Ratty Rooter walks disconsolately across the soggy yard, while a slow, persistent rain falls upon him. Mom always said that we were in for an all day rain when the chickens stayed out in it and didn’t seek shelter. He is a pitiful creature. Before we took the other five roosters away, they had picked on him until I had to move him to the yard. After they were gone, I figured the pullets would welcome him with open wings. They didn’t. Before I realized it, they had pulled the feathers out of his back end until he was almost bald as an egg.
In spite of several applications of black salve, advertised to “aid in the prevention of pecking in poultry” and “aids in stopping cannibalism in poultry,” they still pecked him. In fact, after I liberally smeared the black salve all over his bald rear, they must have thought it was icing on the cake.
He wanders all alone all around the yard, with his bedraggled tail feathers (four standing up and one hanging down, looking for, all the world, like an Indian chief who has just lost a skirmish. He is a far cry from the proud rooster I had pictured. He did crow a few times, but now he is silent. He is definitely not “the cock of the walk.”
I started thinking about that phrase, and how we used to throw it around with abandon. You never hear it anymore. We used it to describe someone who had a high opinion of themselves, or acted “briggity.” Come to think of it, you never hear briggity anymore either. Briggity-britches was one of the insults we used to hurl at one another when we were kids.
There are so many words that were common with us (and still are) that have fallen out of usage. I was making some homemade cottage cheese the other day (Kevin is milking!) and was telling a friend that you have to let the milk “clabber.” I may as well have been speaking a foreign language.
When raw milk begins to turn, we called it “blinky.” If you leave it out at room temperature, it will clabber. Then it is ready to churn, or make into cottage cheese. Taking care of milk is a time consuming task, but the results are wonderful.
There is another word pertaining to milk that I haven’t heard in years — “beezlin’s.” It was used to describe the colostrum produced by a cow when she “come fresh,” or had a calf. The milk was never used until the cow had been milked at least 10 times and the colostrum was all gone. Beezlin’s is probably a corruption of the word “beastings,” which is found in the dictionary. And who finds a striffen (tough tendon) in their steak anymore?
These were all everyday words used in my childhood. We caught “minners” and “crawdabs” and “penniwinkles” in the “crick,” but I steered clear of the hellgrammites. The contrast between us and city kids was apparent when a small boy from Ohio stood on the bridge spanning the creek beside our house and announced, “I want to throw stones in the brook.” Our kids threw rocks in the crick.
Criss called me out on the porch late one evening to see a strange creature hovering over the flowerbed. It was flitting from flower to flower in the impatiens, with its long tongue (beak?) sampling each blossom. At first I thought it was a small humming bird, and then I realized it was a “galley nipper.” I hadn’t seen one in years. I think they are really called a hummingbird moth, but we never called them anything but a galley nipper.
Yesterday’s dialect was rich in descriptive phrases, but is dying out in most parts of the country. Grandpa used words that we no longer hear, and even some of Daddy’s phrases sound strange to my ears. He would say, “Hit’s a fur piece to town and back!” and “Are you deef?” Grandpa talked about a snake that was “all quiled up” and would invite a neighbor to “come in and git a cheer!”
We have been laughed at for saying that something was “out yonder,” although Grandpa said “out yander.” A young friend of mine in another state gets a kick out of my saying, “Did you not?” I still can’t understand what is so funny about that.
Although people may make fun of our old-fashioned speech, I like it much better than the smutty talk and four-letter words you hear everywhere. Using God’s name in vain bothers me most. When we were growing up, the Lord’s name was only said in prayer or in church. At home, we referred to the Lord as “The Good Man.” His name was too sacred to be used in everyday conversation. I cringe when I hear someone say, “Oh, my Gawd!”
Give everyone my love,
Cousin Alyce Faye
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