Monday, August 30, 2010

No Spring Chicken

My father, George Washington Mayo, was a good man who loved people. While I got my creativity and general oddness and orneriness from my mother, my rather silly sense of humor came straight from my father. I guess, with a name like George Washington Mayo, the ability to laugh was most likely a necessity.

Daddy had these great sayings. Whether you would call them axioms or idioms or perhaps just George-isms, they were most likely representative of the time, and some would certainly be thought of as sexist and politically incorrect these days. All of them appeared to be based on what he considered to be both hilarious and of great value to the younger generation. Now that he's gone, I love it when one of my father's sayings pops into my head at just the right moment to remind me of him and to keep me as close to the straight and narrow as my mama's inherited zigzaggedness allows.

Here are the George-isms I remember:

If my brother or I came between my father and the television set, he would say, “Your daddy wasn’t a glassblower." This, we surmised after a while, meant we weren’t transparent and he couldn’t see where Chester was headed in the midst of a
Gunsmoke episode, in spite of the fact that Chester was always headed down to Miss Kitty's Saloon.

If we were doing something stupidly dangerous, Daddy would say, “You’re going to bust your contract.” We took that to mean we were going to fall down, hit our heads, and end up in the hospital with a bandage tied around our noggins. Daddy used the same term later with my kids, and Melissa, just recently, tried researching the meaning of the phrase and couldn’t find anything on it, other than references to breaking a legal contract. Apparently, Daddy just made that one up.

We always had a cat or two around the house because my mother loved them. Daddy, on the other hand, opined that "the only good cat was a dead cat." However, he was known to pet one from time to time when no one was looking.

Again, if any of us got in Daddy’s way, when he wasn’t mentioning the lack of a glassblowing father, he would say, “I’m slow because I’m old. What’s your excuse?”

The worst thing Daddy ever called anyone was jackass. He called my brother and me that from time to time and he also used it to describe his grandkids, my children. As far as I can tell, he was right on with that one, especially when it came to my children who inherited their jackassedness from their father.

When I was a teenager and wanted to listen to the radio while my daddy was driving, he'd put up with the din for a while, even pretending to enjoy it by doing that finger-jive thing that cartoon characters used to do back in the day. However, if we got into heavy traffic, he would tell me to turn off the radio because he was getting ready to do some "fancy driving." I always envisioned fancy driving as involving a car-chase scene like in the movies, but all I got was Daddy scrunched over the steering wheel trying to change lanes and complaining about jackasses.

Daddy had a great way to meet new people and he would use this greeting when he met my friends (much to my humiliation). He would offer his hand and shake theirs sideways as opposed to up and down until their entire bodies would appear be be afflicted with some kind of palsy. When they were all shook up and as least somewhat discombobulated, he would offer, “I know my name. What’s yours?” You can see why my social circle was somewhat small.

In spite of his obnoxious greetings, Daddy was very kind and would never hurt anyone’s feelings, but he did call the very few divorced women he knew “grass widows,” not to their faces, of course. I looked up that term, and unlike "bust your contract", there's an actual history to it. The “grass” comes from being “out to pasture” or no longer viable. No wonder Daddy was so mad at me when I got divorced. There he was suddenly saddled with a daughter who was no longer viable enough to entice another man into taking care of her.

And when Daddy would notice I was putting on weight, he would offer that I was becoming “broad across the beam." So I guess that meant I was not only out to pasture but was also hauling a heavy load.

Continuing with the no-longer-viable theme, Daddy had a couple of zingers on the topic of old age, especially when it afflicted humans of the female persuasion. Occasionally, when Mama entered the room, he would warble, in what was actually a pretty good singing voice, “The old gray mare, she ain’t what she used to be.” If that ever bothered my mother, she was smart enough not to let on. He would also point out that she was no longer a “spring chicken”, and as I got older, he tossed that term at me also.

But, in spite of his lack of fine tuning in the area of gender relations, my father had a good heart and a commitment to doing the right thing for people, no matter the color of their skin, the size of their bank account, the country of their origin, the construction of their genetic makeup, or the breadth of their beam.

