Last month I wrote a column called “The Practice of the Practice,” and many of you responded with gratifying enthusiasm. Apparently that column, with its simple but uplifting recipes for living the writer’s life really struck a chord out there. The comments flew, we had a lot of emotional give and take – it was exhausting. Well, since I’m writing this next column over Labor Day weekend, and really don’t feel like laboring that hard, I thought I’d kick back with an entry that’s really just for fun. As you will be reading it at the other end of this month, when perhaps autumn has started to nibble away at your summer, you might be in the mood for some fun, too.
Herewith, then, a quick visit to the twisted (and perhaps wholly fictive) world of my grandfather’s syntax. As granddad himself would have said, I will tell you right off the top of the bat that there’s more than one way to sink a cat; if you care to add to this modest collection of bent phrases and mangled clichés, oh please do, via the comment box below. That will make me happy as the day is loud.
Now then, my grandfather grew up in one of those quaint European countries that don’t exactly exist any more, and while he never quite mastered the English language, he was always an ardent fan. Or, as he once put it, an eager beagle.
In grandpa’s world, if you got in trouble you were up a creek without a puddle. To emulate someone, you would follow suit in their footsteps. If you were odd, you stuck out like a green thumb. If you were a good person, he’d call you a diamond in the rut. When he wanted to examine something closely he’d go over it with a fine toothbrush. An achievement was a feather in his nest.
Of all his grandchildren I’m sure I was his favorite. He used to call me a chip off the old shoulder. We were close, he’d say, like two peas in a pot, through fast and famine, come hell or hot water. Still, he was always warning me not to go feeding my oats or getting too big for my bridges. Which bridges he always encouraged me to burn when I came to them.
When he spoke of someone he admired, he’d describe them as “head and shoulders above water,” and “not just a flash in the can.” He supported certain politicians early, before everyone else jumped on the bandstand. He liked movies that kept him on the edge of his teeth, but hated ones that fell apart at the scenes. And when he loved a song, he loved it all: hook, line and singer.
He had a knack, that man. He could kill two birds with one bush, make a mountain out of a manhole, vanish into thin ice, whip up a tempest in a teaspoon, and pull the wood over people’s eyes. He’s the only man I know who could have his cake and take it too. A hard-working man, he never rode the gravy boat. He kept his ear to the grindstone and his nose on the ball. Nor would he cut off that nose to split his face.
He was proud to say he pulled his own leg in this world. Beggars, he noted, can’t be cheaters. They shouldn’t act so high and dry. Just the same, he was always ready to roll out the magic carpet for company, even for his no-good brother, who could eat him out of house and garden, and of whom he often said, “A fool and his money are soon partners.”
When he met his wife (“the ol’ ball ‘n’ socket”), it was love at first base. They were poor but happy, living from hand to hand. Later, though, she became a milestone around his neck. He said she left a lot to be despised. Apparently they were like oil and vinegar together.
As he grew older he was fond of saying that he was no springing chicken and furthermore not longing for this world. He wasn’t trying to make a slick purse out of a sow’s ear or glide the lily; he could just read the writing on the well, that’s all.
And now he’s passed on. Having kissed the bucket and bidden the dust, he’s pulling up daisies, out of his miniseries at last. Things are quiet now that he’s gone, so quiet you can hear a pin cushion. And when I find myself missing him most, I remind myself that there’s no use crying over malted milk, or, for that matter, beating a deaf horse. It’s just the dark before the storm. Rome wasn’t burnt in a day.
I tell myself these things and I start to feel better.
Guess I’m just a chip off the old shoulder after all.
(You can find this text, plus other fun stuff and damn useful stuff about writing, in my book, Creativity Rules! If you liked last month’s column, or this one, or both, seriously, that’s a book for you.)
Photo by Christopher&Tia.