This title may have an obvious answer, but I want to break it down a little further, based on my experience growing up in the country. When you live in the country, I'm talking "big country" where the sky is the limit, with lots of open space and a landscape that appears to have no end, your world is bigger than life itself. We grew up talking as though we wanted the people in the next town to hear us. For instance. if you are in the front yard and want someone to bring you the rake that you left in the backyard, you have to knock it up a few octaves in order for them to hear you.
If your neighbor is halfway back home before you realize you forgot to tell her something, you run behind her. When you think you're within hearing distance, you let out a holler. If she can't hear you, then you know you have to close the gap a little more. In the city, it's considered rude to holler. In the country, it's not. Raising our voice is just the normal way country folks communicate with each other or their stubborn, hard-headed animals that act as though they are deaf. In rural areas, unless you are within a few feet of someone, while they may can hear you, they can't decipher what you are saying. So, it's OK to up your already high-pitched voice tone a little bit higher.
We never had livestock, but we could hear our neighbors hollering for their cows and horses if they were way down in the pasture somewhere. If that’s where they are, a normal voice range won’t do. Sometimes, though, even the loudest holler doesn't work. If you really want your four-legged beasts and they are not within hollering distance, you have to go on a wild-goose chase before belting out another holler.
The Milk Maid is smart. She got tired of hollering every day. When it's milking time and if her heifer hasn’t found her way back to the barn on her own, she wanders through the woods looking for her cow with the heavy udder, hoping to hear the jingling bell that she tied, with a lock, around the cow's neck. That way, she doesn't have to raise her voice, even the slightest bit.
Most country people feel as though they “own” the space around them, even if that space is 5 miles away. Living in the wide, open area called "country" gives them a sense of freedom and ownership of their immediate and not-so-immediate surroundings. If we talk or scream to the top of our voices, that is OK, as long as we aren't exploding in somebody's ear. Whenever we want to, we holler. Not just when we’re at a ball game but anytime we feel like it. That’s our way of speaking to whatever is in our world, no matter how far away the whatever is.
Kids love exercising their throat muscles — not at anybody or anything in particular, but just because they can. Hollering is a game and sport to them. The same was true with us. When we weren't someplace where we had to be quiet, we threw caution to the wind. Like someone yelling through a bull-horn, we took our liberty in hearing how loudly we could talk.
Our house was about a quarter of a mile from the school house. Before I was old enough to attend, I would sit on our front porch. During recess, I would hear the students playing and hollering at each other, especially while playing ball. Though I couldn't distinguish their words, I could hear their muffled voices.
Another fun thing to do was stand near the road, face the school house, take in a deep breath and holler as loudly as we could. Since the building was empty, her booming echo came hollering back at us, word-for-word what we had just yelled at her.
Hollering is very much a part of rural peoples' lives. We do it every day and don't think a thing in the world about it. It's our way of attempting to communicate effectively. For the most part, in wide open spaces that appear never to end you have to lift your voice to the heavens in order to be heard and understood clearly and precisely. And to this day, I'm not sure I have gotten all of the "country" holler out of me. I still have an extraordinarily loud voice and constantly have to practice speaking lowly and softly.
I guess it's true that you can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl.
Photo by Getty Images/Imgorthand
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