Climbing the wooden stairs to the wrap-around porch, Katie and her friend were met by Miss Ruby and Miss Mae, the valley’s spinster Welcome Wagon.
The most senior residents of Deer Hollow, the ladies were a sort of litmus test. Katie brought Eric to meet the old maid sisters before presenting him to her parents. If he could survive their scrutiny, he would sail through any interrogation from her overprotective dad.
The screen door slammed open, and the Culpepper sisters gathered Katie into their ample arms, pressing her into their ample bosoms.
“I swanee chil’, yew tha spittin’ image of yo’ mamma,” Miss Mae said.
“How is yo’ mommerneem?” Miss Ruby said.
“She’s fine, ma’am,” Katie said, gasping for air, but still patting the ladies’ backs as best she could. “I’ll tell her you asked after her.”
The ladies each took one of Katie’s arms and walked her across the porch to a small sitting area. A pitcher of iced tea sat on a side table, sweating huge drops of water in the humid southern heat.
“Yo’ swain kin sit rye-cheer b’twixt me an’ Ruby.” Mae said, patting the log cabin quilted seat cushion beside her on a large swing.
“I ain’t gwine bite chew,” Ruby teased, spitting a juicy stream of brown liquid into a brass pot on the other side of the swing.
While Eric squirmed uncomfortably between to two ladies, Katie poured everyone a glass of tea.
Sitting in a rocker with her own glass, Katie breathed in the heady perfume of the flowering magnolias that were in full bloom. Spanish moss filled the trees around the Culpepper manse, festooning the limbs like lacy bunting.
“Ida Claire, Kate-girl, cat’s got yo’ young main’s tongue,” Ruby said.
“I reckon he ain’t yousta awls this here sou’then heat,” Mae said.
“Yew gwine care him up tooda church on Sundee?” Ruby said.
“Brutha Rich’uda’s bin axin’ ‘bout ‘em.” Mae said.
“Yes, ma’am,” Katie said. “Mother and Daddy already made plans for dinner with the pastor and his wife after the late services.”
The ladies nodded their approval.
Following their lengthy visit, Katie and Eric drove on to her parents’ home, several miles down the road.
For most of the ride Eric was pensive.
“What language were those two speaking?” He finally said. “I didn’t understand anything they said.”
“That was merely their southern patois,” Katie said, laughing.
“Southern what?” Eric said. “Marseille, maybe Nice?”
“No, my darlin’, that was pure Dixie dialect.” Katie’s drawl became more pronounced the closer they got to her childhood home. “It’s the thyme-sweetened honey in the air. Words just lazily ooze out of your mouth the longer you’re here.”