By: Leah Prescott
My paternal grandmother, Betty Clayton, was a strong, independent, loving woman who constantly looked for ways to help other people. Widowed in her twenties, she raised her two sons alone and provided fully for their every need. She delighted in hospitality and was passionate about her family. She had a wonderful sense of humor, an amazingly sharp memory, and a perfectly honed rotation of well-loved recipes and traditions to share. She was honest to a fault, outspoken at times and always confident. When I was a teenager, I sometimes found it difficult to get along with her, but now I realize that was because we were very much alike in many ways.
It was impossible to ignore my Grandmother Betty, partially because her frank conversations were always studded with colorful and sometimes perplexing phrases and metaphors. Some were self-explanatory, like “mad as a wet hen” or “just as easy as falling off a log.” Others were more obscure and harder to define, such as “Katy bar the door” which clues everyone in that something bad is going to happen. If you were on the brink of doing something stupid, she would threaten, “Your name will be mud.” When circumstances were looking down, it was “too wet to plow.”
Unexpected company was greeted with the ambiguous, “Well, look what the cat dragged in,” or, only slightly more complimentary, “I haven’t seen you in coon’s age.” When her grandchildren expressed dissatisfaction, she would respond that “if wishes were horses we’d all take a ride.” If she thought what you wished for was ridiculous, though, she’d say “You need that like you need a hole in your head!”
When someone was displayed particular stubbornness, she would declare, “You don’t believe cow horns will hook!” She would express her own confidence by betting “five dollars to four donuts.” However, if things didn’t turn out like she expected she would be a “sick chicken.” Grandmother often told stories of her childhood when “pennies were scarcer than hens’ teeth.” If an individual were a particular tightwad, she would say he was so cheap he’d “chew paper instead of gum” or say he was “tighter than Dick’s hatband.” A lazy person wouldn’t “take a job tasting pies at a pie factory.” You could fit all she knew “about technology in a hollo’ tooth,” and if the said electronic device failed to operate at all, it was “as dead as Hector.” She scorned the latest “pure stupid” trends by laughing that she “wouldn’t give 5 cents for all of ‘em wrapped up in red paper.”
I miss my Grandmother so much. She left me with many of her recipes, a little bit of her sass, and only a few of her colloquialisms recorded. Maybe one day I can write a book about all the wonderful memories she gifted our family. I guess I better start working on that book right now. After all, “maybes don’t grow on trees.”