My Garden of Memories
by Flossie Erwin Austin
Flossie continues her story...
Chapter 18—If You Hoot with the Owls You Can’t Soar with the Eagles
I was amused when a granddaughter shared this “quote” with me. It seems she was yawning in class, after a late date the night before, when a classmate whispered, you know, “If you hoot with the owls, you can't soar with the eagles.”
I told her he was saying the same thing as my parents, or grandparents, when they told me—“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
And then I am reminded, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Using the “quote” as a yardstick, I would say I don’t have many, if any, dull grandchildren.
I have always been intrigued with famous quotes or phrases; it seems they, like styles, change with the generations. I remember my mother telling of her aunt’s favorite reminder when house cleaning time came: “Beaus won’t go where cobwebs grow.”
“A man’s work is from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.” This became one of my mother’s favorite phrases. After putting in a day helping in the field, and then while my father relaxed, or was off to town to visit with cronies at the pool hall, she still had housework to do. Of course, this was long before “women’s lib” and the supposed equality between men and women.
A few years ago, when I was working at a uniform rental service, I was helping a route man get his load ready for delivery the next day. We were commiserating with each other about the overtime we were having to put in, and he remarked with a grin, “You know, our ancestors divided up the twenty-four hours into eight hours to sleep, eight hours to work, and eight hours to do what one wished.” We agreed that that third eight hours seemed to be somehow elusive.
A popular phrase of the present generation seems to be: “He’s cool,” or “She’s cool, man.” I was discussing the meaning with a granddaughter and asked, “Does that mean, as opposed to warm?” She became frustrated as she tried to find the right words to explain the then-common saying.
But I decided to take pity on her. “I expect you mean the same thing we did when I was your age. In my day, when we saw a boy or girl that took our fancy, we would exclaim, ‘Oh, he, or she, is the Katz-Pajamas.’”
“You had better idle your motor, before you strip your gears.” A son-in-law used this phrase recently to describe a visiting niece. I thought it a pretty apt description for this particular harumscarum granddaughter.
My pet phrase for a teenage grandson, one who listens very politely to my lecture on what he should do or not do, and then calmly goes ahead with what he intended in the first place, is: “If convinced against his will, he’s of the same opinion still.”
On a trip to town, the same grandson treated me to a side trip to show me a car that he wished he owned; a very prestigious type car. I answered with one of my most commonly used phrases: “If wishes were horses, then beggars might ride,” or: “To wish is a very human trait; and if the wish be strong enough, can provide the incentive necessary to reach the coveted goal.
Ah, what magic on a summer night, as yet again, I repeat that rhyme with a visiting grandchild: “Star light, star bright, the first star I’ve seen tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish, I wish tonight.”
In my early teens, my father owned and operated a hay baler. During the haying season, his favorite quote became, “We’ve got to make hay while the sun shines; you can make love when it rains,” or words to that effect.
Baling hay in those days was quite different from the way it is done today. After the prairie grass was mowed, dried and raked, the baler was pulled into the field, where it remained stationary. The hay was then bucked to the baler, where the three or four workers needed to operate the baler would take over. One person with a pitch fork, usually my father, would feed the hay into the baler at one end, while in the center, another worker would poke the baling wire through on one side, while on the other side, still another would tie the ends of the wires together. This took practice and skill, and a certain amount of teamwork. If one's timing was slow, or hands slipped, the hay came out in a loose pile, instead of the neat bale as intended, and would earn an angry, “Wake up, back there,” from my father. A fourth hand was needed to catch the finished bales and load them on to a waiting trailer.
This was, more or less, a family business, with perhaps one or two neighbor boys hired part time. I can remember being pressed into service, now and then, to poke wires through, when a boy wasn’t available, but it wasn’t something I enjoyed doing. A younger brother became quite adept at tying the bales, and it became known as his job, one that was credited for the strong arm and shoulder muscles that he developed. Later though, this task also received the blame for his rounded shoulders due to stooping over too many hours, while still a growing boy.
The phrase, “It's not so much whether you win or lose, but how you play the game,” became very meaningful when I was a freshman in high school. We had a principal that year who believed very strongly in good school sportsmanship. He was very popular with the students and teachers, and I think, with the whole community as well. I remember we had two good coaches, and the teams won quite a few games, but as I look back, it was the medal for best sportsmanship the teams brought back from the tournament that received the most cheers.
When I was in high school, the phrase, “...in alphabetical order,” seemed to be the rule for everything we did. Each morning when we reached school, at Madison, Kansas where I attended my last three years, we were expected to go immediately to the large study hall, where each student was assigned his, or her, own desk, by classes, but “in alphabetical order.” Because of this rule, close friends weren’t always allowed to sit close together as would be the normal choice. But, on the other hand, one’s outlook might become broadened by confidences shared with students outside of one’s usual group.
I remember one boy, especially, when we were seniors. He was known as the “Don Juan” of the class. His frequent late dates and many different girlfriends was the usual topic of the often one-sided conversation we shared as we sat in study hall—that is when he wasn’t catching up on lost sleep.
