A curious little word for Andy
by Stephen Harris
Back in the Hometown
A curious little word from somewhere in the back of my little brain has resurrected.
It’s a word that I’d hear from time to time when I was a kid growing up here in the hometown. Then I tried using the word one time at school Down East, and a guy from New York laughed it out of my vocabulary. Till now.
The best way I know to write it is “quar.” I’ve seen it written as “quair” but I never heard the “i” pronounced.
Back in the day older folk might call someone “quar.” If you’re younger than me, you’ve probably never heard the word.
It seemed to describe someone who lived a rather isolated lifestyle and who struck you as a little unusual.
It seemed to be a variant of “queer” in the traditional meaning of that word. But that’s not quite the meaning I had of “quar.”
Folks would say “quar” similar to the way some would say “hit,” instead of “it.” “Hit” was an example of old mountain talk and had come from the pioneering Scots-Irish, I once read.
Some older person who lived down towards the dead end of a old dirt road - and we had plenty of those around here back when I was a kid - and who didn’t get out much might be called “quar.”
But isolation alone did not make one “quar.” One also had to act a little odd. Now that was harder to pin on someone.
For instance, one time they tried to get my grandmother who lived alone and without transportation to sign up for Social Security benefits. She refused, would have nothing to do with the idea. At the time I thought that a little “quar.”
I never took the word as a pejorative. You could be “quar” and still be well-liked, even lovable. The word just described a person as different.
Over the years I’ve wondered about Andy Griffith, whose death from heart trouble July 3 at the age of 86 stirred up so much emotion here and around the country.
Griffith grew up in Mount Airy, our neighbor to the northeast, but was he one of us? That’s not easy to answer.
A wonderful actor and singer, Griffith never came back to the hometown to live after he went away to school, unlike me. The amount of visiting he made back to his hometown through the years is a subject of debate.
Though Griffith went off to New York City and then Hollywood, he was no Hollywood prima donna. You heard very little from him off screen.
He was no self-promoter. He kept quiet about himself most of the time. People expecting the affable, outgoing Sheriff Andy normally got a surprise when they met up with the quieter, more guarded Andy Griffith.
And when you did see or read something about Griffith the man, not the actor, he seemed retiring, uncomfortable, perhaps a bit shy about all the attention stirred up over him. Very different from the Hollywood norm.
In Hollywood they might have thought of Griffith as a bit “quar” had they known the word. He surely wasn’t one of them.
Over the Fourth of July holiday I had a little extra time to read over some of the many news reports, tributes and commentaries on Griffith. I read one account that included some negative comments Griffith once made about growing up in Mount Airy.
But later in life Griffith moved from Hollywood to Roanoke Island on the North Carolina coast. He had picked out a spot there, I read, back when he was fresh out of school and working in the outdoor drama in Manteo. He came back and built a house on the spot. He also moved his show “Matlock” from Hollywood to Wilmington.
Now Manteo and the Outer Banks are nice but a bit humid for my taste. I would’ve come back to the Blue Ridge, but that’s just me. But his choice of the coast doesn’t disqualify Griffith as one of us.
In his later years Griffith seemed to grow in his warmth for Mount Airy. He appeared emotionally touched during the Andy and Opie statue dedication there in 2004.
I caught Griffith one time on Bill Friday’s public-TV show, “North Carolina People,” a half-hour interview show. I hear Griffith didn’t do many things like that, but he liked Friday (who doesn’t?), and that’s probably why Griffith went on the show.
Griffith was the son of a factory worker at the old Mount Airy Furniture plant. Dad put in 41 years at the old Chatham mill here. Griffith was only six years younger than Dad.
And at one point on Friday’s TV show Griffith cocked his head and started a sentence in a drawl an octave higher than normal, and that mannerism struck me as being just like Dad.
In that instant I caught a glimpse of Andy Griffith, not the famous Hollywood star but Andy Griffith one of many fellow sons of Surry County factory workers. He could’ve been sitting at a break table at the plant. Just like one of us.
The Mount Airy mayor told the ‘paper up there that Griffith and his wife “were private people.” And the ‘paper described Griffith as “cantankerous and difficult to work with.” Those are sophisticated ways of saying “quar.”
If that was the case surely Griffith WAS one of us.
And I can see Griffith in a good mood and leaning forward, planting elbows on knees and chuckling about “quar.”
And I can hear him say, “You know, I could’ve used that in a show.”
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.
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