As we get older, our love for the things that happened in our younger days becomes greater. Even if our youth wasn’t especially exciting, somehow the passage of time seems to make it so. And one of the things that we seem to remember most are some of the catch-cries of our youth that stick with us. I am especially fortunate in this respect in that my father, a minister of religion, was inclined to ‘spice up’ his sermons with many catchy sayings, illustrations and pithy comments that would, he hoped, stick in the minds of his listeners for a lot longer than just for the period of time in which they were listening to him.
I am sure that I will forget some and have a ‘dang’ moment when this article is published, remembering some that I should have included, but, anyway here are a few of my dad’s pearlers.
‘If you throw a stone into a pack of dogs, the one that yelps is the one that you hit.’ Which reminds me of a story that I must tell first. Growing up on the land in the Hunter Valley at the time of WWI I am sure that seeing packs of dogs surrounding a horse and buggy or coach as it pulled into the property would have been a common sight. As a young man, dad had a pet dog called ‘Fly’. It was a bitzer, but had a lot of Irish Wolfhound in it, and was a massive creature. I have seen a photo of dad’s elder brother, my Uncle Peter, standing in the yard with Fly standing up on his back legs with his jaws around Peter’s face. Given that Peter was over 6 feet tall (that’s over 1.8 meters), Fly was truly a stunning animal.
Dad used to say that, despite his size, Fly was an incredibly placid dog and that he was also very well trained. One day a neighbour came to the property and brought with him in the buggy a collection of very scruffy and vicious-looking dogs. They quickly decamped from the buggy and surrounded Fly, barking and snarling at him. Fly, however did nothing, just sat in the middle and whimpered as the attack went on. Finally dad had had enough and he called out, “Get ‘em, Fly.” The carnage that ensued immediately thereafter was not pretty to watch as mongrels of all description were hurled in all directions to go whimpering to the buggy where they cowered until the owner took them home. Dad said that, the next time that the neighbour visited, he left his dogs at home.
But, back to the saying. As with all aphorisms of its type, it does conjure up a graphic image, but it also contains an element of truth that is hard to ignore. The person who squeals the loudest is often the person with the most guilty conscience and, by doing so, they give themselves away.
‘He took his misfortunes like a man – and blamed them on his wife.’ Was another of dad’s favourites. Perhaps this saying is still current with the tendency of most these days not to accept responsibility for their actions but rather blame someone else.
My grandma (we used to call her nanny) lived with the full possession of her faculties until she was 92 years old, and, like my dad, she had a wonderful collection of sayings. Nanny had been forced to try and bring up her family of four children pretty much by herself after her husband had been horribly injured in a shunting accident in the Steelworks. Grandad lost his right leg just below the knee, and was incapacitated throughout the duration of the great depression so you can imagine what a struggle it must have been for the both of them. “Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves,” Nanny used to say. There’s a bit of financial advice that you don’t have to pay a financial adviser to get. Take care of how you spend the LITTLE money and you will always have the BIG money when you need it.
‘Can’t waste aught.’ Was another favourite saying of hers. Growing up in the ’50s and visiting nanny and grandad in the school holidays I got used to seeing nanny putting this into practice. Living on a large block in suburban Port Kembla, the couple put nearly the whole block to work. There was a huge collection of fruit trees, mostly stone fruits from which, when the fruits were harvested, nanny and her friend would peel, slice and preserve in a Fowler’s Vacola bottling kit. The cupboard in the downstairs laundry was constantly groaning with dozens of bottles of home-grown, home-bottled fruit. It was the same story with the huge vegetable patches that dotted the yard.
Long before recycling became trendy, nanny was a recycler. Everything that could be re-used, re-purposed and/or kept in circulation was. I well remember seeing her and her friends making their own soap by boiling down fats from bones and off-cuts. The resultant soap didn’t smell very nice (nor did the process of making it, come to think) and it was only ever used for washing up and general cleaning, not personal use but, like so many other things that nanny did, she was a pioneer of the art of recycling more than 50 years ago.
She also had some wonderful sayings on her fridge door so that everyone could see them. ‘Avenge yourself – live long enough to be a problem to your children.’ Thankfully this was one saying that she didn’t carry out in her own life with her thrifty and generous nature ensuring that no-one who came within her orbit left with less than what they had when they arrived.
These are just a few from memory; there are many more. Some are witty for their own sake, some just plain funny and some had a very serious purpose, and I close with this one.
On nanny’s fridge was the text of this long-forgotten poem . It is called, Do it Now and my nanny would often quote it. And not only did she quote it, but she lived it. It would do us well to emulate her.
Do it now
by Berton Braley
If with pleasure you are viewing
any work a man is doing,
If you like him or you love him,
tell him now;
Don’t withhold your approbation
till the parson makes oration
And he lies with snowy lilies on his brow;
No matter how you shout it
he won’t really care about it;
He won’t know how many teardrops you have shed;
If you think some praise is due him
now’s the time to slip it to him,
For he cannot read his tombstone when he’s dead.
More than fame and more than money
is the comment kind and sunny
And the hearty, warm approval of a friend.
For it gives to life a savour,
and it makes you stronger, braver,
And it gives you heart and spirit to the end;
If he earns your praise – bestow it,
if you like him let him know it,
Let the words of true encouragement be said;
Do not wait till life is over
and he’s underneath the clover,
For he cannot read his tombstone when he’s dead.
No doubt you all have favourite sayings from your youth. I hope that my little effort has helped to provoke your memories and to, perhaps, dig up a gem or two that could still be appropriate today.
What are some of your favourite sayings? Are they still used generally? Do you still use them?
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