The Wisdom of the Ancients

If you didn’t have grandparents growing up, and/or the grandparents you did have didn’t positively influence your character by spouting absurd colloquialisms you weren’t capable of understanding or appreciating until you were much, much older, this one’s for you:

“Waste not, want not.”
Don’t want to finish your breakfast/dinner/supper?  (Yes, that’s right — there was no such thing as “lunch” in Alleghany County, NC.  “Lunch” was clearly a meal enjoyed only by the pretentious citizenry of the raging metropolises of Southwest VA.) Don’t want to wear hand-me-downs?  Don’t see the point in modifying something to serve a purpose other than that for which it was originally designed when you can go out and get the ACTUAL SOMETHING YOU NEED for next-to-nothing?!  Well, too damned bad!  I was frequently advised that I might see a day when I wish I had a something or other to eat/wear/modify, so I’d damned well better eat it/wear it/put it to use now.  And if for some incomprehensible reason I chose not to, not that I ever really had a choice, I had better not even THINK about changing my mind later because that ship has sailed.   My grandparents taught me economy.

“They’ll turn you loose when it turns daylight.”
Do you suffer from fear of the dark?  Are you afraid of being abducted by God-knows-what/whom?  Not to worry, ‘cause “they’ll” turn you loose when it turns daylight!  My comprehension of/appreciation for the art of subtlety was nowhere near what it is today.  But even then I knew better than to ask if they were calling me ugly, because the best I could hope for in response to that inquiry was “pretty is as pretty does” which was beside the fucking point, considering the only thing I was trying to do was go to sleep.   It served its purpose, though.  Rather than waste time and energy thinking about what might get me and when, I focused instead upon mentally preparing myself to survive whatever torments my captors intended before daylight, when they would be so surprised by my ugliness that they’d set me free.  I hoped I could survive being shut up in a barrel of bugs; that was my go-to fear for random abductions and the apocalypse, which, in my childhood, was always imminent.  Maybe I’ll get prettier as I go, maybe I won’t, but the barrel of bugs is only the beginning for the girls who are pretty right now.  I’d much rather endure what I must (for a limited time) and be “turned loose.”  My grandparents taught me that looks aren’t everything.

“That IS a sandwich!”
One of the worst parts, as I saw it then, of being trapped in country farm hell every summer, was the lack of convenience foods.  Why do we have to eat leftover beans and cornbread (and/or whatever the hell they cooked up the night before that was running around the yard the day before, usually supplemented by something that was yanked out of the dirt that morning) for lunch?  Why can’t we just have a for-god’s-sake peanut butter sandwich?!  One time my Memaw caved and surprised us with a “sandwich” of peanut butter spread between the layers of a leftover biscuit.  “Eww!” I remember exclaiming, “that’s not a sandwich!” “It’s peanut butter and bread,” Memaw said, “we can’t be wasting the light bread.”  That required no explanation.  We all knew that Memaw would never return to the light bread-baking days of her oppressed youth.  Store-bought anything was for Pawpaw’s lunch.  As I sat there choking down my “sandwich,” with a side of ginormous just-picked cucumbers or tomatoes that “needed eating” lest they went to waste, and a big ol’ glass of water, ‘cause GOD KNOWS we can’t waste money on soda-pop or kool-aid either, I remember feeling sorry for myself and/or slightly hating my Pawpaw for getting to eat normal sandwiches on his “dinner-break” at the lumberyard.  In the company of my happily-munching-her-“sandwich” Memaw and my biscuit-loving, kiss-ass of an older brother who was agreeing with her that it “sure beats a snowball,” I wasn’t at all convinced that it DID beat a snowball.  And I also swore that my children (were I fortunate enough to ever have any, being so ugly) would ALWAYS have access to light bread.  And so they have.  My grandparents taught me determination.

“Want in one hand, shit in the other, see which one gets full quickest.”
ANYTIME I verbalized an interest in wanting ANYTHING, I was invited to try this, instead.  In addition to teaching me clever ways to avoid actually responding to the expressed wants of my future kids, my grandparents taught me the importance of having a back-up plan.

MEANWHILE, across the river…

“Do like they do across the river.  Do without.”
Anytime I expressed a NEED for anything that was not readily available, could not be created by modifying something that was readily available, or anytime it was determined for no discernable reason that rather than actually need a thing, I just THOUGHT I needed it, it was always suggested that I do like they do across the river.  They got me ONCE with this gem.  “What?” I asked, “What do they do across the river?”  “Do without.” they answered, in sadistic merriment.  This shut me up because I knew sarcasm when I heard it.  But it didn’t stop me from wondering who the hell were these people across the river?  Where was this river?!  And why didn’t the kids across it have ANYTHING?! I imagined Across-The-River World as a desolate wasteland full of children from the “We Are The World” video, who WISHED they had a peanut butter biscuit, never had anything to wear or play with, and made everything they had out of something that wasn’t invented for that purpose.  My grandparents taught me sympathy/empathy.

DON’T:  Be “sorry”
Think about what it means to be “lazy” and multiply that understanding by infinity, and you will still not come close to understanding what it means to be called “sorry”.  There’s hope for lazy, whereas “sorry” is a hopeless condition from which one is expected never to emerge.  My grandparents taught me to avoid association with sorry people at all costs, because “you’re known by the company you keep.”

DO:  Be “smart”
Rather than a traditional goodbye, which may or may not include expressions of love, or admonitions to be good, my Memaw and Pawpaw always told us to “be smart” when we were leaving.  Not “be good” but “be smart” – the logic being that you were smart, the rest would take care of itself.  I have to believe they were right.  Though I have often failed miserably at being “good,” I never held that to be as important as it might otherwise have been if my grandparents hadn’t taught me the importance of being smart.      


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