A final word on my father: Because Daddy stayed very busy with work and church and doing things for other people, when
we wanted him to do something for us, he would say he'd do it when he “got caught up”. We joked that we would have “He finally got caught up!” engraved on his headstone when he died, but we never had the chance, as my wonderful, funny, sexist father gave his body to the Medical College of Georgia, an act so giving, so zany, I’m pretty sure he’s still chuckling about it up there somewhere. That's because, if there is a heaven, Daddy is sure to be at the Pearly Gates, greeting newcomers with his signature handshake and helping St. Peter check off his list by saying, "I know my name. What's yours?"

As for me, I'm still a grass widow, still broad across the beam, and am now less of a spring chicken than even the old gray mare who ain't what she used to be.


MaryB said...

What a touching tribute. It is written by a daughter who lovingly remembers Daddy and his ways. I'm sure he is enjoying it - wherever he is, as is his daughter as she relives those days.

Wisewebwoman said...

You don't oversentimentalize him at all Marcia but he sure jumps off the page, a viable misogynistic lovable old rascal.
Pleased to meet you, George!

cile said...

Great story Marcia! I never had a Daddy at home but if I did, I'd want him to be rascally like that and make me laugh!

That picture is just a hoot. I can't imagine, given the time it was taken, any kind of candid shot being taken in MY home like that!

Celia said...

A good story about a daddy person by his daughter who loved him just as he was. His humor was of his times.

Melissa said...

My new favorite.

Batya said...

Marcia, I am so glad I took a packing break. I'm still laughing. Just what this tired grumped person needed. Wonderful, loving story about your dad. I love cats, but "the only good cat is a dead cat" killed me laughing. I love his hat.

Kate said...

You touched a chord I'm not willing to play, but I can still say, Great writing!

marciamayo said...

In case I left any of you thinking my father was just sexist jokester, this is from a childhood friend of mine who knew my daddy.

Holland wrote:
"Funny you should have written this piece just at the time I spent 7 hours going through pictures, letters and other items my mother deemed "collectible". One of those pieces was a letter from George Washington Mayo, typed on his Equitable Insurance stationary with a copy of the program from my ordination service. I could quote a few lines your dad wrote about me but you wouldn't believe them to be a fair estimation of my character and/or you might get physically sick! He was truly a good man, a little broad in the beam himself with the highest waistline I've ever seen before or since. He never let his pants sag or droop, keeping them positioned somewhere magically between his chest and his waist! I loved that man."

Unknown said...

You are such a great writer - so darn fun to read! You write like you talk . . . . and that's an art form.
Thanks for sharing. My mother has roughly fifty or so idioms she throws around consistently. When Kirk and I are catching a buzz, we go back and forth with them. This game can go on for hours . . . . . Unfortunately, the apple doesn't fall far from, so I have a tendency to do the same. Davis LOVES it!!!

Arkansas Patti said...

your daddy and mine were pretty much alike. he used the "broad in the beam expression" also but he also used "narrow bottomed" for the opposite. would loved to have seen that hand shake.
cool memories of a cool dad.
sons compete with their dads, daughters just love them.

Anonymous said...

this is a test for a friend of mine.

Jean said...

Your father was a colorful character. I'm sure everyone enjoyed him and knew how to take some of his comments with a grain of salt. "Broad across the beam" is a saying I'm familiar with (in more ways than one; the others, new to me.

I got a major charge from your post about falling. It reminded me of a major embarrassment when I fell in a hotel lobby. I almost wanted to praise the hotel staff for keeping a straight face. I'm sure they collapsed in laughter once I left the lobby.

Friko said...

Oh Dads,
When we are young, certainly when we are teenagers, our parents embarrass us no end. I used to cringe at my dad's mannerisms and sayings.
Nowadays I am more like him every day. I am also proud of him. Pity, I never told him while he was alive.

Bea Boomer said...

Marcia, I loved this "portrait" of your dad. I love how you put words together.

Bea Boomer said...

Oh yea, and the photo is hilarious! Makes me want to drag out the old family photos and reminisce!

marciamayo said...

I've gotten lots of comments about this crazy picture. I don't remember the occasion exactly but I do know that my favorite times with my own children are times when horseplay is involved. I just love the silly physicality of it. After giving this photo a good hard look, I think my feelings about family silliness must have come from my childhood.

Dick Klade said...

Most recollections of parents hold my attention for about a minute. This one was fascinating! I read every word. An interesting subject, to be sure, but a great writing job to bring out the essence of the man.

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