My mother, rest her soul, was a Southern lady who had a way with words.

I often listen to South Carolina's women and the way they talk, falling under their spell like an old man in a hammock.

Not only is their rhythm as lazy as a summer day, but a sense of something long gone.

No matter what they're saying, it always sounds somewhat sinister, a little bit bawdy, kind of concerned and very important.

Growing up in a small town, I had a hundred mothers, and they all talked with a sameness I thought would last forever. And it wasn't just the way they said the words, but the words themselves.

"I do declare," was one of my mother's favorite off-hand expressions. It served her well, whether it was news of an aunt coming down with the flu or the end of World War II.

"Gracious goodness," was another exclamatory remark that seemed to fit, be it the demise of the family dog or the fact that it might rain.

The difference between life and death, it seems, was simply in the inflection.

I swannee

One of my favorite expressions came when my mother didn't quite know what to make of something. She'd just nod her head knowingly and say, "Well, I swannee."

Now, we weren't anywhere near the Suwannee River in Florida or the university in Sewanee, Tenn.

So my guess is this was just a modified Methodist version of "I swear."

Southern ladies, of course, didn't swear. So when she was somewhere between approval and disapproval, she would shake her head and say, "I swannee for goodness."

My mother was smart, valedictorian of her class at Bamberg High School, plus a year of secretarial school. She could read and write with the best of them. But she could also talk with the least of them.

There were times when I couldn't tell if she was talking to me or the maid when she'd let go with, "Well, I sho 'nuf reckon that could be true, Annie Lou."

You gotta love a woman who can talk like that.

Old Weejuns

"Do Lord" was another common response. Everybody within spitting distance of the church used this term to let the world know there was a power greater than themselves at work in the world.

Thinking back on these country expressions reminds me of what it was like to be a little boy listening to adults talk. The conversations weren't that far removed from Gullah.

When I'm hanging around old friends from my hometown, I quickly slide into sayings I haven't used in years. When that happens, it's like putting on an old pair of Weejuns.

These are comfort expressions that we grew up with. We wouldn't use them in business conversations today. But they are part of us, like the hymns we sang in church or the nursery rhymes we learned in school.

No doubt, I'm still that little boy who followed his mother around town, listening to her gossip and carry on small talk in our small-town world.

And all I can say about it now is, "merciful heavens," I miss her.