My sister and I were guilty of salting and peppering our conversations with old “saws” and old-timey truisms. We heard them from our elders, whom we deemed to be wiser and more experienced than ourselves, and we were comfortable quoting them when the situation was appropriate.
When I was teaching in Harlan Middle School, and before my sister started working at Creech Drug, we met daily at the end of my work day at Jay's Sandwich Shop on Central Street for a cup of coffee and to jointly work the crossword puzzles in the Harlan Daily Enterprise and Lexington Herald-Leader. She turned the puzzles toward me while she worked them upside-down.
During that time, little fourth-grader Rod Bingham came in after school to wait to be picked up by his mom. She was Robyn Bingham, talented, beautiful and flamboyant daughter of Jane and P.O. Lewis. She is noted for being our local dance teacher, who directs and produces the annual Christmas Nutcracker Ballet and the springtime Razzle-Dazzle Broadway-type review at SECC.
While Datter and I were working the crossword puzzles and lingering over our coffee, Rod often joined us in our booth. As we penciled in the up and down synonyms, we included him in our banter as we no doubt used a plethora of adages, proverbs, old saws and wise sayings. In each case, we told Rod where we had heard the sayings and who the person was who used them in our presence for our own good.
For instance, we said things like: “Mrs. C.E. Ball, founder of Girl Scouting in Harlan County, used to tell us regarding loyalty and forthrightness, ‘Girls, don't be veneer stuck on with glue; be solid mahogany all the way through.' She also taught us to be good listeners by reciting this verse: ‘A wise old owl sat in an oak. The more it saw; the less it spoke. The less it spoke; the more it heard. Why can't we all be like this bird?'”
Our young friend got the point and thought the sayings were amusing as well as being true.
We told Rod that our dad said things to us such as: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches,” or, “A fool and his money are soon parted,” and, “Waste not, want not.” Rod listened intently.
Our mother had a saying, we told him, which she used when something was too involved and too much trouble for the amount of good received. “That's just too much sugar for a cent.” Like, for instance, getting ready for an old-time picnic. One must fry chicken, devil eggs, make sandwiches, whip up some baked beans and potato salad, fix homemade potato chips and crank out ice cream in a wooden freezer, all of which takes so much time and effort (sigh), it just might be “too much sugar for a cent.”
Our grandmother told us, regarding our appearance in relationship to our behavior, “Pretty is as pretty does.” She also looked at the evening sky, as the sun was setting and mused, “Pink sky at night, sailors' delight; pink sky at morning, sailors take warning.” Rod hadn't known that old sayings were rooted in such truths and experience that they could predict the weather. Our great-grandmother, for instance, told us when snow hangs around for days and refuses to melt, “Ahh, children, it's waiting for another one.”
Oh, our conversations were laden with wise sayings like, “A stitch in times saves nine,” or, “Haste makes waste,” or, “He who laughs last, laughs best.”
Rod was such a quiet, polite youngster and as handsome as a speckled pup. He listened, for the most part, intently and without comment to our adages, our proverbs, our wise sayings and our old saws, which we dutifully attributed to our revered elders.
One afternoon, when Rod's mother, all smiles and full of vivaciousness, stopped in front of the shop to pick him up, he gathered his belongings, threw his backpack over his shoulder, paused in the doorway before bolting outside and jumping in the car, and shouted to us an adage of his own: “My mon always says, ‘Just go with the flow.'”
I think Rod proved at that moment, “Out of the mouths of babes, oft come jewels of wisdom.” (“Little Rod” is now a grown man.)