I had no illusions about him, preferring the more “outdoor” type boys, but I was frequently amused with his stories, as he had quite a sense of humor. I can remember him remarking more than once, when he was discussing the merits of a pretty or popular girl, that “she can put her shoes under my bed anytime.”
Chapter 19—Book Learning
I’ve heard the term “book learning” used in a derogatory manner, as well as a complimentary statement.
Years ago when higher education wasn’t as easy to attain as it is today, most trades were learned by serving an apprenticeship under someone skilled in the trade. A practice which may have led to the phrase “Experience is the best teacher.” I’m sure there are two schools of thought about that. However, the remark, “Show me a person who likes to read, and I’ll show you an educated person.” is attributed to a college professor, and it intrigues me.
Since I grew up with a love of reading, I prefer to think that it is a strong factor in education, and not just a means of pleasure or as a way to pass the time. From as early as I can remember, a book, any book in fact, was my favorite choice of a gift. A book was more highly prized, I think, because I never seemed to have all I would like to read. I remember being disappointed when exchanging gifts at Christmas or other times when seeing others receiving a coveted book, while I ended up with a piece of jewelry or perfume; things I cared little for.
My choice of books changed as I grew older. I was quite young when I developed a taste for the Horatio Alger books. I remember reading every one I could find by this author and as he wrote around 100 books, my encyclopedia tells me, there were many happy hours of reading about poor boys who always rose to fame and fortune.
Then there was the `Rover Boy' series that I exchanged with friends, as well as the Tarzan books and Bobbsey Twins, to name only a few that helped make my school years memorable. As I grew older, Zane Grey became my favorite author. The local library had most of them, and I read each over and over. As book clubs became popular in my more mature years, I couldn't resist the whim to collect all of Zane Grey’s books.
Due, perhaps, to a scarcity of books in my early life, I have filled my home with books in my later years. In fact, I think the family feels I have rather overindulged, especially when space must be found for another bookcase. My day doesn’t seem complete without a quiet reading time; to me it is the best way to relax and is my remedy for insomnia. Although my love of reading has always been one of my greatest pleasures, it also caused frequent reprimands as I was growing up, for it was not unusual for me forget or slight the chores assigned to when I was in the midst of an interesting book.
On one occasion I recall we had an unusually large peach crop, and after canning the best ones, my mother decided to make peach butter out of the remainder. After measuring the prepared peach pulp, and mixing in the proper amount of sugar, there was such a large quantity, my mother had a brilliant idea, or so she thought. To keep the heat out of the house, it was decided to cook the peach butter down in a large tub on a bonfire in the backyard, the method commonly used on wash day for heating water and boiling the white clothes. Of course to keep the peach butter from scorching, it had to be stirred constantly. The job was simple enough, I should be able to handle it, so with a clothestick in hand, I was assigned that very boring job.
It became less boring when I found that I able to stir with one hand and hold my current book interest, one that I had been able to conceal in my apron pocket in the other. Always, of course, keeping a wary eye out for unsympathetic persons, especially my father. But, alas, what seemed to be a very simple task, turned out to be a catastrophe, or in fact, a tubful of scorched peach butter. It was decided that no way could we afford to throw away a tubful of peach butter, so that winter as we were served hot homemade bread with peach butter, the others might complain of the scorched taste, but I didn't dare. But as I look back after many years' experience, I feel that tub of peach butter was just bound to scorch—book or no book.
I share a love of reading with several brothers and sisters. One brother, on a recent visit, confided that reading was his favorite way of relaxing before going to bed. Two younger sisters, on a visit a few years ago, left finished books with me, in exchange for some of mine to read on their way home. All find a common interest in my shelves of books.
As I reminisce, I recall a trip to California with my family—my husband, four children—to visit my parents and a younger brother—the only one left at home. At the time of our visit, my parents owned and operated a dairy near Madera, California. They raised alfalfa to help feed their cows. The fields of alfalfa, as well as the pasture, had to be irrigated. It was my brother’s summer job to direct the water along the proper ditches with the occasional use of a shovel. I’m sure that he found this job as boring and uninteresting as I did that of stirring peach butter years before. One day during the visit I decided to walk across the field and call on my brother. When almost there, I surprised him and he hastily hid a comic book in his back pocket; I was treated to a sheepish grin when he saw that it was only big sister.
On his recent visit, I enjoyed reminiscing with that same young brother, mature now with grown sons of his own, about those experiences of long ago when our love of reading, especially the where and when, didn’t always coincide with our father’s wishes.
Many years after the peach butter and irrigation ditch episodes, I chanced to visit my parents at their small retirement home in Neodesha, Kansas. A grandmother myself at this time, I had long since bridged the generation gap with my father; understanding the reason for many of his harsh ways. I remember finding him relaxed in his favorite easy chair with one of my favorite books that my mother had kept from my growing up years. It was The Girl of the Limberlost, and pretty dog-eared by this time.
He welcomed me with a smile and said, “This is sure an interesting book, Flossie.”
“Yes, I know Dad,” I answered. “I remember reading it many times.”
I wasn’t sure, but it could have been the very one that caused the scorched peach butter.
More chapters of Flossie’s life will be in the next issue of the Bagpiper.