A Pig in a Poke

 

The dryer went out last night.  This morning I’ve already ordered a replacement heating element and watched a video on how to replace it.  I can do this…if I can stay away from one of the voices in my head.  It’s Natasha Negative, she’s reminding me that I’m a f@#$ up when it comes to home repairs.

The element won’t be here until tomorrow and it is pouring rain outside.  I have plenty of time to follow the pig trails my thoughts have traveled this morning…like ordering a heating element sight unseen from a very large and rich internet company.  I have ordered a ‘pig in a poke’…and it ain’t my first time.

It’s a saying I’ve heard all my life but for some reason, in the darkness of this rainy pre-dawn morning, I decided to search the whys and the wherefores…which led me to some other why and wherefore…and then to another why and wherefore…just the “pig trails” my mind sometimes follows.  Kind of like the free history lesson you didn’t want but are going to get if you keep reading.

After the Scot-Irish portion of my ancestry made the trip from across the big pond to Pennsylvania or Virginia in the early 1700s they meandered southward until happening upon “the Indian Lands” bordering on the Catawba River sometime after 1750.  They brought words and sayings with them as they came…and probably made up a few new ones too.

Located in the tiny panhandle of South Carolina, between the Queen City of Charlotte and the Red Rose City of Lancaster, my ancestors found the land fertile and the natives receptive.  So receptive were the natives, they gave up their rights to their own ancestral lands believing it was not theirs to sell and that no one really could own it.  That belief was a mistake until they were awarded a settlement that kept the city of Rock Hill from falling into their hands.

A thriving agrarian society was founded and those remaining Native Americans who didn’t cross the river to live on their reservation, assimilated into white society taking Scot-Irish names such as Pettus, Rodgers, Griffin, Wilson….

My grandmother, a Rodgers who became a Griffin, continued to use words and sayings brought from the ‘old countries’ from years ago along with others acquired by our forefathers as they trekked southward through the mountains of Appalachia in Virginia and North Carolina.

We were never children, we were ‘chaps’ who wore ‘britches’.  We ‘hollered’ up the ‘holler’ and were ‘fixin’ to go someplace or do something.   We had paper bags called ‘pokes’ and burlap bags called ‘croaker sacks’ (croker sacks?) which are the pig trails my mind chose to follow.  Pokeweed, poke sallet or poke salad, poke a hornet’s nest, paper poke.

‘Poke sallet’ (poke salad) has nothing to do with paper bags…and having eaten it, little to do with salad either.  It would be more closely related to a ‘mess of turnip greens’ or a cooked salad (sallet) of greens.  Even the use of the word poke is different.  The poke in ‘paper poke’ comes from the French word poque, meaning pouch, while the ‘poke sallet’ poke is an Algonquian or Powhattan word meaning blood or dye.  Pokeweed has red berries that will produce a blood-red dye and red stems that will produce…I have no idea.

Poke a hornet’s nest is pretty self-explanatory and should be avoided.

Pokeweed grows wild in the South and despite being poisonous, its tender immature leaves can be cooked, carefully, in the same manner as turnip or mustard greens.  Carefully means that you should bring the chopped leaves to a boil and drain off the water, repeat four or five times before finally preparing them as one might prepare turnip greens…you know with fatback or ham hocks, some vinegar and red pepper flakes along with a slab of cornbread runnin’ in butter…sorry I got carried away.

As usual, I drift.  My ‘pig trail’ began with a ‘pig in a poke’ and took a sharp left at ‘letting the cat out of the bag’ before colliding with the unrelated ‘croaker sack’.

Some English farmers, a deceptive group it would seem, attempted to pull the wool over the naïve eyes of some unsuspecting souls by substituting a cat for a purchased suckling piglet.  The old bait and switch, I reckon.  The unsuspecting mark would take the poke home and not discover the switch until ‘he let the cat out of the bag.’  I was this day old when I realized the two sayings were related.

