Down, off the coast of Georgia, on an island called St. Simons, live several of my favorite people. One is named Edward.
No one ever thought of calling him “Ed” or “Eddie.” He is an Edward and it is a name he carries well because he is dignified — but fun and so thoroughly Southern that you can hear magnolias and peaches in his voice.
He grew up in a tiny Southern town, just over an hour’s drive from Savannah. This is important to know because those who have well-grounded roots in the Savannah area speak with a different drawl than my Appalachian people. They are descended from the aristocratic British so, if you listen carefully, you can hear London dripping from their syllables. Edward’s drawl could be a lullaby, so beautiful as it is.
Now, my people — the Scotch-Irish mountain folks — speak in an equally pleasing, lyrical way, but our words are more sing-songy. And we toted a lot of odd words over from Scotland and Northern Ireland, which we still insist on using.
We will say, “I’ll be along drekkly” while the more regal Savannah or Richmond folks will say, clearly and plainly, “I will be along directly.”
After we had sold my first book about Southern women to Penguin Putnam, my agent called and announced cheerfully, “I have wonderful news! Brilliance Audio has purchased the audio rights to your book, and I would not agree to the sale unless they allowed you to read the book.”
Now, this was back when audio books were in their infancy and few books had audio versions. My agent, Richard, had sold the rights AND secured a talent fee for me to read the book. I flew to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Brilliance was headquartered and spent four days in a studio, recording. The director of sales for Brilliance had a working copy of my book in her car, which she listened to while taking her 6-year-old daughter back and forth to school.
One morning, Lisa put in a different audio book. A couple of minutes later, her first grader said, “Mommy, please! I want to listen to the woman who sings.”
Somehow, I wound up nominated for an Audie award for best audio book with two others: syndicated radio host Dr. Dean Edell and actor Alan Thicke, who won. These words are true: it was an honor — and a surprise — just to be nominated.
Edward, though, would sweep the awards with his singing voice. One night, late last summer, he called, so I sat on the back porch in a rocking chair for almost two hours, just listening to the lyrics of the stories he told as the crickets sang. I’m so taken by his captivating drawl that sometimes I get caught up in the sounds and miss the details because I’m four words behind, still playing in my mind the way he pronounced a previous word.
Edward is an enthralling storyteller because he uses words like “marvelous” and “divine.” He also cares tremendously about people so he always knows the details of their stories. When he is telling a story and introducing a new character, he will say, “I remember when John Wesley Thomas ...” or “Her maiden name was Pugh. Carolyn Pugh. She married Harold Robert Pughsley so she became Carolyn Pugh Pughsley.”
He spews off these names without thinking twice or stopping to remember. I realized this at dinner one night as I sat, listening, enchanted, to his tales. I have thought about it many times since that evening because it shows the strength of his character. He cares so much about people and their stories that he knows their middle names and, with tremendous wit, shares it in their stories.
If you don’t know my friend, Edward, you should. For the record, his name is Edward Darby Armstrong.
And he’s a fine Southern gentleman.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “Let Me Tell You Something.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column publishes weekly.