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Hillbilly Wisdom

Updated: Jan 14, 2020

Wisdom isn't something you hear people talk about very much in relation to hillbillies, but it's there.

My mamaw, Elzada Griffith Manis was one of the wisest people I've ever known, in spite of the fact that she only made it through the 6th grade in elementary school.

Elzada Griffith

She only had to walk into a room to make new friend from a stranger, and not just in Tennessee, but anywhere she roamed over her 80 plus years on this earth.

Her hair was white as cottony-snow and made an unearthly halo around her head. You couldn't help but see her immediately when she came into view because of her glowing.

Don't get me wrong, Mamaw was no saint. Far from it. She was what we hillbillies call "mean" or "full of mean'ess."

"Mean" in hillbilly is mischievous or fun-loving, not cruel or callous.

Maybe a better definition for hillbilly "mean" is a joking prankster unconcerned about what other people think.

Mamaw Williams, my dad's mother made it through the 8th grade, and she had a certain wisdom, too, though my aunt might disagree.

My dad put a lot of emphasis on education and reading, and as a kid, he encouraged me to get straight As in school, which I did, more for the praise than the good grades.

In third or fourth grade, I began outpacing my mamaws in terms of proper English grammar, and on one occasion attempted to correct one of them.

This was the wrong move, I quickly learned, as my correction was not warmly greeted, but rather elicited an accusation of becoming too "uppity" with my City School education.

For better or worse, always the praise seeker, my motives quickly changed from teaching mamaws proper grammar to behaving in a way they found to be praiseworthy.

Oddly enough, my desire to be helpful earned me the title of "smart girl" not for any grades or proper use of grammar, but for making the bed, sweeping and washing dishes unasked.

"What a smart girl!" Mamaw Williams exclaimed, finding that I had made her bed and tidied her room one afternoon during a sleepover visit.

It was confusing to me that something requiring no smarts at all in my opinion would gain me the praise I had forfeited with my earlier attempts at academic helpfulness.

This early discovery into the mindset of my practical, though uneducated by modern standards, grandmothers has served me well in life.

Working with songwriters and later the U.S. State Department around the world as a citizen ambassador, the unconventional wisdom gained from observing my elementary school educated grandmothers has proven invaluable.

Diplomacy has many faces, and many models, as I'm learning, but one thing remains constant - respect for others, no matter how unassuming they may seem, is always the correct path forward in building lasting relationships.

Just as with any principle, it is self-evident, meaning that in order to have respect in one's relationships, one has to be respectful.

Without behaving respectfully, respect cannot exist.

Is it more important to be right, or to be loved?

Which has more influence, and which is most respectful?

I am reminded of all of this in my lifelong pursuit for knowledge and wisdom.

Some of the greatest wisdom can be found in the most unexpected places.

What does wisdom mean for you?


Here's a resource that's helpful for learning both proper English grammar, and its hillbilly cousin. Rod and Staff books provide common dialect "mistakes" used by hillbillies and Southern Americans, and give the proper English equivalent. We used these as our grammar texts in homeschooling the twins. [Amazon affiliate link]


Amanda Colleen Williams is an awarded songwriter and music publisher with songs on albums certified at 17 million sales by the Recording Industry Association of America®, including "She's Tired of Boys" written with Garth Brooks, and is a US Department of State Exchange Program Arts Envoy IPR pilot.


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