I was also this day old when I learned ‘pulling the wool over one’s eyes’ has nothing to do with sheep…and why would it?  It dates from the days when English judges began to wear wigs.  The saying came from pulling the wool or wig over the judge’s eyes so he could not see the truth despite it being right in front of his face…the truth was as clear as the nose on his face.  Maybe not.

I have gone far afield from pigs and paper bags.  A symptom of my affliction?

My meanderings came to a screeching halt with ‘croaker sacks’ which has nothing to do with pokes unless it relates to a paper poke I guess.  My ancestors were masters at recycling, reusing or repurposing and heavy burlap bags were no different.  Burlap bags usually contained feed but after their primary use had been realized, are great to contain other stuff that needs containing, especially those that need to stay wet…like fish or frogs.

There is a croaker fish, several versions found off the Atlantic shores.  I’ve caught them but never put them in a burlap bag before cleaning, battering, frying and serving with tartar sauce and lemon slices.  It’s still early but I’m getting a hankerin’ for fried fish with some hush puppies and cabbage slaw.

I have used burlap bags to store frogs in.  Frogs croak…croaker sack.  It can’t be a coincidence.

Been frog gigging?  I have but it has been a while and my guess is it will be in another life before I go again.  In the dead of night on a pond bank or in a shallow draft boat, shine a strong light ashore which both freezes the frog and causes his little eyes to light up, gig him, and put him in the bag…a ‘croaker sack’.

Sounds cruel and I guess it is, but fried frog legs are sho nuff good.  Battered or unbattered, served with stone-ground grits smothered in pan gravy, maybe a salad and a glass of sweet Southern tea. They do taste like chicken and also kick around when they hit the hot grease.  Hum.  “Jumpin’ like a frog leg in hot grease.”  Not sure I’ve heard that one before, but I’ll go have a ‘look see’ on Google.

Ya’ll don’t take no pigs in a poke now…or wooden nickels.   I’ll see you on down the road a piece.

Don Millers Author’s Page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/265938/what-does-it-s-always-a-pig-in-a-poke-so-why-not-a-pig-who-pokes-mean

…Than Owl Sh!t?

 

Image result for Slicker than owl shit"

I stepped out into the cold to check the temperatures in our hothouses and immediately thought, “Its colder than owl sh!t.”  This simple thought took me down a mental path that was “slicker than owl sh!t” and quite soon, I felt “dumber than owl sh!t” as I stepped on an overnight gift left behind by one of my canine children.  I was “luckier than owl sh!t” because the gift was frozen solid.  I avoided a sprained ankle as my foot rolled over the frozen “Baby Ruth” rather than my ankle.  I also avoided the nasty cleanup of my spiffy bunny slippers.

It was colder than owl sh!t and I wished it was hotter than owl sh!t, still.  Twenty-three degrees with a light breeze making me shiver despite my heavy coat.  It’s November 13, still fall, and the morning low for Nome, Alaska is twenty-four.  Crazier than owl sh!t.  I know many of you would have said it was “colder than a titches witty in a brass bra” or “colder than a well digger’s a$$ in January.”  For some reason my mind didn’t go there.

You can tell what has grabbed the attention of my feeble brain.  How did “…than owl    sh!t” become such a versatile descriptor and why do I feel the need to insert an exclamation point for the i in sh!t?

I grew up near the sandhills of South Carolina in an area that was cut by red clay and rocky slate.  I lived in a farming area and am as “country as a cow patty.”  I have spent my entire life in the state including the last thirty-two in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.

What little time I have spent out of South Carolina has primarily been spent in other Southern states.  I’ve just had no desire to head any farther north than Maryland.  I did head to Nebraska but that was where the College World Series was held.  A fine South Carolina institution won it that year.  Who am I kidding, I was a Clemson fan and they were there but didn’t win.

I was and am a purebred “country bumpkin”, now hillbilly, with hayseed and lint in his hair and wrapped tightly in kudzu vine.  Maybe more inbred than purebred as I think on it.  You might even use the term, Redneck.

