The Katydids were hollering loudly last night, just as they have been for awhile. Their quarrelsome din echoes back and forth as they declare, “Katydid!” and the answering cry comes back, “She didn’t!” I can hear my Dad say, “Jist six weeks ‘til frost!”
There is plenty of folklore concerning the Katydid, such as how this insect obtained its name. One tale is that a lovely girl named Katy fell in love with a handsome man who refused her and married someone else instead. After their honeymoon, the couple was found dead in the same bed. The bugs began arguing about whether Katy did it or not. If you listen carefully you can hear them debating back and forth, “Katydid! Katy didn’t!”
My sister Mary Ellen declares that she has heard them for weeks, and another saying is that the earlier in summer that you hear the first Katydid chirp, the earlier the first frost will be that fall. If that is true, we seem to be in for an early autumn.
Another fable concerning the Katydid comes from Indian folklore. It seems that the Ancient of ants spent the summer building a house before winter came. Cold weather came, and the locust and Katydid came asking for shelter. The ant scolded them and said, “You sang all the time during warm weather instead of building a house” and wouldn’t let them in. They were ashamed, and very cold, and they died. That is why the ant lives all winter and the locust and Katydid perish.
I love to hear the Katydid cry, even though I know it heralds the end of summer and predicts the coming of cold weather. It is a lonesome sound, just as is the chirping of a cricket and the sweet, piercing cry of the whippoorwill. These sounds stir my spirit, but there is nothing as lonesome as the wail of a train whistle in the night.
When I lived on the Kanawha Turnpike with Uncle Myles and Aunt Lucille, their house was bordered in the back by many railroad tracks. That lonesome cry of a train whistle in the middle of the night created vague, unnamed feelings and longings for places where I’d never been and people I’d never met. I remember something that Mom used to quote, “Far, far, lost and gone, the train went over the hill. Rise up and cry ‘neath the starry sky, and turn again as the echoes die, and tear me as you will. I think I could go my quiet way, and be silent all through the years, if it were not for that lonely cry in the night, and my lonely, answering tears.”
We’ve had a lot more response from readers who are remembering the old time words and phrases. Rachel Waldron from Elkview shared some of her grandmother’s sayings (she said her grandmother was sort of a “Granny Clampet” type) that she heard when she was a child. She told the children, “You young’ens better quit eatin’ them green apples; you’ll git the bloody flux!” We didn’t know what that was, but it sounded bad and we didn’t want it.
Rachel said that she used one phrase that I have never heard anyone else say. When something unexpected happened, she would say, “Now if that don’t jes cob they world!” (That’s a new one on me too!) “For the land of Goshen,” she would say in astonishment. We also heard from Argatha Scarlato of Hurricane, who recalls some of her Grandmother’s (Grandma Caldwell and Grandma Tryee) sayings. She was “gripped” in the heat, and would tell us to “quit piddling around.” We were also called “curtain climbers” which sounds a lot like the modern term “rug rats.”
She also recalled a word that stirred my memory. When she would get a chance to look in her Grandma Tyree’s old wooden trunk (which was off limits) her granny would ask her, “Why are you pilfering in there?” How many times have I heard that same word applied to us, “You kids quit pilfering in that stuff! The word actually means to steal, especially in small amounts. We were not stealing by any means; just investigating the contents.
We received an interesting letter from Paul Smith of S. Charleston, who enlightens us on “stump water.” He writes, “When I was about 13 or 14, I had warts on the backs of my hands. My Granny, Anna Mae Peck, told me to wash my hands in stump water—black stump water was the best, and in 13 days my warts would be gone. Back on the ridge there was an old oak stump full of black water, and I washed my hands in it. I thought it was just an old tale and almost forgot about it, but one day I looked at my hands and the warts were gone! I don’t know if it was something in the water or the power of suggestion. I only know that I am 75 years old, and the warts have never come back yet!
Betty Banks of Charleston sent a poem that underlines a lot of these sayings, and it is good.
By Betty G. Banks
When I was a little girl,
Dear Grandma used to say
Little rhymes of reasoning
And quote each old cliché
“To dance, you pay the piper”
“Willful waste makes woeful want”
“A stitch in time will save nine”
“Evil deed comes home to haunt”
I held to all her wisdom,
And believed the things she taught,
But one cliché she quoted
Gave me a different thought.—
“Beauty’s only skin deep.
And ugly’s to the bone,”
Somehow I couldn’t buy it,
With its nagging undertone.
I turned it and examined it
I thought it through and through,
No matter how I looked at it,
It just would not ring through.
For beauty isn’t skin deep,
It springs from deep within,
And the only thing that’s ugly
Is an action that’s a sin.
Still, all in all, her teaching
Helped me along life’s way
I know how much she loved me,
By sharing her clichés.
I remember Daddy’s concern for us children when he would quote, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That is may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.” Ephesians 6: 1-3.