The conversation began with a simple question. "How are you today?"
Think about it. How many times a day does someone ask you how you are? How many of those people do you really think care? That's absolutely right. Not many.
Let's put the shoe on the other foot for a moment. How many times a day do you, yourself, inquire of someone, "How are you? "
Now tell the truth. Don't you hate it when they begin to tell you? Yeah. Me, too.
And we all know the appropriate response to the question, "How are you." It is, of course, "Fine, how are you?"
And then the original inquirer will reply, "Fine," and the conversation is over and we all go on our separate ways. Well, that has been going on for a long, long time. Back when I was in high school my friend and surrogate big brother, Steve Piper, tried to begin a trend. Instead of waiting to be asked he greeted every person he met with, "Fine, how're you?" He was met, if I recall, by a lot of bewildered stares and called "cheeky" by one woman we encountered who felt cheated out of her opportunity to inquire about his condition.
There are those among us - me included, from time to time - who try to break up the monotony, when met with the ubiquitous greeting, by coming up with some response other than the customary, "Fine, how're you?"
The great Roy Lee Wilkes, of the Baxley Wilkes, used to always say, "If I felt any better I'd have to be twins." Now that's feeling pretty good.
Another common response - and one that I haven't heard in a while - is "fine as a frog's hair split four ways." Now I don't know if you have ever encountered a frog's hair, but I would imagine that if you split one four ways - that would be a pretty fine hair.
I often tell people who inquire about my condition that "I can't complain." The correct response to that statement is, as most people know, "Wouldn't do any good if you did. Nobody would listen."
Sometimes, especially of late, people are eager to make known the fact that their condition is anything but fine, and there are some quite colorful ways to convey that particular sentiment. A few:
"I'm busted, disgusted and can't be trusted."
Now I don't know what that means, but I do know that such a person is not fine.
"I feel like I've been rode hard and put away wet."
Must be the cowboy in them that makes them utter such a response.
My personal favorite: "I feel like five miles of Alabama road." Rough, in other words.
Now I told you all of that, believe it or not, to tell you this. I encountered a co-worker this week somewhere in the vicinity of the Coke machine in the "faculty workroom" at my school. (It used to be called the "faculty lounge" until someone complained that teachers shouldn't have time to lounge around during the day. Trust me, by the way - we don't.
But I encountered my co-worker and greeted him with the obligatory, "Hey. How are you?"
His response was, "Well, I'm another day older and deeper in debt."
Now that's an answer to a greeting! And so true, for most of us. Every day we grow older - which is better, they tell me, than the alternative - and every day most of us, no matter how much money we make, grow deeper in debt of some sort. We become indebted to our friends and to our government and to our maker, if not to specific creditors.
But the point of all this is not in this specific response, nor in the general salutations with which we greet one another. The point of this is that my friend, without meaning to, opened a whole can of worms which would ultimately remind me just how vast the generation gap is among myself and most of my fellow co-workers.
A fellow teacher, whose hair is roughly the same shade of gray as mine, was working at the copy machine and said to my friend, "Well bless your little pea picking heart."
I smiled and spontaneously added, "St. Peter don't you call me, 'cause I can't go," and the originator of the little impromptu performance added, in his deepest bass voice, "I owe my soul to the company store."
Who says teachers don't know how to have fun?
But here's the deal. There were half a dozen other faculty members in the room - all getting ready to fill young minds with ambition, hope and knowledge - who looked at one another incredulously as if to say, "What was that all about?"
And one young lady said to me, "What was that all about?'
"Tennessee Ernie," I replied.
"Do what?" she asked.
"Tennessee Ernie," I replied. "Sixteen tons. You know."
But she didn't know and I spent the next few minutes singing Ernie Ford's landmark song - three verses - and trying to explain about the Old Pea-picker.
Afterward the young teachers filed out of the workroom smiling politely, convinced, I am sure, that it was finally time for me to be put out to pasture.
But I learned my lesson. From now on, there will be no cute responses and no thoughtless return inquiries. Before you even ask - I am just fine, thank you. Hope you are - bless your little pea-picking heart.
Darrell Huckaby will be signing his books for Mother's Day at Evans Market in Conyers, Saturday from 9:30 am until 2:30 pm.