I only bring up the place of my birth because I have heard about every old-time descriptive idiom one might expect to hear in the South…or at least South Carolina.  None work better, in so many ways  than “whatever than owl sh!t.”  Well Found under carnal knowledge” probably has more usage but doesn’t seem to have the flare.

“…hotter than owl sh!t” is more descriptive than “F…ing hot” but as I think on it, “hotter than a Billy goat’s a$$ in a hot pepper patch” gives one a much more interesting mental image than saying “it’s hotter than hell.”    I just thought of randy Billy goat descriptor, “Hornier than a double di@ked Billy goat,” and the cuter, “As happy as a puppy dog with two p@t@rs.”  No more, no more.

Obviously, I’ve slid further down my “slicker than owl sh!t” rabbit hole and it has branched toward more descriptive Southern idioms that come to mind.

An old friend commenting on the current crop of politicians, “My dad always said if you’re going to be stupid, you better be tough.”  Yep, and Lyndon B. Johnson put it a different way, “Being president is like being a jackass in a hailstorm. There’s nothing to do but to stand there and take it.”  No, I’m not saying LBJ was stupid and it wasn’t an idiom…maybe.  I wish our current president would stand there and take it and stay off twitter.  No more politics.

My wife’s favorite Southernism describing one of her basketball teams, “You can’t make silk purses out of sow’s ears” shows what a fine lady she is.  I have used a similar description to chronical some of my own teams involving chicken salad and chicken ka ka.  I’m not a fine lady.

She also informed me after I bloodied my thumb doing something stupid, “If you’re looking for sympathy, you can find it in Webster’s.”  I’m guessing she won’t kiss it to make it better and was “madder than a wet hen” as I bled on her floor.

One idiom made me stop and ponder “it was thicker and richer than three feet up a bull’s a$$.”  Interesting considering the Baptist deacon using it was describing fine, thick and rich banana pudding at a church social.  Somehow this is a good thing?  “Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit.”  Some sayings defy all understanding.

I began my morning ramble because of checking hothouse temperatures.  For some reason, my wife has never found a plant she didn’t want to save or overwinter.  It doesn’t keep her from buying more plants in the spring, summer, and fall.  A bit compulsive, she has more plants than “you can shake a stick at” and as I await the delivery of our third hothouse I wonder if we are on our way to “more hot houses than you can shake a stick at.”  As I said, somethings defy all understanding.

“Shaking a stick at” is an interesting saying and as I researched it was surprised to find out it was first used in a damn Yankee newspaper in the early 1800s, the Lancaster (Pa) Journal in 1818.  Well, we certainly kidnapped it.  What does it mean?  I have no clue except shaking a stick at anything is threatening and my wife’s plants are threatening my good nature.  “I’m as anxious as a whore in Sunday school.”

Well, I see it is now thirty degrees and today’s temperature is to climb only into the low forties.  I’m going to wait until the red alcohol in my thermometer climbs above thirty-two before I go for my morning walk.  At this rate, it could be an afternoon walk.  I just don’t want to “bust my a$$ because the roads are slicker than owl sh!t.”

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If any of you have similar idioms, I would appreciate you dropping them in a comment.

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Further ramblings in book form may be purchased at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The startled owl image from The Daily Record https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/weird-news/meet-worlds-most-startled-owl-6266419

Gif from https://www.theodysseyonline.com/best-southern-sayings  Some other good sayings.

As the Word Turns…

 

                        “A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.”                  Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night

I don’t think I’ve ever had an original thought, well there was a quote in the local newspaper after a state championship victory, “I was tighter than a tick on a fat dog.”  Don’t know where my quote came from, I’m sure it wasn’t original even though I created it on the spot.  Later I heard someone say they were “as tight as a flea’s ass over a rain barrel.”

I had been a bit tense before the game, as in “You couldn’t have slammed a twenty-one gauge needle up my ass with a sledgehammer” tense.  Somewhat graphic but you do get the point.  Ouch!

I have taken to sharing daily quotes on social media.  Quotes that I find uplifting or thought-provoking.  Quotes made by other people, smart people, creative people.  Everything I am not.

