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Our Amusing Eccentricities

Little eccentricities of family members and friends are amusing and a sure way for us to remember them. When we laugh it is not with derision, but with genuine affection and appreciation for the person.

Harry’s Aunt Bess was a delightful little lady who loved to cook and always had several desserts on hand whenever we visited. She was a proud member of the Home Demonstration Club in Augusta County, and delighted in trying new recipes. Each time we visited her, we tried to explain that we could not possibly eat some of each of her creations. Her reply was always, “Don’t worry about the calories – you can always eat a stalk of celery and get rid of them!” Whether she really believed this or just thought it was a cute way to encourage us to overeat, I’m not certain. I am sure she did not get this information at the home Demonstration Club!

Aunt Bess is no longer with us, but she is remembered each holiday when the goodies are prolific and will power is weak. “Don’t worry – you can always eat a stalk of celery!”

My Uncle Godfrey Lane was a lay preacher in Augusta County. On Sundays when he was preaching, he and his teenage daughter set out for the little country church where he would preach and she would play the piano. Each time they approached a one lane bridge, he would tell her to get out of the car and walk across after he drove across – the sign said “one Lane” not two. Each time I cross a one lane bridge, I remember him and his weird sense of humor.

We remember my dad for his criticism of a slice of pound cake I served him. “That slice is so thin it only has one side,” he said. Harry’s dad was a man of few words and a talented woodworker. His favorite advice was “Measure twice and saw once.” I’m sure his grandson John remembers that advice as he creates violins, carved bowls, and clocks in his free time.

Reversals of sounds or whole words, similar to reversals in print by dyslexic readers, produce some interesting results. My mother used to say her favorite Chinese food was “drop egg soup” and one of her favorite TV shows was “Hawaii aught Five” for Hawaii 5-O. (That “aught” identified her as one old enough to use that archaic term for zero.)

Malapropisms, when words that sound alike are used inappropriately, are some of the most amusing language errors. For example, referring to a slow cooker, or crock pot, as a “crack pot”, a saying attributed to my mother-in-law. She is also remembered for announcing her personal opinion by saying, “To my way of thinking …” Frequently I’ll hear my older son use that phrase and know he’s thinking of his grandmother.

A neighbor, now deceased, continually confused the sounds he heard and created some unusual words. Unfortunately, I did not write them down and cannot remember them now, but at the time Harry and I had difficulty keeping a straight face when he launched into a story with a mixture of confused expressions. An intelligent man, and an expert in electrical work, he was aware that something was wrong with the way he used language. He knew that I worked with children with learning disabilities, and said that he wished such help had been available when he was in school. My heart ached for him and for others who needed help and did not receive it. Nevertheless, I smile when I remember how he informed us that the stray cat he adopted was finicky. “She has to have a brand name food  — she just won’t eat that genetic kind.” He also had a friend who was an “extinguished” old gentleman.

Often persons who create malapropisms have problems with auditory discrimination. Sometimes the new creations are the result of trying to make sense of sounds that are foreign to their experience. A pastor who met regularly with a group of ministers for exegesis – study of the text for worship – read a note from the telephone receptionist informing him his “exit Jesus” group would not meet that week. And another person referred to the prayer for illumination, read prior to the Scripture reading, as “the prayer for elimination.” And then there’s the friend who has to wear support hosiery because she has “very close veins.”

Who knows what quaint expressions and/or ideas we possess will be remembered with a smile when we have passed on?

Publisher’s note: My dear mother still uses the word “tumped” as in “the bucket was tumped over . . . ” Clearly a combination of tipped and dumped that her dear mother used when she was growing up.

– Mary Jo Shannon

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