Note from EOGN newsletter editor Pam Cerutti:
Burr Morse is the seventh generation of Morse farmers at the Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks in Montpelier, Vermont (a delightful place to visit!). I met Burr when he took a rare day away from the farm to meet up with me and another Morse descendant, Jane Morse. We all trekked into the woods of Medfield, Massachusetts, to watch archeologists excavate the purported house site of our common immigrant, Samuel Morse. It turns out that Burr is also a wonderful storyteller with a wealth of local lore that he taps for articles about bygone days. I thought Dick's readers might enjoy one of Burr's yarns, and he graciously consented to this reprint. You can find more on the Morse Farm, its country store, and lots more at www.morsefarm.com.
The following was written by and is copyright by Burr Morse:
Gol dang that slang! Yup, that's what we say when we're plum fed up with all the four letter words and human expressions that get bantered about, overused, misused, and mistaken for something worthwhile. My wife and I are both Vermonters with roots as old as the hills and we prefer the words that our grandparents used. She suggested the other day that I write a column on the subject and I thought that sounded like just the cat's meow, speaking of an aging expression. My Grandpa Morse oft used that term, "the cat's meow," to mean something that's good and appropriate. I always thought it was great to credit kitty-cats with so much good stuff, in view of all the expressions that are demeaning to animals like "pig headed, slice of the squeal, shoot the bull, grease monkey, and snake-in-the-grass".
Modern words just don't have the ring to them like the ones our grandparents used. Betsy's grandmother used the word, "hark", to mean "listen", or "keep still". We never hear "hark" any more but we sure hear "shaahd up" and the kinder but more obnoxious "shshshsh", executed through O-shaped lips and an upright index finger. My grandmother had a whole library of words and phrases like "mercy, get along with you, and for land sakes". I wasn't wild about "mercy" because it sounded like she was begging and I hated "get along with you" because it always meant I had done something wrong and she wanted me outa there. When she said "for land sakes" though, I knew she was surprised in a good way, like when I'd say, "Grandma, I got all A's on my report card." and she'd say, "For land sakes!" and then give me fresh baked cookies and a glass of milk.
The other day I was called on the carpet for using one of my Grandpa Morse's words. A woman phoned in a mail order and in my response, I used a term that had laid dormant in my brain since the days my Grandpa Morse and I worked together. I said we'd be glad to send her order out after Wendy, my mail order striker, returned on Thursday. "Striker?" the woman said, suddenly no longer interested in mail order. "What do you mean, 'striker'?" she asked in an almost chiding tone.
I gathered myself and recalled the day Grandpa and I were down in the lower pasture pounding fence posts. First he had me punch an iron bar in the heavy soil and swivel it back and forth to expand the hole. I punched and swivelled repeatedly until the hole was big enough around and deep enough to accommodate the fence post. He then had me plunk the post into the hole and hold it while he drove it with a 20-pound cast iron post maul, inches from the top of my head. My grandpa was one of the few people who I would have trusted to do that! It was that day that Grandpa Morse told me what a striker was.
"Burr," he said, "normally I would have been the one holding that post but you're not quite experienced enough to pound." He went on to say that usually the farmer (the boss) held the post while the hired man did the pounding, because the pounding was the hardest part of the job. To do that, however, the farmer had to trust the hired man with his life. According to Grandpa, a "striker" is any employee who is skilled and trustworthy - don't expect Webster to agree, but what does Webster know compared to a Vermont farmer!
I told the "striker" story to the lady on the phone and she allowed that both the word and the work ethic are obsolete! She went on to place the order, convinced that I was not demeaning anyone on my mail order staff. "On the contrary," I said, "I've got a wonderful staff and find them all loyal, skilled and trustworthy." We went on to discuss the weather and politics and seemed like old friends at the end. Just before she hung up, she asked if I would trust Wendy with a 20 pound post maul. I thought of the petite, blond, Wendy and visualized myself, hands grasping the top of a cedar fence post, cringing at the rhythmic "thunk, thunk, thunk," just inches from my head. I ended the phone call that day by using another expression we rarely hear these days: "Not by a damned sight!"
My problem with modern-day expressions is that many times, they're either too trite or too unprintable. If spoken word, however, truly reflects the character or eccentricity of a person, it's OK with me, off-color or not. I've got a neighbor who prefaces just about everything he says with, "As the sayin' goes." He's a true character, smart as a whip, and honorable as all get-out, and I respect his creativity with the English language. He also sneaks in an occasional "b' guess and b'gory, and a-hankerin' to". Yup--brings me right back to the good ol' days, as the sayin' goes, or, more accurrately, "as the sayin' went."