Maggie Van Ostrand
| "What parent
in his right mind would give a 6-year-old a hatchet? Probably not even Lizzie
Bordon had a hatchet at that young age. Even if you could find such a parent,
today's hatchets are probably child-proofed like everything else."|
| || |
Weems' Fable by Grant Wood |
Photo Courtesy Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth,
|It has been said that
a snide American reporter who was interviewing a former President of Mexico, asked,
"Mr. President, is it true that you own the controlling shares of TelMex and isn't
that illegal?" The truthful but not-to-be-intimidated President replied, "Whether
I do or do not is none of your business." Perhaps all Mexican politicians are
not so forthright. Perhaps American politicans aren't either. |
was a kid, we honored George ("I cannot tell a lie.") Washington's birthday by
listening to the grown-ups spin stories of both his honesty and his pitching ability
as he threw a half-dollar across the Potomac River. Did he really? With today's
scratch and sniff myths, we must scratch the myth and sniff out the truth. It
wasn't a half-dollar Washington threw, it was a British guinea, and it wasn't
the Potomac River, it was the Rapahannock.
Even as a child, George Washington
had the reputation of always telling the truth. It was said that when 6-year old-George
cut down his father's favorite cherry tree with his new hatchet, he copped to
the cut when his father asked, "George, do you know who killed that beautiful
little cherry tree yonder in the garden?" We believed the story because they used
old-fashioned words like "yonder." This was little George's moment of truth, and
he bravely replied, "I cannot tell a lie, Papa. I did cut it with my hatchet."
What parent in his right mind would give a 6-year-old a hatchet? Probably not
even Lizzie Bordon had a hatchet at that young age. Even if you could find such
a parent, today's hatchets are probably child-proofed like everything else.
I don't know how anybody could prove whether the story of little George is
true but, if his father caught him standing by the cut tree, hatchet in hand,
what choice did he have but to tell the truth? I don't see how little George,
caught red-handed, could have even saved himself with the kind of lie all kids
tell and you don't know why they bother. The kind of lie which brings forth in
every generation the parental line, "If you lie to me, you'll be punished not
for what you did but for lying." Remember that one? Heard it from your parents?
Said it yourself?
What if George really lied and said something like,
"The tree was about to attack me and I cut it in self defense." What could his
father have said? "Liar, liar, breeches on fire?"
In Mexico, even white
lies are frowned upon. Workers will tell you they'll be at your place "Mañana."
The word "mañana" doesn't mean "tomorrow" as I always thought, it means "not today."
There's a certain kindness in telling someone "not today." How can a person fret
when the worker doesn't show up the next day if they understand the benevolence
behind it? Would you rather have the worker say, "Not today, not tomorrow, perhaps
not for three weeks?" That could make even the most serene person anxious. But
the "mañana" way, you learn to relax and appreciate it even more when the worker
finally shows up. Well, you would in a perfect world.
Probably the most
desperately creative lie I ever heard, is attributed to the great Richard Pryor
who, when caught by his wife in a compromising position with another woman, leapt
out of bed and said, in the voice of a man unjustly accused, "Who're ya gonna
believe? Me or your lying eyes?" Maybe Pryor wasn't president of a country, but
that was a most political answer.
Nothing but the truth? I have learned
that the hard truth is this: people are capable of telling something but the truth
with or without swearing oaths, even presidents, from Washington's axe to Clinton's
There was one American president who might have been an exception,
or he might've been acquainted with that (mythical?) Mexican President. It was
Harry ("Give 'em hell") Truman who said, "I never gave them hell. I just tell
the truth and they think it's hell."
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
Balloon In Cactus" 2002 Column
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