Words from another day
The meaning of words and expressions from yesterday has changed to the extent my grandmother, Mattie Paulk Loyd, would have difficulty communicating today. She was born in 1877 and lived to be more than 100 years of age.
Grandmother Mattie told me that Aunt Tessie was a poor woman. Her definition of poor had nothing to do with Tessie’s income or financial condition. She meant Tessie looked pathetically skinny and malnourished.
She criticized Uncle Jake for being a gay bachelor in his early adult life. Gay was not a reference to sexual preference in her vocabulary.
A gay bachelor was an unmarried male who dressed dandily, lived the high life, frequented saloons, and chased the opposite sex. Mattie’s characterization of Uncle Jake as a gay bachelor would be misunderstood today.
My grandmother once suggested that Aunt Izora give Uncle Jule the mitten. “Give him the mitten” was a term used when ladies discarded men. Youngsters today might think the expression is about gloves or hand wear.
Her favorite relative was Cousin Alda whom she described as homely. Mattie meant Alda was unattractive and would likely never marry; thus, she was destined to live at home indefinitely. The word homely is gradually disappearing from our frequently used word list.
A trip to the ice house or a delivery by the ice man was everyday talk in Mattie’s world. Most families had ice boxes in the kitchen or on the back porch.
Ice boxes were wood or metal cabinets containing a block of ice to keep food and water cold. The block had to be replaced periodically requiring a trip to the ice house or delivery by the ice man. Today, ice is the common name for crystal meth which gives ice man or ice house a different meaning.
My grandmother routinely picked up the crank telephone attached to the wall and called “Central.” Young people will be surprised that Central was a person who worked for the telephone company. Almost every southern town had a central operator whose responsibility it was to oversee the use of telephone lines and connect the calling party with the answering party.
It was no secret that Central sometimes eavesdropped, making her a reliable and up to date source of local information.
Central would tell inquirers about current events such as births, deaths, church revivals, the weather, and out of town visitors. She also could tell callers the exact whereabouts of key figures such as the doctor, veterinarian and sheriff in the event their services were needed.
Personal information passed on by Central could easily become gossip and there were few boundaries. Modern telephone company executives would shudder at the thought of the privacy rights violations that took place decades ago.
Mattie sometimes asked new acquaintances, “Who are your people?” That question in today’s vernacular could be a broad inquiry about the identity of followers or supporters.
In Mattie’s day, it was a specific question that translated to “what family do you come from, where do they live, and what do they do?” It was a back door question to determine social standing.
She never commented in my presence about men wearing earrings, but it is certain she had an opinion on the topic. I thought of her when retired federal Judge Lon Bartholomew recently appeared at the Braelinn golf course for our Saturday morning game dressed in pink attire and wearing a fake pink earring.
Judge Bartholomew proudly showed us his pink “Bubba Watson” driver and putter with pink shaft emphasizing his support for the Breast Cancer Survivors’ Network. It was a curious sight but a noble gesture.
My grandmother would have been shocked at an initial sighting of the judge decked out in pink and her reaction would have been less complimentary than he deserved.
After a full explanation, she would have thanked him because her mother died of breast cancer long before modern diagnosis and advanced medical treatments were discovered. Mattie would have called Lon Bartholomew a “cool guy” translated into the language of her day.
[Scott Bradshaw, a resident of Peachtree City, is a real estate broker and residential real estate developer. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]