“Oh, I wish that the winter would go, and I wish that the summer would come, and away from the tents on the hill, the little brown bees would hum. And the robins their pipes would trill and the woodpecker beat his drum, and away from the tents on the hill, the little brown bees would hum . . .” so sang Daddy every late winter when the days were bleak and it seemed that spring would never come.
I can hear his voice even now echoing down through the years, as winter takes another swipe at our hills and snowflakes are falling furiously. “Old Mother Goose is shaking her feather bed,” I told one of the girls at the bank. She laughed and said she had never heard that expression. So many of our old country expressions are dying out, except for old-timers like me who still remember and use them.
Wilford Bird of Yawkey says that he has “trotted in double harness” with a Clay County girl with never a thought of “dividing the blankets.” Some of the expressions that I’ve heard Mom use (I thought they were made-up words) are actually in the dictionary. She would call a gooey mixture of food “akempucky” (American Dialect Dictionary.) Daddy would often call us children a “blatherskite,” which I didn’t know then was “a talkative person.”
We use the expression of “windbag” to describe such a person, or “he could blow up an onion sack.” We hear now that “He’s a blanny,” which comes from the word “blarney” or Blarney Stone. Legend has it that to kiss the Blarney Stone in Ireland is to obtain the gift of eloquence, or “gift of gab.”
Mom used to give the floor “a lick and a promise” when she was occupied with other chores, which meant of course that she promised to come back later and do a better job. He’s “barking up a stump” meant that whatever he was trying to do was useless. “Blinky” referred to milk that was just beginning to turn sour before it “clabbered.” “Is the butter “gatherin’ yet?” when churning clabbered milk. The butter will rise to the top and cluster together. Daddy referred to milk with all the cream skimmed off as “blue John.” Needless to say, we weren’t too fond of it. We liked the whole milk, cream and all.
Oh, that chore of churning! Clabbered milk was dumped into a stone churn, and then was jarred up and down with a churn dash. That was one of my routine chores when I was a kid at home. Churning was sort of repetitive and boring, so I would read a book while I churned. I would get engrossed in my story, and the churn lid would slip sideways and spray buttermilk all over my book and eyeglasses. The modern churns are electric and take all the work out of making butter.
After the butter had “gathered” it had to be “taken up” and washed over and over with cold water until the milk was all washed out of it. To smear homemade butter on a hot biscuit is to know the best of country eating. A spoonful of apple butter is the crowning touch.
Daddy had a lot of expressions to describe our “do-lessness” in performing a task. “You’re slower than molasses in January,” he would say. Or “You’d be a good one to send for the doctor if the devil was dying!”
If you dropped a wet dish cloth on the floor, it meant that you had company coming. Or as Mom would say, “Somebody’s comin’ all “spraddled” out!” I don’t think Mom really believed all these old superstitions, but she would quote them nevertheless. “Don’t bring a hoe in the house; it’s bad luck.” And—“don’t raise an umbrella in the house” (more bad luck.)
There were a lot of death premonitions too. “If a dog howls in front of your house, it is a sign of death in the family soon.” Maybe it was coincidence, but a dog howled under Mom’s bedroom window at two o’clock for three successive nights, and on the fourth night she got a message that her dad had passed away at two o’clock.
There is an expression I’ve heard all my life, but didn’t really know what it meant, “Who laid the chunk?” Actually it should be “from who laid the chunk” referring to a long time ago. It alludes to a time in the remote past when a chunk of knotty wood was laid as a corner base for a rail fence. Actually, it means “way back when.”
I’ve heard Mom use the term “Coxey’s Army” all my life but never knew the origin of it. She would say, “Well, here comes Coxey’s Army” when a group of us would descend upon her. It refers to the followers of labor leader Jacob S. Coxey, known as Coxey’s Army, on a march to Washington, D. C. in 1894 to protest the federal government’s response to the economic depression of the 1890’s. She was usually referring to a rag-tag bunch of kids.
Spring tried to sneak in a few days ago, but was thwarted by another wave of winter weather that descended on our hills. With the coming of March, we are hoping for soft, southerly breezes to dry up February’s mud. The lawn today is full of robins, pulling earth worms out of the soft soil and feasting on them. I am thankful for the changing of the seasons and for God’s tender care for us in all seasons. His promise in Genesis 8:22 is precious. “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”
We have a poem from the late Stella Riffle that sums up this season perfectly.
LATE WINTER – EARLY SPRING
One contemplates –which?
Snowflakes sift downward—
As if competing for a specific place
Adding to present accumulations.
When “Spring” should have arrived
With gentle warm winds, rain.
And an array of early blossoms
To betray its presence—
Instead, snow continues to thicken
Blankets covering crocuses of violet
And yellow—exposed such a few days ago;
And pussy willows just beginning to show bits of gray
As buds burst open—now withdrawn—
“On hold”—except for a few brought inside
Forced to continue blooming
To brighten a meal on a cold day
When seasons haven’t quite decided
To let go to another—Reluctant
To say “So Long” for now—
And may I, too, sympathize a bit
As I anticipate new growth and
Mowing lawns—once again.