Like many things I do, these quotes lead to other thoughts, down rabbit holes and pig trails, the piling on effect.  My meanderings led me to the distinct language we Southerners have created from what was once English.  Our slang and sayings we have created from the “King’s English.”

Good Southerner writers seem to have the capacity to turn a word or phrase that means one thing into something else entirely and because I am incapable of original thought, I’ve used many phrases and idioms created by someone else.

I am not only Southern but as “country as a cow patty”.  I grew up “over yonder on the edge of nothin’” and moved to a place that is not quite “the end of the world but you can sure see it from there.”  I tend to “drop my gees” when I talk and sometimes when I write.

“I was as happy as a dead pig in sunshine” might be my favorite saying and I’ve used it often to describe my first true love.  Unfortunately, I was not the little blonde’s first true love…seems she had many true loves, some simultaneously.  “You couldn’t stir ’em with a stick.”  Despite her somewhat crowded pool of suitors, when she finally gave me “the time of day”, I found myself as happy as a “dead pig in sunshine” for most of our relationship.

If a pig were to die and is left in the sunshine for any length of time the skin will dry out…and it will “smell to high heaven”.  As the skin dries, the lips tend to pull away from the pig’s teeth giving the little, porcine feller a smile as if he is quite happy to be dead.  In other words, blissful ignorance of reality…yep that was me, blissfully ignorant she was going to crush my heart flatter than “a toad frog on a country highway”.  Come to think of it I was blissfully ignorant during most of my romantic episodes.

During many occasions chasing true love, I was as “stubborn as an old mud cooter.”  First, the use of the word cooter has nothing to do with its modern-day slang meaning; a woman’s “holiest of holies.”  Cooter is a West African word we Southerners appropriated to describe a water turtle.

If you have ever been unlucky enough to hook a snapping turtle while fishing, you will quickly find out how stubborn they are.  The old mossy back will head to the bottom and dig in.  If they’re big enough you won’t get them off the bottom until they run out of oxygen and come up for air.  If you are willing to wait until that happens and land him without losing a body part, there is the possibility of eating cooter stew, not really “eating high on the hog” but delicious none the less.  If not, you just have to cut your line and move on.  When it came to love, I never really knew how to cut my line…or my loses.  That has nothing to do with “fish or cut bait”, cus it ain’t Southern.

“A blind hog can find an acorn” or “capture lightning in a bottle” as I did when I met Miss Linda thirty-five years ago.  She and I do get “catawampus” on occasion, but mostly I’ve been “sugar in her hand.”  Yep, I have been “sh@#ing in high cotton” nigh on to thirty-two years of matrimony.  Maybe you can make “silk purses out of sow’s ears” after all.

“Bless your (his/her) heart” is a bit more diverse and complicated.  It is a phrase that can be used as sarcasm while gossiping about some unfortunate, “Well bless her heart.  If her brains were gunpowder she couldn’t blow her nose” or face to face, speaking in a slow drawl to a friend, “Bless your heart you are ’bout as smart as a sack of rocks.”  It is rumored to be the Southern Baptist lady’s equivalent of f@#$ you…rumored now, I don’t know for sure.

A major problem with “bless your heart” is it can also be used in a loving and sincere manner.  “Oh, I heard you lost your pet goldfish.  Bless your heart can I bring you a casserole or some potato salad?”  It’s all about inflection and yes, I have heard it directed toward me using every inflection possible.  Being Southern I’ve eaten a lot of casseroles and potato salad too.

“The phrase ‘bless your heart’ is like chicken and waffles.  It can be sweet.  It can be spicy and it’s perfect for any situation.” It’s A Southern Thing https://www.southernthing.com/bless-your-heart-is-all-about-the-tone-2581652582.html?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2

For more musings or a book or five, https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is from Amazon.com

 

“Warm Biscuits on a Sunday….”

