folks from the same region these days.

Travels had taken me to Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia, but not Atlanta. So when I arrived at the nation’s oldest national park, I was, as my granny used to say, like a big-eyed gal at the fair.

The park was kind of like a kibbutz in that you worked long and hard for a bed and a bite and, literally, a jingle in your pocket. Fifty dollars a month might not seem like a lot but it wasn’t the money that made me leave the comforts of home for the wilds of the West, it was the opportunity to broaden my horizons.

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And, I did. From a size six to a nine in just a few months time.

Back in those days, the world wasn’t nearly as small as it is today. As Americans, we spoke the same language but each region had its dialect that was as foreign to one as it was to the other. However, the slow, Southern drawl kind of “took the cake,” so to speak. Upon hearing it, those who didn’t fall over with belly laughs found the “drawl” downright amusing.

But Southerners aren’t as dumb as folks from the other regions think we are. So, we, the YP girls, used the “drawl” to our advantage.

At Yellowstone, we had two modes of transportation. “Pat and Bob” or hitching a ride.

Most of the kids who worked at the park would hitch rides by standing on the roadside with signs that read: “YP Employees.” But not the GRITS (Girls Raised In The South). Our signs read: “Alabama Girls, Going Your Way.”

Why, folks would stand their cars on their noses just to give us a ride.

And, we’d lay it on thick. The y’alls, sho-nuffs, I’ll swanees and hush yo’mouths. We’d throw in a few Lawdies, have mercies, Glory-bes and honey chil’s and we’d have them eating out of our hands. Actually, eating at their expense.

They would do anything to keep us talking. They would have taken us all the way to the Pacific Ocean if we’d wanted to go that far. We got off in Las Vegas.

We hitched rides with folks all over the country. The nicest kind of folks, usually.

Once, though, a couple of us were hitching a ride over the Beartooth Mountains to Red Lodge, Montana. We caught a ride going over with a crusty, old man who slammed on brakes and brought his car to a complete stop at every turn of every switchback. It took us so long to get across the mountains that it was time to go back when we got there.

Now, as GRITS, we were kind if pa’ticlar who we rode with – wouldn’t ride with just anybody. But on this late afternoon, pa’ticlar went right out the window with “Just Married” scrawled across it.

The young groom, evidently, anxious to get on with the honeymoon, zoomed around and skidded around those rugged mountains at such great speed that we, the GRITS, fell to the floorboard in loud, persistent “Lawdy, Lawdy.”

Other than that brush with eternity, the only other risky was ride with Bonnie and Clyde.

Three of us GRITS found ourselves in a rather precarious situation. We had hitched over to Virginia City, Montana, and the weather had suddenly turned dark and cold, bringing snow flurries off and on. There were no cars on the road to hitch so one of us stood, hopefully, holding our sign while the other two took refuge in the ditch.

I heard the car brake and jumped from the ditch to see an old model white Cadillac on its nose. We looked at each other, sighed and climbed in.

The man had slicked-back hair, a mustache and horn-rimmed glasses. He was wearing a dark polyester suit with a red tie. She had on a leopard-skin coat, fake for sure, long, bleached-blond hair and was smoking a cigarette in a long holder.

They asked a lot of questions and we answered in syrupy-Southern drawls that they didn’t seem to notice.

They were kidnappers. They would ask for ransom. We would die.

We communicated with each other with our eyes and hand signals. We knew what had to be done. We had to bail.

As we approached the park, there was a crossroads. That’s when we’d make a break for it. Clyde pulled the car to a jerky stop and just as he did, we bolted. Two of us out one door and one out the other. Running like scared rabbits, leaving the car doors wide open behind us.

We heard them yelling for us to come back but we kept running, never looking back.

The next day, we heard that a movie company was shooting a film segment at West Yellowstone. It was about gangsters back during the 1940s. Maybe we should have hung around long enough to get autographs.

Jaine Treadwell is features editor at The Messenger. She can be reached at