glorious words, and the way they're strung together can keep me
and my remaining gray cells entertained for hours. Besides being
a long term addict of stories of all sorts, of factual articles
in an area appealing to my sometimes quirky interests and as a devotee
of crossword puzzles, I've always been a literary cheap feed, or
read. I like billboards, road signs, the back of macaroni boxes,
labels on detergent bottles, hand lettered signs in the produce
department of the grocery store, those awkwardly phrased little
instruction leaflets in English that are translated and printed
in foreign countries where it's obvious English is a second language,
or third, or maybe fifth. In short, if you print it, I will read.
I dearly love puns, too, good ones, bad ones and really bad groaners.
Now that I'm older, I've gotten a little more specialized in that
I tend to look for mistakes, especially unwitting ones, that change
a perfectly respectable thought or message into something totally
different than its original intent. The best ones are those that
have hilarious outcomes.
Close to my heart, too, are the many regional sayings, aphorisms,
the little chunks of wit and wisdom delivered in tidy packages of
few words. I wish I had saved my copy of Texas Monthly more than
18 years ago with the best article ever printed between the pages
of that magazine, only my opinion, of course. The article featured
about 625 Texas aphorisms, and it gave me untold hours of delight
before I mailed it to a pen pal in the UK who was fascinated with
all things Texas. I had learned over the years to edit my letters
because he didn't often understand the meanings of idioms that I
My mother used a good many aphorisms in her conversation, colorful
ones that she sprinkled all around as her hands waved in the air,
her eyebrows wiggled and her gray green eyes snapped and sparkled.
She was into multimedia way ahead of her time, I guess. The sayings
were such a natural part of her conversation that they flowed easily
and to my child's ear, even seemed to sometimes make sense, until
I got old enough to dissect the actual words. Then they may as well
have been the Czech that she and my aunt lapsed into when discussing
Christmas presents and matters unsuited for tender ears.
One saying that got a lot of use was often directed at my brother.
Poor Butch was victimized by airborne allergies long before treating
them became a widespread medical specialty. In fact, there was a
pretty huge furor when one of the General Practitioners in town
“went off to become an allergy doctor, of all things”, the first
in Beaumont that anyone knew of, this often being said with a mixture
of disbelief and maybe with a hint of contempt. At any rate, Butch
was the reason Mama got rid of all of the feather pillows in the
house and went with foam filled ones, the foam being a crumbly,
formless type that never kept its shape. But I digress...again.
Butch sneezed a lot at certain times of the year and his eyes were
often bloodshot and watery. They itched like mad so he rubbed them
which made them even redder. It became an endless itch-scratch cycle.
When he woke up in the morning and headed to the kitchen Mama greeted
him a lot of times with “Butchie, your eyes look like two fried
eggs in a slop bucket." Go get a wet rag to put on them.” An accurate
description, I'm sure, if you were familiar with pig slop and the
buckets which held it, but Butch and I were city slickers, novices
here. “What's a slop bucket, Mama?” After the first half dozen times
we asked she simply snapped back with the quick and dirty “It's
Another thing she said to refer to someone who was very stingy was
“He's as tight as Dick's hatband.” As far as I knew we didn't know
anyone named Dick, at least, I didn't. I had to ask. The reply was
“Oh, Sissy, it's just an expression.” I might add this phrase was
also used to describe someone who had taken on too much to drink.
Often when my mother met a friend or acquaintance and they asked
how she was, she'd come back with “I'm fair to middlin', halfway
to Odessa.” That one was harder to decipher as it hinged on having
both a knowledge of Texas geography and a fairly sophisticated sense
of humor. Once again, “Mama, what's a middlin'?” or what/where's
an Odessa?” got the comeback, “Oh, Sissy (or Butch), don't you see,
it's just an expression!”
Asking for a
favor from someone who agreed to it got my mother's heartfelt, “Oh,
girl, thank you! I'll dance at your next wedding.” This got a workout
when she was borrowing a cup of something from Ms. Nita next door
or inveigling a friend to bake their special cake for Christmas
or when thanking her beautician friend for working her in for a
shampoo and set at last minute notice. Naturally I had to know A.
who were they married to now B. who were they going to marry next
and C. what were they going to do with their kids if/when they got
married to someone else. This line of questioning could get to be
really tedious, so she learned to cut to the chase with the firmer
variant “Oh, for Heaven's sake, Sissy, it's JUST an expression!”
languages has never been my strong suit, but I figure Butch and
I can qualify in Intermediate Aphorisms , at the very least. Now
if I can just track down a copy of that Texas Monthly article I'll
© Frances Giles
"True Confessions and Mild Obsessions"
June 6, 2015 Column
Related Topics: Columns
Towns | Texas