The other day I chatted briefly with a woman from Alabama.  Her keen wit and force of personality soon drew me into a game I call Old Deep South.  It is played as a conversation in which each party tries to be nicer to the other than the other is.  I find it rather more pleasant than the more common options of trying to put each other down or putting some third party down.

When I realized I was in for it, I reverted to the Safe Strategy.  It consists of three steps:

  1. Ask about family.  Then go to step 2.
  2. Ask about family.  Then go to step 3.
  3. Go to step 1. 


I asked whether she had children.

She said she had four.

This threw me off balance, since I am sort of a Chicken Little (No.  I wish I were Chicken Little.  He got the proper authorities to investigate.) on the subject of humans dying out.  So I offered my congratulations and praise.

That threw me into the Too Nice Trap.  If you are being too nice, you are cheating.  So every direct complement needs to be retracted at least to a degree.  So I went on that of course there was a time when that would not seem like so many children.

She responded warmly, accepting my reservation on her accomplishment, and thus by implication accepting the complement itself.  She said, yes indeed. Her Huntie had fourteen and her Other Huntie had fifteen.  Now I was cornered.  Presumably “Huntie” meant aunt.  But to go on without clarifying the issue would be to dismiss her.  To ask directly whether she meant “aunt” would be to imply she had made a mistake.  So I picked my way carefully though it and verified what the word meant … sort of.

By the time I got to that point, it was clear to me that “Huntie” meant more than aunt.  It was not a corruption of “auntie;” it wasn’t even close.  And my acquaintance was Black, which implies in this setting that she had a truly amazing command of the language. 

The conversation soon ended with me having been out-niced of course, but I was still puzzled.  She expected me to understand something I hadn’t fathomed.  Obviously Huntie and Other Huntie were titles.  They were ranks.  Everybody had both. 

Since I am very clever, it only took me two days to come up with a theory.  Your Huntie is the one that hunts for the person for you to marry.  Your Other Huntie is assistant and backup.  Like your Huntie saw to it that you came to the party and your Other Huntie saw to it that your spouse to be came also, presumably in cooperation with his or her Huntie and Other Huntie.  Had I tumbled to that in real time, I could have been very nice about it and won the game by saying something nice about Hunties.  This, I feel sure, she was setting me up for.

Oh, well.  Next reincarnation maybe. 

All I can say is that if I am right, the Hunties are doing their job very well.  There are lots of babies in that town.

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