In case you haven’t figured it out, I love words. I enjoy writing words. I also enjoy listening to words. My favorite musical artists are those who are well-crafted writers. One short, but profound line has the power to change my mood for the day. They can give me hope, motivate me to take another step and sometimes cause me to be disgusted with myself. The love for words is why I am such a fan of people like Springsteen, Petty, Dylan, McCartney & Lennon, Jagger & Richards and Neil Young. The one thing they have in common is that they understand the power of words.
Now, before we get to far into our story today, you need to understand that since we are talking about words, there are going to be a couple swear words here. Believe it or not, my dad used to cuss. I even heard the “F word” come out of his mouth a time or two…kid you not. It is amazing what a guy will say out on a remote lake in Canada with only his brother and a bunch of guys around, a little Peach Brandy in his gut and a cigar between his lips. Sort of brings out the brute in you! I never heard Pop cuss much though; he knew how to use the words for effect. Speaking of which, I even heard a cuss word come from my mother’s lips once, a long, long time ago. Talk about getting my attention! 40 years later and I still remember it like it was yesterday.
My Pop was a bit of a wordsmith himself. He was not only good at crafting a line of prose, he was able to sprinkle his conversation with what I thought was his own unique language…what I call Pigeon Hill talk. I never really knew how unusual some of his phrases were until recently. I was walking to the assembly line with one of my employees and they asked me about one of my family members. I responded that they were feeling, “punk.” They stopped, looked at me and said, “What?” “You mean they are like a punk rocker?” I laughed and then realized that: a) I am getting old and, b) some of my dad’s sayings were not universal!
So let’s start with that one. If you tell someone under 35 that you feel “punk,” they are going to think you are about ready to break out into a Billy Idol song or spike your hair. I always thought it just meant “sick.” It’s the same as being “puny.” Geez, doesn’t everybody know that?
In the poem I posted a few weeks ago, I used the word “geedunk,” as in the Frost Top Root Beer Stand was a “geedunk” stand. I had no idea what a “geedunk” really was, so I “Googled” it. Turns out that “geedunk” is what Navy men called ice cream, chips, snack food and the place that sold it. Now it makes sense!
Even though I knew my dad was in the Navy, it never really registered with me that he would be a “coarse seaman,” or that some of his language stemmed from those days. He talked about dungarees, another navy term, and would often try to “muster” something up. He also mentioned the word “Chit” a time or two. Apparently that word has several different meanings, including a receipt, a letter, a saucy woman or a document informing naval officers of someone’s transgressions. No idea what Pop was referring to when he said it; I just thought he was saying “shit” and I blamed the pronunciation on poor speech habits!
Speaking of the Shepherd mumble, no one was more the master of this than Uncle Clyde. I could write for an entire week on Clyde and probably will at some point. I never could understand why, when he got a belly laugh going, he would always say, “who tied the pup!” So…I Googled it! Sure enough, there it was. Apparently the complete phrase is “til who tied the pup,” and it is similar to saying “until the cows come home.” Every time I saw someone reference it online, they referred to Indiana, so I’m thinking this word originated in the Shepherd household on Pigeon Hill. If so, I hope they finally untied the pup!
Of course, it could go back further than that, because my dad’s dad had a way with words also. How many times did I hear Pop say, “As my dad used to say, ‘No money to spare, no clothes to wear, can’t go over there!” I’ll tell you how many times he said it, every time I asked permission to do something!
Dad also used to tell me that when he was young, they were “as poor as Job’s turkey.” I never knew Job had a turkey, but I’m guessing if he did, it was pretty poor…and probably pretty dead since everything Job touched died.
Pop had many other phrases that he often used, such as being full of “piss and vinegar.” Ick. Probably not a pleasant feeling, yet he always made it sound like a good thing. He also said certain things about bodily functions that I just can’t bring myself to repeat here. Use your imagination.
One of my all time favorite sayings of dad’s was in reference to my boyhood best friend Tony. Dad fondly referred to him as a “little shit bird.” As in, “Here comes that little shit bird again!” Or, “What’s that shit bird doing in my yard?” I had absolutely no idea what a “shit bird” was but I got the impression that I didn’t want to be called one!
Since moving to a condo in Louisville, Lori has educated me on the term. She has a very nice, brand new shiny red car. It is beautiful. She keeps it immaculate. We only have a one-car garage and if you know me, you know the motorcycle gets the garage…it’s not even up for debate. So Lori parked her car in front of the garage, right under a small tree. The next day we come outside and the car is defaced, top to bottom, hood, roof, and trunk with bird droppings. It looks like an entire flock was flying over and stopped specifically to target her car. It is as if birds hone in on red just like the cops. Lori was livid. She went and washed her car immediately. She then parked it under the tree again. Guess what? Yep, looks like we’ve got an infestation…of Shit Birds!