My mother, Chickie Ling, Jerome, Arizona, around 1920

Saturday, September 11, 2010

No Spring Chicken

My father, George Washington Mayo, was a good man who loved people. While I got my creativity and general oddness and orneriness from my mother, my rather silly sense of humor came straight from my father. I guess, with a name like George Washington Mayo, the ability to laugh was most likely a necessity.

Daddy had these great sayings. Whether you would call them axioms or idioms or perhaps just George-isms, they were most likely representative of the time, and some would certainly be thought of as sexist and politically incorrect these days. All of them appeared to be based on what he considered to be both hilarious and of great value to the younger generation. Now that he's gone, I love it when one of my father's sayings pops into my head at just the right moment to remind me of him and to keep me as close to the straight and narrow as my mama's inherited zigzaggedness allows.

Here are the George-isms I remember:

If my brother or I came between my father and the television set, he would say, “Your daddy wasn’t a glassblower." This, we surmised after a while, meant we weren’t transparent and he couldn’t see where Chester was headed in the midst of a
Gunsmoke episode, in spite of the fact that Chester was always headed down to Miss Kitty's Saloon.

If we were doing something stupidly dangerous, Daddy would say, “You’re going to bust your contract.” We took that to mean we were going to fall down, hit our heads, and end up in the hospital with a bandage tied around our noggins. Daddy used the same term later with my kids, and Melissa, just recently, tried researching the meaning of the phrase and couldn’t find anything on it, other than references to breaking a legal contract. Apparently, Daddy just made that one up.

We always had a cat or two around the house because my mother loved them. Daddy, on the other hand, opined that "the only good cat was a dead cat." However, he was known to pet one from time to time when no one was looking.

Again, if any of us got in Daddy’s way, when he wasn’t mentioning the lack of a glassblowing father, he would say, “I’m slow because I’m old. What’s your excuse?”

The worst thing Daddy ever called anyone was jackass. He called my brother and me that from time to time and he also used it to describe his grandkids, my children. As far as I can tell, he was right on with that one, especially when it came to my children who inherited their jackassedness from their father.

When I was a teenager and wanted to listen to the radio while my daddy was driving, he'd put up with the din for a while, even pretending to enjoy it by doing that finger-jive thing that cartoon characters used to do back in the day. However, if we got into heavy traffic, he would tell me to turn off the radio because he was getting ready to do some "fancy driving." I always envisioned fancy driving as involving a car-chase scene like in the movies, but all I got was Daddy scrunched over the steering wheel trying to change lanes and complaining about jackasses.

Daddy had a great way to meet new people and he would use this greeting when he met my friends (much to my humiliation). He would offer his hand and shake theirs sideways as opposed to up and down until their entire bodies would appear be be afflicted with some kind of palsy. When they were all shook up and as least somewhat discombobulated, he would offer, “I know my name. What’s yours?” You can see why my social circle was somewhat small.

In spite of his obnoxious greetings, Daddy was very kind and would never hurt anyone’s feelings, but he did call the very few divorced women he knew “grass widows,” not to their faces, of course. I looked up that term, and unlike "bust your contract", there's an actual history to it. The “grass” comes from being “out to pasture” or no longer viable. No wonder Daddy was so mad at me when I got divorced. There he was suddenly saddled with a daughter who was no longer viable enough to entice another man into taking care of her.

And when Daddy would notice I was putting on weight, he would offer that I was becoming “broad across the beam." So I guess that meant I was not only out to pasture but was also hauling a heavy load.

Continuing with the no-longer-viable theme, Daddy had a couple of zingers on the topic of old age, especially when it afflicted humans of the female persuasion. Occasionally, when Mama entered the room, he would warble, in what was actually a pretty good singing voice, “The old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be.” If that ever bothered my mother, she was smart enough not to let on. He would also point out that she was no longer a “spring chicken”, and as I got older, he tossed that term at me also.

But, in spite of his lack of fine tuning in the area of gender relations, my father had a good heart and a commitment to doing the right thing for people, no matter the color of their skin, the size of their bank account, the country of their origin, the construction of their genetic makeup, or the breadth of their beam.

A final word on my father: Because Daddy stayed very busy with work and church and doing things for other people, when
we wanted him to do something for us, he would say he'd do it when he “got caught up”. We joked that we would have “He finally got caught up!” engraved on his headstone when he died, but we never had the chance, as my wonderful, funny, sexist father gave his body to the Medical College of Georgia, an act so giving, so zany, I’m pretty sure he’s still chuckling about it up there somewhere. That's because, if there is a heaven, Daddy is sure to be at the Pearly Gates, greeting newcomers with his signature handshake and helping St. Peter check off his list by saying, "I know my name. What's yours?"

As for me, I'm still a grass widow, still broad across the beam, and am now less of a spring chicken than even the old gray mare who ain't what she used to be.

No comments:

Post a Comment