Archive for Thursday, August 21, 2008

Cussing can bring color to drab of language, old age

August 21, 2008

My stepfather had a saying about advancing age. "Growing old is no disgrace," he would say, "but it's sure inconvenient."

Now in all honesty, I have to admit that is a sanitized version of what he actually said. The way he said it, a couple of other words found their way in between "sure" and "inconvenient." One of the words was "as." You probably can imagine the other.

My stepfather was a trucker and he had what one might term the colorful, inventive vocabulary of that fraternity. He was a prince of profanity. It seemed to me that he could curse for five minutes and never say the same word twice.

I remember one time, Frances, the youth director of our church - that is, the church my mother saw to it we attended, as he was usually out of town on Sundays - came to the house to visit on some errand on a day when my father was in. I came into the room just as he was recounting some close call on the road from a day or two before with all his normal inventiveness. I wouldn't say that Frances was scandalized - she was too good an egg for that - but she did seem to be a little short of breath and she soon found reasons that she needed to be someplace else.

He had a lot of sayings that could be applied to many of the conditions of life. Many of these were colorful metaphors that described the human condition, such as: "It's like a country dog come to town; you stand still you get :, you run you get bit in the :"

He entered my life when I was 5, so I grew up with him and have naturally folded many of those expressions and exclamations into my own manner of everyday speech. I find that many of those same expressions spring as if unbidden from my lips at moments of extreme excitement, like when I strike my finger with a hammer, to the great consternation of my wife and some other members of my family.

His language was often profane, and it often shocked some people, but it was certainly colorful. I've often thought it would make a good subject for a column, but it is not, unfortunately, language that is suited for a family newspaper such as this one. It's a pity, really. There's too little color in much of our written and spoken language.

But I digress. I actually started to write about getting old. Sometimes writing this column is like herding a pig: You may start off in one direction, but often as not you find yourself pulled off in another. I guess I'm not the first writer to notice this. More than one author, over time, has remarked that his characters often surprised him.

Apart from the inconvenience of getting old, I've noticed several other things.

For example, when I was young, my mother and grandmother drilled into me the habit of opening doors for women and girls. Not too long ago, I began to notice that young girls were opening doors for me.

When I was an adolescent, I suppose I was just as insistent as any that I wanted to be a regular guy. I later came to realize that there's more to life than being like everyone else. The idea of regularity has a different meaning to me now. These days I'm happy enough just being regular.

I'm sure Dad would have had something to say about it. Come to think of it, he did. It's sure as (blank) inconvenient.

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