Lauretta Hannon: On mama power and Cooter Brown
February 12, 2013 01:14 AM | 2419 views | 7 7 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Q: My daughter and her husband wanted to come to my house to watch football and they would be bringing beer with them. I have an alcoholic son, so I asked her not to bring any alcohol over. Her in-laws invited them to their house, and they also requested no alcohol. She was pretty peeved with both households and said the alcoholics have to refrain from drinking when they are in social settings and at restaurants anyway. I was more concerned about the uncomfortable situation it would cause. My husband agrees with her. I see both sides. What do you think?

A: I say it’s time to reclaim your maternal authority. Declare a state of Mama Law. Explain that your rules prevail within the jurisdiction of your home. If your daughter doesn’t like it, she can always invite everyone to join her at a restaurant to view the next game. Your request is reasonable, and her response shows a lack of consideration.

I grew up around boozers. I remember the nauseating tension and dread created when alcohol was about to make an appearance. You have every right to preserve the peace under your own roof. In matters like these, Mama IS The Law.

Q: Can you get a “divorce” from family members or are you married forever?

A: You’re always going to be family, but you can certainly make yourself disappear from someone’s life. I recommend “divorces” only in cases where the family member is so toxic that serious harm is being done. Think long and hard before disconnecting. Sometimes it’s healthy to take “vacations” from worrisome family rather than a complete break.

Q: I’m new to the South and recently heard someone say, “He was drunker than Cooter Brown.” Who exactly is this Cooter Brown?

A: Like many Southerners, I am well-acquainted with Mr. Brown. With all the debauchery in my bloodline, I thought he might be an ancient uncle. But for the sake of my readers I did extensive Internet research (translation: 3 minutes on Wikipedia).

Here’s what that source says: “Cooter Brown is a name used in metaphors and similes for drunkenness…Cooter Brown supposedly lived on the line which divided the North and South during the American Civil War, making him eligible for military draft by either side. He had family on both sides of the line, so he did not want to fight in the war. He decided to get drunk and stay drunk for the duration of the war so that he would be seen as useless for military purposes and would not be drafted. Ever since, colloquial and proverbial ratings of drunkenness have been benchmarked against the legendary drinker…”

In my travels to promote my memoir, I am often asked “what is it about the South that is so special?” Part of the answer is in our language. It’s lyrical, alive and as richly seasoned as slow-cooked collards. With much of our vernacular fading away, I’m glad that we’ve at least kept Cooter kickin’ for more than 148 years.

I hope you will be a good Southern transplant and use the phrase “drunker than Cooter Brown” regularly. Start learning these expressions as well: “mash the button,” “crack the window,” “fixin’ to,” “co-cola,” “stove-up,” “might could,” and “bless your heart.” Gradually move on to more advanced Southernisms such as: “he’s as ugly as homemade sin,” “that dog won’t hunt,” and “she was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”

You can ask Southern friends for others. They will appreciate your interest and take you in like a country cousin come to town. But be warned: If you disrespect them you’ll be treated more like a distant cousin come to borrow money.

Send your questions to

Lauretta Hannon, a resident of Powder Springs, is the bestselling author of The Cracker Queen — A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life and a keynote speaker. Southern Living has named her “the funniest woman in Georgia.” See more at
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Jamie Wyatt
February 12, 2013
I declare, Lauretta, you've done gone and outdid yourself again! Bless your heart! Amen on the "no alcohol" Mama Law!
Lauretta Hannon
February 13, 2013
Outdid myself? Thank ya, is that like when I go get my hair did? Ha!
February 12, 2013
Thank you for the Southernisms! Being married to a Yankee for 17 years now, I'd forgotten some of those. I'll have to use "uglier than homemade sin" sometime soon and see what reaction I get. It drives him crazy when my relatives say "mash" instead of "press".
Rebecca Fullbright
February 12, 2013
On your response about the daughter that was upset that her mother did not want her to bring alcohol to her house, you were right on! Number one it is HER house- so her rules! How disrespectful for a child to argue with their parents about how they run their home. My mother always said, "Whether you are 15 or 50, as long as you put your feet under my table you WILL follow my rules!" That daughter needs to grow up!
Lauretta Hannon
February 12, 2013

1. When have you declared Mama Law or seen it declared?

2. What's your favorite Southernism?
Beth H
February 12, 2013
I declare Mama Law regularly - no "friends of the opposite sex" visiting behind closed doors in the private rooms of the house. It's worked well so far.

My favorite Southernism? "Bless your heart" (or his or hers, depending on the conversation). When I'm speaking with my NY friends & relatives, I use this one every so often. It confuses the heck out of them - bless their hearts!
February 12, 2013
1. My grandmother always insisted on two things: that it was her house, and if you didn't like her cigarette smoke then YOU could go outside. (This was in the 60s and 70s, when such things were permissible). The other rule was, nobody started eating until my dad and grandfather came to the table. My, how times have changed!

2. The aforementioned grandmother had several favorite phrases, one of which was, "I'm as mad as a screwed cat!" (Others include, "tight as Dicks hat band", and "happy as a pig in slop").
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