“Pretty as a new-laid egg”

Mrs. Ladu, my fifth-grade teacher, was a fierce guardian of the English language. A single “ain’t” evoked her wrath. Since then I’ve tried to keep the faith.

But at lunch in the mountains of East Tennessee recently, the cook came over to ask, “Was you-uns up at church?”

She had me right there.

We were eating grilled cheese sandwiches in a general store where you could buy crankcase oil, ham biscuits, and rat poison at the same place that sold shotgun shells and smelled of old wood.

“I ain’t done nothing,” a man at another table said.

Folklorist Vance Randolph believed the people in the Appalachian Mountains inherited a superior English: “They know that it’s more expressive to say, ‘I ain’t said nothin’ than to say, flabbily and ineffectually, ‘I haven’t said anything.’ ”

Likewise, a mountain cabin built of logs and smelling of hickory smoke can be far more eloquent than a flabby McMansion.

This cabin, with its unpainted boards and crooked corners, might look strange to a flat-lander. But to the family who lived there, “It was pretty as a new-laid egg.”

Even Mrs. Ladu would like that.