Column: Dad had a perfect phrase for those who stretch the truth

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 29, 2003

On grocery shopping day, Friday, among other purchases is a weekly magazine, with marvelous recipes, mediocre stories (one romance and one mystery), improbable diet success articles, a few melancholy or happy ending family stories, fashion and cosmetics tips and numerous fillers inadequately researched.

Speaking of the last, there was at least one that should be corrected forthwith. It showed a picture of a rather girlish looking little boy wearing a girl’s dress. With the picture was a paragraph to the effect that up to the 30s it was fashionable for boys under the age of seven years to wear dresses.

I don’t know what part of the country those little boys grew up in, but I grew up in that era with

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many boy cousins and their friends about me and I never saw even a two-year-old boy wearing a girl’s dress. As for a seven-year-old boy wearing one &045;! Well, his parents would have been jailed for encouraging cross dressing, had such a one appeared in public.

In 1890, my father, who was then five years old, was photographed with his two baby brothers. They were wearing baby clothes, neither masculine or feminine. There are those who may have held that my father was wearing a dress. Actually he was attired in a kilt, a perfectly correct outfit for a kid whose father and grandfather had both migrated here from Scotland.

Knowing my father, I can well imagine that had one suggested to him at any age that he wore a girl’s dress, he would have gone forth in the altogether first.

A great one for accuracy, when fronted with something that seemed untrue or even exaggerated he used to say coldly, &uot;Get away from that show pony’s head.&uot; Sometimes he accented one word in the sentence, sometimes another. I never knew where the expression came from, but it was ever so impressive.

Because it was so peculiarly my father’s, I never tried to adopt it as my own as I might have had it come from some lesser person. Many times, though, I’ve wanted to.

For example, there was the time when it was found that the baby of a friend of mine was born deaf. The baby had been conceived shortly before his father had been shipped out to Germany during World War II. During the course of his service, the father was captured and became a prisoner of war in Germany.

It was after the war when it was discovered that the little one had a problem. A friend of that family speaking about the situation said to me, &uot;They just found out the baby was deaf. I could have told them the baby was deaf the first time I laid eyes on the little fellow.&uot;

&uot;How could you tell?&uot; I asked.

&uot;Well, his ears, they were sort of laid back against his head and rumpled. And I know what caused him to be deaf, too.&uot;

Again I was curious. &uot;What?&uot;

The man looked at me as if I weren’t very bright. &uot;Why anyone should be able to figure that out. His father was a prisoner of war and when you’re a prisoner of war they don’t let you talk, do they? And if a guy can’t talk or listen much, how can you expect his baby to be able to hear?&uot;

Now if all this had been said to my father instead of to me, he would have at once countered with, &uot;Get away from that show pony’s head.&uot; No doubt with the accent this time on the &uot;away.&uot;

My father didn’t make a big deal of telling the truth. In fact he believed telling the truth was about as stupid as you get. But he believed that people should tell the truth to him because when they didn’t he believed they were underestimating his intelligence.

My father was strong on intelligence. When I did something of which he disapproved, he almost moaned, &uot;I gave you credit for being more intelligent.&uot;

On most matters he backed my mother’s judgment to the limit. It was an era, though, when children were forced to eat spinach beyond reason. Now I find nothing more tasty than a well-prepared spinach salad. In my childhood I’d have rather starved.

In her extremity, my mother called on my father to see that I ate it.

&uot;I’m sorry, Tonnie,&uot; he said. &uot;She’s too smart to eat the damn slimy stuff. I wouldn’t eat it myself.&uot;

It was a fraught moment. I didn’t push my luck. By covering a very small bit of spinach with a very large bit of mashed potatoes I managed it, and by the time I grew up I could eat spinach with the best of them.

Becoming as brave as I have, I’m almost ready to make Dad’s, &uot;Get away from that show pony’s head,&uot; my own.

I may not use it right out loud for awhile, but there are ever so many politicians, commentators and the like, who are more than ready and it’s my duty.

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