IV Biscuits’ Enunciation: Mama Keeps the Rules

Audrey Ward

Illustration by Elizabeth Whybrow Leeds
A Biscuits’ Lesson on Enunciation from young Audrey, the voice of

Hidden Biscuits: Mama Keeps the Rules.

“Down a liberry’s wher a foun it…” Now don’t those words look as if they’d sound all soft and sweet? When I say them, I think they do. Mama, however, has a different opinion. When we’re travelling down south for revival meetings, which is nearly all the time, she keeps track of when I slip into speaking Southern.
But just try it yourself. Words are a lot easier to say here in Alabama. The way we’d say it in California, “Down to the library’s where I found it” (though we’d say ‘down at)—hard t on to, replaced by an a that slides through like uh. The is left out entirely. No extra twist on library, that -rar sound making your lips pooch out like a kiss and then straighten back right away in a flat smile for the y. It’s work. With where said wher, it comes out like a cat’s purr. And instead of a pokey I? That soft a once more.
To her credit, Mama doesn’t argue when I slip into Southern Talk. She just immediately snaps the Alabama right out of me by saying in her quiet voice, “Your Aunt Dorie won’t understand you.” Auntie Dorie lives in California. “In Alabama, it’s lovely to speak like this, but most folks here don’t visit up north and out west like we do.”
Then, as if she’s reading my mind which she can be mighty good at doing, she adds, “And if you talk like this only when I’m not around, people will think you’re mimicking them.” She settles me down. “That would be disrespectful.” Mama knows I’m disgusted by disrespect.
There’s another phrase–listen to this–“Na ya’ll take good care a auvr chirrun.”” Na for now, makes the same sound as our, and when it’s said the way Mama insists, it feels like you have a Mason jar lid wedged in your cheeks. But when folks here say auvr, it’s soft and runs right into chirrun, taking the hard edges out of the word children. Some people manage a quick hint of an l sound just before the r’s, but usually they don’t bother with tongue-to-the-top of the mouth for that.
One word we probably hear most often is Jesus. We say it with the wide-grin-mouth Je dropped to the shush-like sus. Right. If you say it Southern, though, it comes out like a cry: your mouth falls open with a slight J followed by aaay falling to a zus. Usually the last five letters can’t even be heard, but the sound that arrives can be understood: throw out a lifeline, somebody, send for help.
Talk resembles the weather, that’s how I think of it. In San Francisco, it’s usually cool and crisp. Summer, winter, the temperature hits the same level, somewhere between 50 and 70 degrees. Even places in California where it’s hot, there’s no rain during summer months, so hot or cold, there’s still a snap to things. The biggest change anticipates a lot of rain in winter, but the feeling remains the same, cool and crisp. And that’s how their words sound. The l’s, t’s, r’s,d’s plus all the vowels, are given their due enunciation. Carefully, like Mama says the word enunciation with a sharp e starting it off.
Not in the South. Here, it goes to 90 and even 100 degrees and over in the summer. A quick rainfall in the afternoon makes the red earth with tiny flat pebbles sprinkled over it all steamy. Then the air settles soft and thick and that’s how the words are, too. Soft, thick, and delicious as one of Eddylyn Jackson’s honey lemon cookies just out of the oven.
Mama also likes to remind me that what you say matters even more than how you say it. She always adds Jesus’ words when he reminded folks that what comes out of your mouth tells anybody listening what’s in your heart. That stops me from being a smart aleck.
You can’t slip anything by my Mama. She listens. Grammar, too. Everything has to “agree.” The plural with the plural, the singular and the singular, and of course negatives can’t step on each other. Daddy gets away with it, though, and I know that irritates Mama.
She never talks about it, but once (an Alabaman would say ‘oncet’, they don’t put on the brakes so fast), Daddy said “He don’t never come around,” talking about a local pastor. Mama corrected him quick as a wink ...doesn’t ever? Daddy didn’t say another word. He just left the trailer and gave her the silent treatment for a few days. Mama cannot stand the silent treatment.
Sometimes I wish she’d let me talk like I want to. But then one day I noticed another mother with her three little kids at the Piggly Wiggly grocery in Brantley. The woman’s muddy-water-looking hair hadn’t been combed or kept up but just happened on her head. The stained, shapeless dress hung over her could’ve been a night gown. Her eyes hid in her unbaked-biscuit-dough face but her thin lips yelled at her tiny boy—at least he looked tiny next to her—”Doncha neva sass me, ya brat. Na shut up.” Made my stomach jump.
That’s when it came to me that my Mama is right near perfect. Or, as they’d say here, raht neah per-fec. She’d wash my mouth out with soap if I said brat and shut up. She’s a Mama to feel mighty thankful for, I tell you. And I can say that from my heart.

