Confession time. I love 'ain't'. Not because I aspire to be some grammatical rebel. It's because the word connects me to people no longer in this world, and to a place I no longer belong. I did once. Belong.
It was the first place my sister and I were accepted and adored, sight unseen, by my mother's parents. Naturally, when we finally got to meet our maternal grandparents, my poor folks couldn't say 'boo' to us without getting chewed out by Grandma and Grandpa.
"You leave those kids alone! They ain't hurtin' nothing!"
I'd never walked on water in anyone's sight before then. I'd never been adored merely because I existed before that point. Sure, my parents loved me and I knew (and still know) that much - but parents are investing all this energy in turning you into a civilized human being, you know? When you're five or six years old, that feels like a lot of strings attached. Grandparents get the corner on unconditional (and occasionally parent-undermining) love.
Mom's family is a clan of Scottish and Irish farmers, few of whom ever had a penny to their names. We know when the family came to the US because there's a headline in a pre-Civil War newspaper: Three Brothers Wed Three Brothers. The three brothers came over from Scotland and ended up marrying three sisters whose last name was Brothers. They scattered across the south. Mom's branch of the family landed in the Ozark region.
My grandfather had a sixth grade education. My grandmother had considerably more - she'd come from a family with a little bit of money, but she gave up the money and her education to invest in her new husband's love of farming.
My sister and I reaped the benefits. We had a 400 acre farm to explore. Cows to milk, calves to help find. Watermelons to fetch from the garden patch so we could sit in the shade of the pecan tree dodging wasps while we ate sun-warm melon. I learned to pick okra. "Wear gloves and long sleeves! The prickles'll get you if you don't and the rash ain't no fun." We learned to watch the summer sky for signs of tornados and knew to run to the ditch if one came. "Don't worry about the water moccasins," Grandpa would say. "If there's a twister coming, they ain't gonna care about you. Watch out fer the cows, though. They won't care about you neither after they step on you."
Grandma died in 1980 just a few months after her 50th wedding anniversary. My grandfather died several years later.
I wish I had digital photos of either of my grandparents. Or of the house Grandpa built. Or of the barn. I don't. All I have are the pictures in my head and in a box in Mom's hall closet.
The farm has been divvied up. I'm told the house fell in on itself. No surprise. Without my grandparents, it had no heart or soul to prop it up. Even the pecan tree died.
But you know. Whenever I hear 'ain't', I hear my grandparents' voices.