 

I absolutely love Kelly Clarkson, her voice, her sass, and her sense of humor.  If I were younger…and unmarried, I’d go to Nashville and camp out on her front doorstep…wait, she’s married?  To Reba McEntire’s son, you say?  Well, I’m not going to break up her marriage over something she said.

Southern and brazen,  with a voice as rich as Tennessee whiskey and biting as corn likker, Kelly likened a singer’s voice to “warm biscuits on a Sunday with butter drizzlin’ off of em’?”  How Southern is that!

An inner voice asked, “What does it mean?”

Another inner voice attempted to clarify, “Well…I guess…um…well…butter my butt and call me a biscuit, I don’t have a clue.”

I never heard that exclamation of surprise until I was an adult and I am not sure how authentic it is.  It does sound Southern.  “Buttah mah butt and call me ah biscuit.”  Yeah, rolls off of the tongue Southern but why would you wish your biscuit to fall out of your mouth?  That question came from the crazier of the voices in my head.  It does get crowded in there but never boring.

I’m not totally sure what Kelly meant.  I think it probably means “damn good” because biscuits drizzled in butter on a Sunday are “damn good” and, at least for me, a little bit poignant.

I love homemade biscuits and can’t think of anything better than a buttered, homemade biscuit on a Sunday…or any other day of the week for that matter.  Light, flaky, golden brown on the outside, light and soft on the inside.  Runnin’ in REAL butter, not the oleo stuff.  Just add a side of eggs for breakfast.  Slathered in King Syrup or honey for a dessert.  Stuffed with a slab of Neese’s liver mush for lunch.  Smothered with sawmill gravy for…heaven on a plate.  I assure you, biscuits and sawmill gravy are a heavenly meal unto themselves.  Never allow anyone to try and convince you otherwise.

We have several sayings from below the Mason Dixon involving biscuits…unless we stole em’ from somebody above it.  “A cat can have kittens in an oven, but that don’t make ‘em biscuits.”  Yankees may understand a derivation, “Just because you live in a garage, don’t make you a car.”  Here in the South, it might mean, just cause you’ve lived here for five generations and say Y’all don’t make you Southern.

We even express our undying affection with affirmations of love such as, “I could put you on a plate and sop you up with a biscuit.”  This is making me hungry and missin’ my grand momma.

I associate biscuits and love to my grandmother. Nannie was a somewhat stoic woman who had trouble overtly expressing her love.  I’m not sure I remember a time when I got an “I love you,” from my Nannie.  I was much more likely to get a whack on the ass than a pat on the back.  She did not abide foolishness.

I knew she loved me and the rest of the grandkids.  I knew it as well as I knew Nannie’s biscuits would be light and flaky.  Love was displayed by example, not expression.  Examples like buttered biscuits on a Wednesday…for lunch.  Her greatest expression of love was, “Donnie you’ve been a good boy, want another biscuit?”  This also explains why I have fought a war with my weight for most of my life…food was the language of love and of positive reinforcement.  She was the same with her peanut butter cookies…I loved them too.

As a small child, I remember watching her as she went about making her biscuits in the tiny kitchen of her home.  Standing in front of her window to the world, watching the birds in their domain,  she made her biscuits.  With me playing on the linoleum floor, she would be cutting in the lard and adding buttermilk to give it a bit of a tang.  She was careful not to overwork the dough to keep it light and flaky, before rolling it out and cutting rounds with her red handled biscuit cutter.  Rolling up the scraps into mini-biscuits, nothing was wasted, before painting the tops with melted butter.  She only glanced at her efforts and relied on feel as she watched “her” birds cavorting around her bird feeder.

Late in her life, I asked about her recipe.  She didn’t have one.  It was a little of this and a lot of that until it all came together, nothing exact.  You learn to make biscuits by making biscuits.  I must not make them enough.  Mine are not light and flaky, some so hard the puppies won’t eat them.  As I said in another essay, maybe it’s the lard…or the love.

Thank you, Kelly, for sending me down a lovely rabbit hole.

Coming soon “Cornfields and Cow Patties.”  Until then, check out Don at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM