Column: Collection of sayings created a private family language

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 8, 2001

My books never get sorted because when I start sorting I run across something that interests me and the sorting stops.

Thursday, February 08, 2001

My books never get sorted because when I start sorting I run across something that interests me and the sorting stops. Thus from &uot;Enjoying Ireland&uot; by William and Constance Kehoe:

Email newsletter signup

&uot;A quickness and a deftness with words has long been an Irish trait.&uot; ; &uot;The vivid phrases, the surprising choices-of-word, the richness of expression so often encountered in Irish speech are in large part a product of the Gaelic background.&uot;

There is no doubt in my mind that all this is true of the Irish, but I’m inclined to believe that is not confined to the Irish. I remember an artist, born and bred in Norway, who used to keep a room full of people convulsed with his description of his adventures on a Midwest farm.

Every family, I think, has its collection of words and phrases, more or less meaningless to outsiders, but a source of joy to the family.

Our family had its share. My Grandmother Cruikshank was a small nervous woman, mother of two daughters and four sons. She loved flowers and had a kitchen full of house plants, mostly geraniums. On a day when the more or less uncivilized sons, then children, were racing through the kitchen, my grandmother, fearful for her plants, called out, &uot;Watch out! Watch out! Watch out for the gerinktums!&uot;

To this day, no matter what the danger, it’s remained a cry of warning. Drive a car too fast, start a heated family argument, decide to buy an expensive and unneeded article, there was always someone to call out, &uot;Watch out for the gerinktums.&uot;

My grandfather was a railroad man, who had to travel often. When his work took him to a small town near his home, a town where his mother-in-law lived, he stayed with her. If the children could get out of school the rest of the family joined him.

My grandmother was a woman who made careful preparations for even a short trip. If the weather was warm she, of course, packed cool clothing for herself and the children, but some warm clothing, too, in case the weather changed.

It seemed unseemly to her to take six children to her parents’ home without a few provisions to help along. Usually there was a crock of freshly rendered lard, a bowl of newly fried doughnuts, several loaves of bread, a pie or two. Animal lovers, the children had to take their goat on a leather lead, their dog, Dewey, their guinea hen in a cage and their assortment of cats.

My grandfather waiting on the platform for their arrival always amused those standing by with his litany, &uot;Here come my family, two baskets, two buckets, two satchels and a crock.&uot;

It was not hard in years that followed for his grandchildren to remember. I doubt that any of us left for camp or college or a weekend with a friend, without hearing his words repeated as we packed.

Whether my father heard a battle between schoolmates or whether he read the conversation in a book somewhere, he always remembered an argument filled with insults and concluding with the words, &uot;And your feet stink and you don’t love Jesus.&uot;

Whenever anyone came under criticism – whether politician, teacher, one of the neighbors, or a member of the family – dad always finished the critic’s complaint with, &uot;And his (her) feet stink and he (she) don’t love Jesus.&uot;

Not all of the family sayings came into the family before my time. Several of them I remember from their birth. My father, not the most careful of drivers himself, was more than critical of my driving. It sort of went in one of my ears and out the other, but it irritated my mother.

One night annoyed beyond herself, she burst out with, &uot;Pay no attention to him. When he was driving he knocked down fences and Uncle Sam mail boxes, ran over peoples’ chickens and broke down street lights.&uot;

My father was shocked. &uot;Tonnie,&uot; he protested, &uot;You know there isn’t a word of truth in all that.&uot;

&uot;If it weren’t the truth,&uot; my mother said grandly, &uot;You wouldn’t bother to deny it.&uot;

Her retort stuck me as so magnificent that I shared it with a number of my friends. Who knows how many arguments are ended these days with, &uot;If it weren’t the truth, you wouldn’t bother to deny it.&uot;

Another fending to an argument that pleased me came from a friend, a guest in our house, but almost a part of our family. Since I had no car at the time, what is now my garage, was lent to a neighbor to house a colt. The colt’s food drew rats which I noticed in the yard.

When I mentioned it to my father he refused to believe me and turned to our guest to back him up.

&uot;Have you ever seen rats in this yard?&uot; he demanded.

&uot;Rats!&uot; she ejaculated. &uot;Rats as big as foxes.&uot;

Sadly I am the sole survivor of my immediate family, but should you ever need someone to back you up in an argument, remember my rats are as big as foxes.

Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column appears Thursdays.