I found that Zora Neale Hurston story I was looking for.
Hurston was many things: poet, fiction writer, public speaker, political essayist, social critic, center of the Harlem Renaisance, America's premier folklorist. And she was a first rate anthropologist.
As a folklorist and anthropologist she travelled the American south collecting the old tales that had been passed down through the African American community since the days of slavery. And thank God she did, for within a few years it would have been impossible to collect such stories from people who had been born under slavery. Not only did she collect the stories, but some of them she actually was able to record in audio! Hurston's work on many fronts has left a treasure that America should cherish as long as we exist!
Toni Morrison was absolutely right when she called Hurston "one of the greatest writers of our time." No one who has read Their Eyes Were Watching God would ever argue that point!
The following is from one of her anthropological trips in the south. I appreciate her careful rendition of the dialect in which Robert Williams first told this tale to her.
"Man sent his daughter off tuh school fur seven years. Den she come home all finished up. So he said tuh her: "Daughter, git you things an' write me uh letter tuh mah brother." So she did.
He says: "Head it up," an' she done so. "Dear brother, our chile is done come home from school all finished up, an' we is very proud of her." (To daughter): "You got dat?"
She tole 'im, "Yeah."
"Our dog is dead an' our mule is dead, but I got anuther mule, and when I say (the clucking tongue and teeth sound used to urge mules), he moves from de word . . . Is you got dat?" She told him, "Naw." He waited a while and he ast her again, "Is you got dat down yit?"
"Naw sir, I ain't got it yit."
"How come you ain't got it?"
"Cause I can't spell (clucking sound)."
"You mean tuh tell me you been off tuh school seven years and can't spell (clucking sound)? Well, I could almost spell dat myself. Well, jest say (sound) and go on."
I find it wonderful that a culture to whom written speech was new took the time to notice and mock the limitations that it places on us, while most people who grew up with the written word have never even noticed how much of their everyday language can not be put down on paper.