April 2021


This month features poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, essays, memoirs and more writing goodness than you can shake a stick at. My dad used to say that– “more than you can shake a stick at” — I wonder if that’s a common phrase. Bob was born in 1915 and I find a lot of what I say comes from his long time ago life or as a direct result of 1950s to 1970s dad dialect.

There was a meme on Facebook a few weeks back about dad sayings. I say them all. We’re not air conditioning the neighborhood. Were you born in a barn? Guess it’s free (when there’s no price tag). People don’t know how to drive in this town. It’s not heavy, it’s just awkward. And so many more. Then again, I remember that my Dad had his own family sayings.

Don’t dance in the sun with butter on your head. Eat every carrot and pea on your plate. Is mass out? No but you’re hat’s on crooked. Bunny laid an egg on Poiley’s head … They only mean something to me. Do you have family sayings? Aren’t they dear? I listen for these sayings when we have family dinners, my grandsons (teenagers one and all) will laugh when I explain but I miss the Bob (and Ruth) lexicon.

Hoping you all have some fond memories, some family phrases. Take a moment to appreciate them. Pass them on to the next generation. If you don’t know any, ask your grandparents. As a grandparent myself, I can tell you how fun it is to try to explain why I say “pass the celery, Spitz”. See, my great aunt’s boyfriend, Spitz, came to family dinner, 1930s. He was quite nervous. Almost beside himself and everyone noticed his discomfort. It came his turn to pass the food around the table, obviously someone said, “pass the celery, Spitz” and from then on, for generations, we call the stalks “spitz”.

Paulie was about 8 years old. He ran into a door or some such nonsense and got a big knot on his forehead. His brother, age 4, had a speech impediment and called him Poily. It was the night before Easter. The next morning, little brother woke up, saw Paulie’s knot and said, “Bunny laid an egg on Poily’s head”. Legendary.

Eat every carrot and pea on your plate. Well, that’s self explanatory. Just say it outloud.

There are so many more. My Dad, a man with a great sense of humor, made us laugh every day. He enjoyed life immensely and I’ve missed his laughter for over 30 years.

I recently found over half a dozen cassette tapes my father and mother made while they traveled the US and Canada (including Alaska) in a Chevy Suburban pulling a 30″ Airstream trailer. They went from Arkansas to Nova Scotia, to the AlCan highway and down the Baja Peninsula with their rig perched on a flat car. Daddy narrated each night, cocktail at the ready, telling me of the day’s adventures. I bought a little cassette player online and now I listen to my parents, long gone, tell me about the time they had. From Mardi Gras to the Kentucky Derby. And I hear my Daddy make his jokes and say those familiar phrases.

Oh, is mass out? That’s a joke of my grandmother’s, who was born in the 1890s. Woman coming down steps of Catholic church, another woman walks up to her and asks, “Is mass out?” First woman replies, “No but your hat’s on crooked.” Brilliant joke, just a classic.

That’s what I’m doing during Covid. I listen to my parents from the 1980s. And it inspires me.

I paid for Ancestry.com and began my journey. I’ve found over 600 ancestors. I know their lives and their loves, their births and their deaths. I know my 4ggf ran the underground railroad at his stagecoach stop in Ohio and that he was a Quaker. I learned amazing facts and I continue to find out more every day. This genealogy research has kept me sane over the last year.

One of my distant first cousins kidnapped Pocahontas. The ancestry trail is never-ending. It’s surely not for everyone, this journey, but it’s always been about studying history for me and learning about Concord MA and Jamestown, VA, and Union County, OH thrills me. I’ll confess it here, I’m not southern. Not by ancestry. But I’ve spent my life in the South, so that counts for something.

I did grow up in Fort Smith, Arkansas and I’ve been in eastern North Carolina since 1986. My family, I now know, is from Ohio, Connecticut, Massachusetts and West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and even Rhode Island. And from there I can go back into England, to the 1600s. And that’s just on my mom’s side. My dad goes back to Germany, 1880s and ends up in Ohio, and since I can’t read German, I’m kind of stuck with what I’ve learned so far. I do know my 2ggm was an indentured servant, that’s how she paid her way to America. I could go on, but ya’ll aren’t interested.

One curious thing. I’m named after my grandfather on my father’s side, his name was Valentine. I found a Valentine on my mom’s side just yesterday, an 5ggf. So I’m double-named and that feels good. Here’s hoping you’ve all found something worthwhile to do with your Covid downtime. Ancestry research, learning to play the ukulele*, or writing poetry. Writing a short story or reading something — perhaps the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature –to bide your time.

We’ll get through this.

–Valerie MacEwan
Editor/Publisher of this here Dead Mule.

*my first Covid hobby and I suck at it.