BY DAVE WOOD Out of the mouths of elders
Recently I’ve been going over some notes I took years ago in preparation for a book I was writing about my great-grandad’s 60 years of diary keeping. I had forgotten all about these notes, and I was absolutely startled at what I discovered. What a good lesson! If you’ve got kids tell them to interview their older relatives if the oldsters are willing to talk, and I guarantee those kids will be rewarded by the information they gleaned after they grow up.
I’m grown up now, I guess, at four score and six and I immensely enjoyed the notes that I had taken as a kid talking to my grandparents.
Grandpa and Grandma were what we’d now call participants in a mixed marriage. Grandpa was a dyed in the wool Yankee whose family had lived in America since the 17th century. Grandma’s father, Carl Johnson was a successful immigrant farmer who was born in Sweden and was about as roughhewn a fellow as could be possible. Years ago, Grandma told me that when father-inlaw met father-in-law the results weren’t always pleasant: “When I married your grandpa in 1906, and moved into the Wood home, let me tell you that was an adjustment to make! My pa was an atheist, a former merchant seaman, and boy could he swear! When he got going, you could hear him all over Hale Township. I’ll never forget about a month after the wedding. My in-laws Mary and Dave Wood invited Ma and Pa to Sunday dinner. Real ritzy— Havilland china, tablecloth, everything. And a typical Yankee dinner, mostly vegetables, little meat, and, worse yet no ost [cheese]. My father-in-law Dave kept passing platter after platter to Pa and Pa just passed them on, never took a spoonful of lettuce, stewed beet greens, boiled chard, or mashed parsnips. Finally, Dave said to Pa: “Mr. Johnson, are you feeling indisposed?”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t you feel well?”
"I feel fine!" “But you aren’t eating anything….”
“I’m not a Goddamned Cow.” “Imagine saying that to a deacon in the Baptist Church,” Grandma chuckled, adding that she hadn’t much of a taste for stewed beet greens either.
So now whenever I shoot ou my mouth about a topic that infuriates me, my mild-mannered colleagues always smile and say, “Tell me what you really think.” Genetics don’t lie, I guess.
Grandpa wasn’t a big B.S. artist like his Swede wife. But one day, sitting out on his lawn, he took out his pen knife and carved out a tiny arc of his favorite hard plug chewing tobacco, Pieper Heidsieck, popped it in his lower lip and recalled a long ago dinner at his parents’ house: “Father was as stubborn as any man I ever knew. One night at supper, when I was a kid, Father and my brother Archie got into it over the meaning of a word—I forget which. Anyway, Archie said the word meant one thing; Father said it meant another. Neither would give an inch. Finally Father said to my brother Jim, “Go and get the Webster’s and we’ll settle this once and for all.” Jim brought the Webster’s to the table, then looked up the word. Be damned (It didn’t take long for my grandpa to adopt to the old Swede’s religious thinking. Editor’s note). Archie was right and Father wrong. Well, Father sat there awhile, pulled at his goatee and said, “Webster is wrong!”
Grandpa’s story about Great-Grandad turns out to be my wife’s favorite because she says it reminds her so much of me!
But I’m not as sure why her second favorite is this one: “Father was sitting in his of- fice on Main Street with business associates and calmly, but noisily, broke wind—he was terrible about that– any time and any place. His pals joshed him about it, and his brother- in-law Shubal Breed piped up: ‘Five dollars says you wouldn’t do that at the Baptist Church next Sunday.' Father took the bet and collected the five on Monday." Maybe she likes it because she has a favorite uncle who would’ve done the same thing if such a bet were ouered. Her mother wouldn’t invite him to her church, because she feared his compliments to the pastor would go something like this: “Helluva ser- vice, reverend; damned fine!" If you’re reading this, kids, be sure to talk to your grandparents whenever you have the opportunity. You may find them more enter taining than you ever imagined.
Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.