Sunday, October 15, 2006

"Every man is a quotation from all his ancestors." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I grew up listening to a lot of parent-isms. Things like "how many times have I told you?", "do you want me to give you something to cry about?", "if your friends jumped off a bridge would you join them?", "you'd complain if you were hung with a new rope" ... the types of things that all parents say to their kids. Of course, like all kids, I vowed that if I ever had kids of my own I would never in a million years say those sort of things to them - I would be more compassionate, I would be more understanding, I would be a better communicator, I would be ... just like my parents and say the same things!

I guess when we hear something enough times it becomes ingrained into our heads and just automatically pops out of our mouths from time to time without our really meaning it to. As we become parents ourselves, we become more and more like our own parents in our style of parenting. Leastways, I have found that to be the case in some areas, though certainly not all.

I can't really complain about my upbringing, though as a teenager I'm sure I thought I had it just as rough as every other angst-driven teen out there. I spent my fair share of time being "grounded" for either legitimately doing something stupid or for my brothers telling my parents I did something stupid that I hadn't actually done. Growing up the only girl with three brothers (one older and two younger) can be downright difficult and lest you think I was spoiled because I was the only girl - think again! My father grew up with three brothers and no sisters and I'm pretty sure he didn't know what to do with me. And I'm darned sure I didn't make it any easier on him! My poor mother ran interference for us constantly and looking back now as an adult I can see where perhaps I should have been the one to give in occasionally rather than defiantly expecting my father to, which you can bet your life wasn't going to happen either! Talk about the home version of
Family Feud!

Because we were both so stubborn and my mother needed a break from the two of us every once in awhile, I would occasionally end up spending a few days at my Old Gram B's house just so there could be some quiet on the homefront. At the time, Granny lived near a brook in beautiful downtown Scotland, Connecticut (translated: the middle of nowhere) and I had the run of the place such as it was. I can remember spending many an afternoon sitting by the side of the brook with fishing pole in hand trying to catch one of the many catfish that liked to tease me by eating the bait and swimming quickly away. Truth be told, I didn't really
want to catch one because they were so ugly and I had heard that their whiskers stung but it was a fun way to spend the time!

As previously mentioned, my father's mother is an old swamp Yankee from back in the days when Connecticut was mostly swamp! She was a Butler prior to marriage and we can lay claim to Susan B. Anthony as an ancestor on her mother's side of the family. Granny and her sister, Effie, used to love to take the trolley to New London on weekends to go to dances at the armory and that's where she met my grandfather Red who, as she always told us, "was a swell dancer!" He obviously swept Granny off her feet as they married, had four fine young sons, and moved to Illinois where she experienced her first and only tornado. You could almost see and hear that tornado when she would tell us the story of how "the sky became darker than pitch and it sounded like a freight train rumbling through the house." She must have been scared to death but it was quite the adventure for a girl from a small town in Connecticut and she sure loved to tell us that story in her later years.

Unfortunately, her marriage to Red was not to last (something about him throwing an ashtray at her head one day ...) and they eventually divorced. Back in Connecticut she lived with her parents in Willimantic where "those Butler boys" as they were known were quite the little hellions. My Uncle Alton can tell stories about he and his brothers that to this day will make tears run down my face because I'm laughing so hard! But in spite of the antics of her sons, Granny found another man to marry and I'm pretty sure I can remember her telling us that Maurice was a "swell dancer" also. Apparently my grandmother loved to dance though I never once saw her do it myself except through her reminiscences of times gone by.

Eventually Maurice and Granny sold the house in Scotland and moved to a small house built above a garage across the yard from my Uncle Alton and Aunt Eleanor in Canterbury. It was a comfy little house and she loved to have company come over and sit on the couch to visit while she sat in her recliner and told us the same stories over and over and over and over again. It was from listening to her tell those stories that I picked up a handful of phrases that just pop out of my mouth from time to time without my even thinking about it. "Homely enough to scare a bush", "I don't feel a bit good", "oh for cat's sake", "odder than two sticks", "it's a shame to get that old and die" and - my all-time favorite - "you look like death eating a cracker"!

The older I get, it seems the more I sound like a combination of my father and my grandmother as I catch myself saying things that I know for sure came out of their mouths long ago. Ay-yuh, at the rate ah'm goin' ah'm sure to sound like an old Swamp Yankee myself before too long - if I don't already! But in thinking about it, it's really okay because through the things I say and the way I say them, my Dad and my Old Gram B continue to live on. And I, for one, think that's pretty cool!


  1. It is so scary when I hear my mom talking with my mouth. You know what is worse? Seeing her in the mirror.

    Here from Blog Village Carnival.

  2. Great story. I use all the best line from my parents and grandparents whenever I can.

    They get me some weird looks and some laughs, and I like to think I'm keeping part of them alive.

    (I'm here from the Blog Village Goes Gonzo Carnival.)

  3. "Are you a red eye and a green one" came to mind! Somehow it meant are you ready?

    I followed your link from the BLOG VILLAGE Goes Gonzo Carnival!!!

  4. I was forever stumping my students with old time expressions that made perfect sense to me.

    My Mama was English, and every once in awhile, she would tell me she was going to "shed a tear for Ireland" on her way to the bathroom.

    It was a long time before I learned that this was derogatory, because she never said it with any sarcasm or rancor. It was just an expression she grew up with, which had no political connotation to her at all.


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