Saturday, April 5, 2014

"Well, bless your heart...."

OK, this is a first--a requested post!

Ray Anderson, a wonderful, funny man who happens to play scratch golf and is an Episcopal priest (formerly the Missioner to the Deaf Community of Connecticut) emailed me to ask me to write a blog about the expression, "well, bless your heart...."

He'd heard it often traveling in the south and wondered what my take on it was.

Since I'm an Appalachian and not a Southerner, my take won't be 'the whole story', but I've known enough true Southerners to have a clue...and I heard the saying several times a day growing up. People down below the Mason Dixon line tend to say "well, bless your heart..." the way folks up here say 'have a nice day...." Like that.

Tennessee  Ernie Ford, anyone remember him? used to say, at the end of his radio and then his TV show, "Bless your pea-pickin' hearts". That was a Tennessee thing, apparently, since I've never picked a pea in my life.

Ray suggested that there was a lot of variety to the use of the phrase, and he is SO right.

First question: do they mean your actual, physical organ called 'the heart' or something metaphorical and nuanced? Both actually.

When it's a child--almost always said lovingly and with great affection--'well, bless your little heart...', I think refers to the rapidly beating, adult fist sized pumping machine in the middle of their chest that is keeping them alive and being charming and lovable.

When it's someone in distress or pain, no matter what age, it's a metaphorical, symbolic reference to the 'life-force' that might sustain them through their suffering.

Sometimes, it seems to me, it also refers to mental functions--like with someone working through a psychological issue. "Well, bless your heart...", then can mean, 'keep up your spirits', or 'don't let the bastards get you down' or even, 'I know this is going to be your ruin, but I'm hoping for you to get through it....'

But 'bless your heart' can, from time to time, turn malignant and ironic.

Like: 'I just got accepted to Harvard!' 'Well, bless your heart...(you're getting above your raising, aren't you smart ass?')

Or: 'I'm moving to New York City!' 'Well bless your heart...(where you grew up isn't good enough for you is it?')

Or: 'I'm marrying my Chinese sweetheart!' 'Well, bless your heart...(you're children won't have a chance in hell 'round here.')

Or: "Grandma, I need to tell you, I'm coming out as a lesbian.' 'Well bless your heart...(you just broke mine, you pervert...!')

Stuff like that.

It's a 'fits all situations' kind of phrase.

Have a good day....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.