III Biscuits for Fred Brenning Craddock: 30 April 1928 – 6 March 2015

30 APRIL 1928 to 6 MARCH 2015
Audrey Ward

He saw through our pretensions, compelled us to go deeper,
and used small words and stories to deliver stunning revelations.
Dr. Fred Craddock, born on a farm in East Tennessee, came to inhabit the
world of higher education with astonishing grace and brilliance, yet his heart never left
the people of Appalachia: in his retirement, he established the Craddock Center in
Cherry Log, Georgia, for children who have few opportunities.
Fred traveled red dirt roads with Jesus.
What a man.

That’s the thing about Fred Craddock: you never saw it coming. The quiet building of a keen mind, collecting solid points along the way with whimsical grace would hit the mark and stun with quiet simplicity. While he could read or study in French, German, Hebrew and Greek, and accomplish a series of lectures at Yale Divinity in a single bound, his use of Deep South country colloquialisms was just around the corner. He’d toss one in when you least expected it and bring you to your knees with laughter.

Those lectures for Yale concerned the “Pre-existence of Christ.” They turned into a book which was described the following way in notes for the advance copy:

The oriental belief in pre-existence was widely held in the ancient world. This is a study of various uses of the concept in the New Testament.

Whether other seminary professor in Oklahoma—where he was then teaching–were even tiptoeing around such subjects in 1969, I would be interested in knowing.

Here’s what he says in the Introduction:

This is an invitation to join in an exploration that may seem strange, perhaps even unreal, in that it focuses upon a category of being that does not correspond to reality as we experience it. In fact, the word “pre-existence” does not fit comfortably in the vocabulary of Western man. It has an exotic ring. It seems a fugitive word, escaped from a séance, wandering among us but not at home on the well-lighted streets of our empirical thoughts.

See what I mean? Just when you think you’re going to be raised to heights of lofty intellectual thought, he slips in that idea of a ‘fugitive word’ and you’re grinning again.
When I discovered this book as I plundered the shelves of a friend’s library early one morning while the household slept, I was so taken by the contents—having read half of it before coffee and then rereading it aloud for my host as she prepared breakfast—I wrote to him immediately. “It’s time to re-issue this book, Fred! Really. The world is ready for it now.” And a few months later when we were visiting in Cherry Log, he said, “The President of Yale Divinity called me a couple of months back and said, ‘Fred, it’s time to re-issue that book…’” Then he recounted how he had responded that no one wants to read that stuff, only to have my letter come along soon after. “Well, guess I’ll have to look into it, and this time I’ll have you write the Preface,” he drawled with a sly grin, adding, “Oh how the tables turn.”

But the single question in his voice that turned my world topsy turvy was, “When are you going to write about your family, Audrey?” The chairs had been pushed back from the lunch table during a Cherry Log, Georgia, preaching seminar when Fred Craddock threw down that verbal gauntlet. I rationalized and stuttered about already doing 3,000 miles of research, um…well, you know. But Craddock fervently wanted the record of a country preacher and the people who heard him so he didn’t let me slide away from the idea quite that easily: “Hidden Biscuits: Tales of Deep South Revivals Told by Heart” is the result.

But he wasn’t leaving me alone to flounder in questions with few answers, he also said that if I’d come back to Georgia in July of that year, I could tell him the stories while sitting on the front porch of the Craddock Center; record them, and we’d have the book. Well, I did that and though we certainly had some recordings of conversations, the book itself materialized through a far more circuitous route.

What we also had, however, was a pattern of visits repeated every six to nine months until his death on Friday, 6 March 2015. I flew back from California for the viewing and the service at Cherry Log Christian Church (which he founded after his retirement) on the following Monday. Even the countryside felt his absence. Grieving, it seemed to me, was present in the desolate, barren season of late winter preceding the bright, tender colors of spring.

Our last visit was January of this year. After the couple of hours at the little hilltop house used by the Craddock Center in Cherry Log, where we—as was the custom—talked about everything and nothing, he was too spent for lunch at the Pink Pig Barbecue across the road.

Parkinson’s was bearing down on his voice so even meds used to alleviate the dreaded symptoms were not effective. What I did not know, but felt, was that there was a shadow already present on the hill a short climb from where we sat. By my next trip, just weeks away, a tent over the grave prepared for my friend would rest there.

He loved the Pink Pig and the Brunswick stew they cooked up. I suspected that it was the people who owned and ran it that he cared for most, reciting the genesis of the rough, unpainted establishment, as well as the current owners. Then there was the wait staff whom he always engaged in conversation. He appreciated the people and what interested them besides a paycheck. Fred would ask about their lives and their prospects for further education after graduating from Gilmer County High School. He noted potential and was sometimes successful in urging them forward, finding resources to support their efforts.

It was Fred who first used the phrase “Hidden Biscuits.” Nudging me beyond the writing, which he considered finished–though it would still go through a few more rewrites–he said, “Some day you’ll stand with an open book in your hand. The name of your message will be ‘Hidden Biscuits’ and you’ll tell about your dad’s kindness toward that young girl, Jolene. The ‘open book’ will be this one you’ve written.” Well, the title kept roiling around in my mind and on the final rewrite, I knew it had to be “Hidden Biscuits.”

When I was in Georgia last June, he said–Parkinson’s, making everything he did a miserable effort–“I feel that I know your father.”

“You do,” I responded, “and I’m confident—somehow—that he knows and loves you, too.” My father, who died in 1994, would have cherished Fred, a man with worldwide fame as a preacher and theologian. Yet, in spite of lofty degrees and arresting capacity for language and scholarship, a man who listened carefully to those with little or no education: hill people who never had the chance for literacy or learning. In his retirement, Dr. Craddock established The Craddock Center, (“Happy and Hope: We Deliver”) for early childhood literacy resources so that the children of these beloved people would have reading and education opportunities.

One of the details about those who run this Center that I most appreciate is that not only do they provide books and stories plus warm coats, caps and backpacks to families in nine counties in the Tri-State area—Georgia, North Carolina and East Tennessee—but they remind people of their own culture: music, storytelling and dance are included in gatherings and summer camps. With the reach of electricity, now, even into the crevices of the Blue Ridge Mountains, old traditions often lose to television, internet, and games. But Dr. Craddock recognized that this history has rich golden veins of treasure that are well worth the effort used in preserving them.

The friendship we began over the first twenty years of acquaintance through classes and conferences, and a deeper level of understanding forged through the work on Hidden Biscuits in the recent seven, forms a pearl of great price. Dr. Craddock was the featured preacher for the Earle Lectures at Berkeley’s Pacific School of Religion in the early 90’s. At the end of preaching on the Beatitudes one evening, he told this story:

“Back on the farm in East Tennessee, the kids used to play hide and go seek. I was so small, I could fit, wedged in, under the porch step. I’d think “No one will ever find me here!” Then, after some time had passed, I’d realize “No one will ever find me here,” and I’d stick out a foot, or an elbow.
Now, what did I want?
I wanted what every person in this room wants.”

And now, having pondered that story all of this time, I’m beginning to realize that this is the gift these years of Fred Craddock’s friendship have given me.

Audrey Ward, 30 April 2015 Cherry Log, Georgia,
for the opening of the new location of the
Craddock Center on Fred Craddock Drive

ll Biscuits to Live By


Audrey Ward

As I explored in Hidden Biscuits…tales of Deep South revivals told by heart, many of the Appalachian people of the Deep South “got free” in the Spirit when they were in the church and gave themselves over to a language of their heaven. As a child in their midst, I accepted their spiritual fire in the same way I experienced them, with a brim full heart, a love and confidence that some kind of mysterious power lifted that load they’d carried into the church house. Oh yes! Lay that burden down. And Dr. T.M. Luhrmann, professor of anthropology at Stanford did that for me as an adult: shifted a load of embarrassment about my past that I’d long assumed.

Certainly, in my child’s innocence of loving the people, however they expressed themselves, I omitted the comments from the rest of the world. But I also experienced that unexpressed shame at an internal level, dropped like so many crumbs and swept into a back corner.

I was out of the country when Dr. Tanya Luhrmann’s op ed piece appeared in the New York Times but my buddy Herb Gold left a message waiting for my return: Audrey, you must read 18 August (2013) editorial, Why We Talk in Tongues! Luhrmann had published “When God Talks Back,” in 2012 about Evangelicals of whom some practice glossolalia, a spiritual exercise of speaking in ecstatic speech during their prayers.

Dr. Luhrmann writes in her Times’ column that studies of people in Buddhist meditative states access the same level of non-decision making consciousness as those who speak in tongues. Of course it can also be faked she assures the reader (for example, just say “I should have bought a Hundai” rapidly10 times); tongues can also be perfected. But because this kind of worship involves a more emotional event does not mean that the results are less than true edification for participants.

In the Preface of my memoir, Hidden Biscuits, Dr. Fred Craddock, himself born in Appalachia and returned there after a high profile career as a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, writes that this is, after all, an “oral culture, not a script culture…in an oral world in which words were not read but were spoken, were heard, were passed along or were stored in silence.”

Many of the participants in our revival nights did not have an opportunity to learn to read or to write. And during the 40’s and 50’s in the absence of electricity, even the possibility of a radio was remote.

When I talked with Dr. Luhrmann in her small sturdy office, mahogany trimmed windows looking out over a courtyard on the Stanford campus, I said that words were awe inspiring for these people. “Why?” she asked, genuinely interested. I responded, “They didn’t pour through 100’s of words every hour, or thousands, perhaps, in a day.”

As Craddock describes these scenes:

…seldom does one hear the cracking of the spine of a new                                                                                 book being opened…for many of the folk in these stories                                                                                   there is only one book, the Holy Bible, King James Version.                                                                              They love to gather, they love to sing, they love to pray, but                                                                              when the Evangelist mounts the pulpit and opens the Holy                                                                                Book of warnings and promises, they love to listen. They                                                                                    have only one question: Is there any word from the Lord?

So imagine, then, what being able to be lifted into an altered state in which strange words come forth from one’s own mouth could mean to a person deprived of books. Words said to arrive directly from the Spirit of the Living God.

Now I’ve never craved such an expression, but I understand why someone would. They were considered ignorant in the outer world, but here, they were comforted and ascended into a higher realm. Here, they were confident of their place by way of their devoted participation. They may have had little of what could be counted but they had what counts: Spirit, tears, and laughter in the sheer joy of their Master.

“Time to end the prejudice…” Luhrmann announces at the end of her column. And I heard her, through an overlay of shame for 60 years of my life. Children know, even when they aren’t told anything at all.






Audrey Ward

My memoir (Hidden Biscuits…tales of Deep South revivals told by heart) tells of a late 1940’s—50’s childhood traveling in an 18’ trailer through the Deep South. Running water? No, unless you count the creek that ran alongside some red dirt roads. Electricity? We did park next to the church and hook up, but often in the late 40’s the lines didn’t reach that far out in the country where only lightening bugs, crickets and hoot owls inhabit the night. It goes without saying that there was no indoor bathroom.

And yet, in writing this narrative I became acquainted with my family of that era once again and realized that the shelter they provided was a true comfort station. One where the downward glances of those outside our circle and disparaging remarks inside our circle were silenced. My father’s upwardly mobile sister and brother in San Francisco–emigrated from Russia through Canada, therefore listing themselves as British–considered our family’s traveling life a blight on their resumes.

The roads we traveled through the South were mapped out by my father, Bill. I learned to read those maps before I could read words. But it took a long time to hear what was stuffed deep inside the silence.  Mother was with us, too, though in the 40’s and 50’s Mother was not the one who set the course.  As I moved away from childhood and the church of my early years, profound discoveries emerged when I began to ask questions.

They are questions camouflaged by layers of fear, shame and suspicion: Daddy, a traveling Pentecostal Evangelist?  Elmer Gantry immediately looms, slick salesman of a preacher man immortalized by Burt Lancaster.

But my dad was the real deal, not a celluloid scoundrel. We were on the road to tell the Good News, together: the Preacher, my musical mama, older sister, and I, the child called Spark Plug.  “She gets things goin…” daddy would say as I jumped up on a box to lead everybody in singing.  Curls dancing, eyes flashing, I never imagined myself a star, though people constantly compared me to Shirley Temple.  No, no, stardom would indicate Pride: “I’m working for Jesus.”  That’s all.

But it’s always the people of the red dirt roads, the byways, who crowd my memories. Sister Bernice, Brother and Sister Payton, Brother Kenny, Sister Irene, though they said all these names in twice as many syllables as I do now. Drawn out, the familial address turned into an embrace, not in physical contact mind you, but in a Father God and Lord of All sense of adoring kinship.

Where else could bone weary workers of meager resources find an atmosphere of consideration, protection and encouragement than in the church house?  Not in the unventilated rooms of the mill, or the misery of long hours in the peanut patch; not under the scrutinizing glare of a landowner’s eyes on a sharecropper.  No one who paid a dollar a day at the cotton field cared when fingers were torn and bloodied from the boll’s vicious thorns.

In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus, the folks on the straight backed hard benches sang. Their faith in this presence was the power by which they survived. And when Revival came to town every summer, they were sure to be lifted up above the shadows of worry and regret.  Ready to face another year.

During that era in the South, Jesus magic was pervasive. It worked like vapor rising from sun soaked ground when afternoon showers drench the soil. All His words printed in red for those who could read their King James Bible and all His pronouns capitalized. And their faith held fast to His hand with the grip of a deathbed promise.

Daddy’s preaching enhanced strength and excitement in what was already there. Even sinners who didn’t frequent the local church could be enticed to join in the hum of Revival. The Preacher’s evocative style of being one of them, surrounded by our gospel music, went into the cotton fields and mills with the people, singing the message all the day long.

There were good reasons, then, for me–that little child who led them–to shy away from questions: no doubts allowed about the all-knowing, all-powerful God expressed as Jesus. Later, as a master’s student in divinity at Berkeley Theological Union, I did tell the truth about my early life. The disdain and the conjecture of ignorance found in such an emotional sort of religion became a stalking presence in the classroom. The worldly tolerance of my über-liberal classmates was summarily abandoned.

Plunging into my family’s stories so much later, however, provides a stream of revelations: chief among them, the comfort my parents sought to surround us with in the midst of a judging culture. That understanding comes at the price of also discovering the internalized shame and slander of being assumed to be a child of poor unholy trash.

Finding the gems in the rubble of disdain—faith, hope and love that righted wobbly lives—makes it worth the research and the writing, The communities we visited still bear witness to their being sustained through hard times by those revival nights. And I’m willing to explore the roads my father’s hand mapped out so long ago with a refreshed appreciation for the people, their ways of learning, their keen intelligence, and the source of their confidence: You can take all this world, but give me Jesus.