Our hills simmer under July heat, as the sun beats down relentlessly upon humans and animals alike. Hound dogs hunt for shade under automobiles or porches, while humans seek their air-conditioned homes. Those who have to work outside take frequent water breaks, and protect their heads with wide-brimmed hats. We have been gripped in a heat wave for days and are longing for cooler temperatures. I remember Mom using the expression, “hotter than the Fourth of July!”
I’ve been thinking of the old expressions that we use unconsciously, when the other day I said, “He flew the cat-hole” describing someone who had disappeared. So many of these old sayings are passed down by our parents and grandparents, and my father was full of them. (Is that an old saying?) It is a shame that many of them are dying out, for they were quite graphic.
Grandpa O’Dell had an old metal trunk where he stored things he had collected over a lifetime, and he kept it locked. We young’ens were extremely curious as to what was in it, so whenever he unlocked it, we crowded around. “You kids quit your plunderin’” he would say. When he picked up an object, we would ask, “What’s that, Grandpa?” He would answer testily, “Hit’s a layby to ketch meddlers!”
Criss’ dad, George Bragg, had a cardinal rule when the children were small. If they had visitors, he thundered, “Don’t walk before people!” He meant that when they were seated, you didn’t walk in front of them. Criss said that many times he would walk around the house to avoid this. Also, “children were seen; not heard” and I think that is still a good admonition. Today’s children are too prone to interrupt adult conversation.
I remember Mr. Hinkle’s highest praise for work well done, “You’ve got a head on you like a house cat!” We used “You’re smart as a tack!” but “You’re a smart aleck!” was not praise. We did have a lot of derogatory phrases some of which were rather coarse. One of daddy’s frequent sayings about a person who was lazy was, “He’s as useless at teats on a boar hog!” And, “He’s not worth the salt that goes in his bread!” More common was, “He wouldn’t work in a pie factory!” I know some people who are like that.
I’ve heard this all my life to describe someone who was not broke out with beauty, “She’s ugly as a mud fence!” or “someone must have beat her with an ugly stick!” That surely is a very old expression. An old person (such as me!) can be classed “older than dirt!” I’ve heard “dumber than a box of rocks” and “dumber than a sled track.” How about “dumber than last year’s bird nest,” or “dumber than a bank mule?”
Have you ever heard, “I’m as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs!” Speaking of cats, I’ve often heard, “The house was so small you couldn’t swing a cat by the tail in it!” Who would want to swing a cat by the tail? We often heard, “You’d complain if they hung you with a new rope!”
I thought that some of the words that Mom and Daddy used were homemade, but found out later they are actually words that are in the dictionary. Daddy would call us a “blatherskite” when we talked too much, and Mom called any gummy mixture “ackempucky.” Daddy called me “Tugmutton” when I was little, but I do think that is a made-up word, just as we called sister Susie’s daughter “Wurfy.” Her name actually is Alison.
We called Satan “the boogerman” and we never said “Lord” or “God,” but we called Him “the Good Man.” His name was too sacred to use in ordinary conversation. We were never allowed to tell someone, “you lied,” but you “storied” or “you told a story.” We never used “by-words” (by the way, I found that in the dictionary) such as gosh, golly, heck or other words like that, but we could say “shoot” or “shucks.” I still hurts me to hear people say, “Oh my God!”
Some of our expressions were pure country, such as “coffee sack” for a burlap feed sack. Since most of our cattle feed comes in plastic sacks now, I don’t know what you would call them. I liked it when feed came in printed cotton feed sacks, and could be used for dresses, skirts, other articles of clothing. When milk turned sour, it was called “blinky” and the next stage was “clabbered” milk. It was used then for cottage cheese or churned for butter and buttermilk.
We kids used to pitch “conniption fits” but a “whupping” with a switch soon cured that. Now they simply just get “their bloomers in a wad,” and I’m afraid that a little “birch tea” is a thing of the past. When we got sick we were “feelin’ porely” or “under the weather” and when we “fell off” (lost weight) we looked pretty “ribey.” There were lots of words to describe being tired, such as “all tuckered out” and “tired to the bone.” Grandma O’Dell would say that “she was plumb petered out.”
When Daddy would ask us something and we failed to answer, he’d say, “Well, talk or shake a bush!” Mom would give something “a lick and a promise,” meaning when she had more time she’d come back and do the job properly. I’m afraid that I use that phrase a lot!
Have you ever heard of a stump-sucker, or a stump-sucking horse? It’s a horse that gnaws or sucks on old stumps. I’ve also heard of stump water, but can’t remember what it was used for. That reminds me of a “suck-egg dog” or a useless person. Speaking of eggs (sometimes called “cackle berries”) when a hen “goes to settin” or ready to sit on a nest and hatch eggs, she is called a “broody” hen. She hatches out “biddies” or “doodies.”
Watch out for her then–she is so protective of those baby chicks that she will flog anyone who interferes. My little Jack Russell, Minnie, innocently followed me to the chicken house once just as a game hen came out with her biddies. Without warning, the hen flew across the lot and attacked Minnie and rode on her back to the house. She was “madder than a wet hen.” Minnie avoided the chicken house after that.
By S. Alicia Poole
When you doubt the lovely silence
Of a quiet wooded place,
When you doubt the path of silver
Of some moonlit water space,
When you doubt the winds a’blowing,
Flash of lightning, glistening rain,
Sun or starlit heavens above you
On the land or bounding main,
When you doubt the sleep of loved ones
Deep beneath some precious sod,
Listen to a soft voice saying,
“Be still, and know that I am God.”