1930s Country Sayings
by C. K. Thomas
My mother grew up on an Indiana farm in a family that included four older brothers. Sometimes I imagine hearing the echo of her brothers’ words as she surprised me with her colorful responses to questions. Like the time she took me along to a high school reunion at her former school when I was 10 years old and someone asked about my red hair. My mother’s hair was coal black or, as she was fond of saying, “as black as a stack of black cats.”
She explained the color of my hair with this little tidbit, “Oh, that was in the days of the ice man.”
Her face showed no embarrassment, but mine certainly turned bright red. I know this because I could feel the heat in my cheeks as everyone laughed at her joke. You’d have to have known my mother to understand just how easily and often country sayings like this sprang from her lips.
As the only girl and the youngest in her family, I imagine she often got her own way. However, she repeated to me some of the favorite lines her mother employed in raising her only daughter. For instance, when the family planned to drive into town to sell butter, eggs, and cream to the local store, my mother would ask if she could wear the knock-about clothes she had on at the moment. Her mother’s pat answer, “You can if you want to look like the worst one.”
As a youngster, my mother often complained about having to rake leaves again and again in the fall, as every day there seemed to be more to rake. My grandmother told her that was nothing to complain about because “After all, they’re not the SAME leaves.”
Being impatient for something to happen at our house usually brought the response, “Take a ‘tater and wait.” Later in life I figured out this must have been a farm expression used to put off hungry children, who were often the last to eat after the adults were finished. My mother used it as her go-to phrase whenever some situation required waiting.
It seems I wasn’t very good at lying as a kid. My mother could spot a lie before the sound of it left my lips, and her response . . . “You keep tellin’ stories like that, and your tongue’ll get sore.” Told to run out to the mailbox or on some other errand while it rained, I’d hear, “You’re not sugar, nor salt. You won’t melt. Now go on!” And if I was caught telling a tall tale, she’d say, “I’ve heard the wind blow before.”
Recently I’ve started keeping a record of these country sayings as each one pops into my head. I could go on for pages, wrapping stories around the 45 quotes I’ve collected so far. However, since I’ve already racked up more than 500 words, I’d best quit and promise to continue decoding the idioms of Hoosier country folk for you another time. Believe me, there are some doozies to come!
By the way, the phrase it’s a doozie is widely thought to have been coined in the 1930s in reference to the elegant Duisenberg cars. Ultimately, anything that surpassed expectations rated the saying. Then, just when I thought I knew what I was talking about, it turned out I might have been “hearing the wind blow.” Check out the origin of the word, doozie with this link,
C.K. Thomas lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Before retiring, she worked for Phoenix Newspapers while raising three children and later as communications editor for a large United Methodist Church. The Storm Women is her fourth novel and the third in the Arrowstar series about adventurous women of the desert Southwest. Follow her blog: We-Tired and Writing Blog.