Thursday, June 5, 2008


I grew up in a small, close-knit community, surrounded by the lilt of warm southern voices. Everyone was friendly and considerate, polite and respectful. Sometimes they joked and kidded around.
But they were always kind.

So when I entered the working world in Chicago, at the tender age of 19, I was totally unprepared for what awaited me.

My supervisor was kind, helpful, and very patient. The girls on the 11th floor welcomed me into the fold, included me in luncheon plans, coffee breaks, and gossip sessions. All employees, from the mail room in the basement to the presidential suite on the 12th floor, treated me well.
With one exception.
The guys next door in the Publicity Department were all in their twenties. They spent their days behind big walnut desks, sprawled in executive chairs, laughing and joking and shooting paper wads at each other. Or playing games. Occasionally, they wrote press releases or penned an article for the company magazine.
When I was introduced to the four young men, they were cordial. “Welcome aboard,” said Bryce. “Kentucky is a beautiful state,” said Ken.

But that was before I opened my mouth.

A few days later, Therese asked me if I planned to go to lunch with them. I responded with, “Where are y’all going?”

Bellowing laughter drifted down the hall, and the Publicity guys descended. “Where're yawwwl goin’ for lunch?” Bryce said, “To git some cornbread and grits?”

Therese gave them a dirty look as they sauntered past us, chortling. I was speechless, but I got the message: He thought Kentuckians were hicks!

Thereafter, each time the Publicity guys saw me—in the hall, snack shop, or even sitting at my desk—Bryce proclaimed, "Well, howdy, yawwwl!"
The rest of the guys laughingly gazed around the office, making sure everyone was looking at them.
My co-workers rolled their eyes, ignoring them, and I wanted to do the same. However, being a well-brought-up southern girl, I smiled and said hello.

But I was seething inside.

They kept it up, day after day, taking it one step further a few weeks later.

“Hey, Brenda,” Bryce said, “Is one of your legs shorter than the other?”

I stopped, “What?”

“Well, you know,” he said, “From walking on the side of them mountains down thar in Kaintuck!”
The rest of the guys began tittering.
“Have a good day, yawwwl,” he said, as they laughed all the way back to their offices.

I continued down the hall, head held high. Still seething inside.

I began trying to avoid the group (they went everywhere in a group). If I saw them coming, I ducked into the nearest office, stairwell, or even the restroom. If an elevator arrived and they were inside, I waited for the next one. Or took the stairs.
And then one day, as my co-workers and I were having coffee in Ted’s Snack Shop, they walked in. The snack shop was overflowing; the only vacant table was next to us. So they sat down. They didn't seem to notice me, and I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking I was home-free.

I was wrong.

Suddenly, Bryce turned to me. “Well, hello, yawwwwl,” he said, “How yawwwwl doing?”

The girls at my table gave them dirty looks. “Leave her alone, Bryce,” Donna said.

Although I appreciated Donna’s defense of me, I felt like a child, being protected by my mother. But I didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t know what to do.

Bryce quieted down, but when they got up to leave, he sidled over to me. “Hey, Brenda, I heard yawwwl dearly luv your moonshine down thar in Kaintuck.”
White-hot anger zipped from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. Now he was calling Kentuckians drunken hicks! I had heard of moonshine, but no one I knew drank it.
Suddenly, I was on my feet, face to face with Bryce, "Well, you heard right,” I said, “We sure do!”

Everyone in the place stopped talking.

“I dearly love the stuff; wish I had some now.” I said, “Yawwwl don’t know what yawwwl are missing, if you’ve never tasted mooonshine!”

I could feel all eyes on me, but I was unable to stop. “Think you could handle it, Brycie-Boy? Want me to bring you some next time I go back to Kaintuck?”

You could have heard a pin drop. The silence was broken when someone yelled, "Guess you got that, Brycie-Boy!"

Everyone laughed uproariously as the group slunk out the door.

After that, Bryce was known as "Brycie-Boy" throughout the company. When he entered our office, my co-workers greeted him with, "Hello there, Brycie-Boy!" When Ted took his order at the snack shop, he said, "What can I get for you today, Brycie-Boy?" Even the company president. "What do you think about Ernie Banks' Golden Glove, Brycie-Boy?" he said one morning in the elevator.
I was beginning to feel sorry for him.
As time went by, Bryce became more subdued. As I walked past the Publicity Department one day, I saw him alone in his office, gazing out the window, looking wistful. And a few months later, when our company relocated to Bloomington, he stayed behind. I suppose he went on to bigger and better things in the Windy City.
I hope so. After airing my feelings that day, I harbored no ill will for Brycie-Boy.

1 comment:

Kari & Kijsa said...

great story- Love the post below- amazing about the stained glass window!!

kari & kijsa

All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley