June 2017

By Marshall Chapman

Photograph by Anthony Scarlati

My mother has always corrected my grammar. For years, it drove me crazy. Then one day when I was older— like, in my forties—I decided to confront her about it.

 

I’d just been released from a treatment center where they’d taught me things like how to calmly confront someone without trying to control them. This particular behavioral tool was called “When you…, I feel… .” In other words, if someone does something that bugs you, you identify the behavior, then share how you feel when they exhibit it. The person can then choose whether or not to engage in that behavior in the future. But the main thing is, you do not try to control them.

Okay. Progress, not perfection.

So one day I’m pouring my heart out to my mother about something when, sure enough, she interrupted me to correct my grammar.

“Mother,” I said, “when you correct my grammar mid-sentence when I’m trying to talk to you, well, I feel sad … and angry.”

So far, so good, right?

 

But then I had to add “… and damnit, I wish you’d stop!”

Her response surprised me. Instead of getting mad, she got this vulnerable look on her face, then admitted how she didn’t think she could [stop].

“I don’t think I can,” she said.

Amazingly, from that moment on, her correcting my grammar never bothered me. In fact, I even began to appreciate it.

Okay. So a few years later, I’m performing at the Handlebar in Greenville, South Carolina. And my mother is in the audience, having driven over from Spartanburg that evening. At one point during the show, sure enough, she begins correcting my grammar. She just yells something out, which causes a ripple of whispers among many of the patrons in attendance. Who IS that woman?

“That’s my mama, y’all,” I said with a combination of pride and fear. “She likes to correct my grammar. And believe it or not, I’m glad she does!

“But I must say, if Joe South had written ‘Doesn’t It Make One Want to Go Home’ instead of ‘Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home,’ I doubt that song would ever have been a hit.”

For what it’s worth, there’s a hand-scrawled sign on the door to my writing room that says, IF BETTER ENGLISH DOESN’T HURT, WHY NOT USE IT?

Marshall Chapman is a Nashville-based singer/songwriter, author, and actress. For more information, visit www.tallgirl.com.

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