Have you ever wondered if you were born into the wrong era? I’m sure the good Lord doesn’t make any mistakes, but sometimes I feel out of step with this modern world. And I don’t think I’m alone on these old paths.
I figure people like me (and those of you who identify) help keep shows like Andy Griffith on the air. Even though that way of life no longer exists as the mainstream, we can still enjoy watching the simpler ways of Mayberry.
I especially enjoy the way Andy talks, particularly his masterful usage of Southern idioms. This tends to be a favorite subject of mine in my love affair with the spoken and written word.
One thing I have noticed is that many of Sheriff Taylor’s unique sayings have to do with rural agricultural life and may be foreign to younger viewers. But still, when Andy is on, my kids flock around the TV “like chickens on a Junebug.”
Just what is a Junebug? It is a beetle that is common all over the U.S., particularly in the Southwest, such as in New Mexico. What we have locally is the “Green June Beetle.” I tend to see them on my rosebushes and ornamental plants.
And I have known several people here in the South who are called “Junebug.” Now, I’m not making fun of anybody with that nickname, so “don’t get your hen feathers ruffled.”
That’s another Andy reference that my modern children would not understand. Just what ruffles a hen’s feathers? Being pestered by a rooster, sickness, molting even. Hens naturally care for their feathers, preening themselves to keep them neat. But this takes a backseat when something upsets their lives — be it a pesky rooster or just not feeling so well.
Andy was obviously fond of farm animal references. When a shady character was in town once, he warned the druggist Ellie: “When you see a weasel’s tracks, you better lock up your hens.”
How many of you have ever had to worry about a weasel getting your chickens? Not me. But I’m still close enough to our more rural past to identify with that analogy. I wonder what will happen as our generations get more and more removed from that farming lifestyle. Will Andy-esque idioms be lost?
I wish I had time to write a book that compiles and preserves such idioms, but these days I’m “busier than a cow’s tail in fly season.” However, if I could write such a book, I bet I’d be “bulging like somebody’s prize pig” or “prouder than a prize heifer.” (I’ve been called a heifer a time or two but not in a prizewinning way!)
My kids would certainly understand the cow’s tail reference, but I’m not sure they know what a heifer is. (From what I’ve heard, a heifer is a young female cow over a year old — usually one that has not had a calf yet.)
The prize pig and heifer references draw us back to memories of county fairs. Stokes County is still lucky enough to have one, but such annual events are quickly losing the rural flavor of the past.
Years ago, categories for canned goods, homegrown vegetables and yes, prize pigs and heifers, were jam-packed with competitors. Sadly, today some of the categories don’t even have entrants. My young Bray cousins still participate in cattle shows, but my kids are not familiar with this. When I tell them that long ago I “showed steers,” they look at me blankly.
But Sheriff Taylor would understand. He wouldn’t stare at me as if I was speaking a foreign language and “back up like a dog that ran into two porcupines.” (I doubt Andy was really familiar with porcupines which are not native to our area. They range out West and farther north, perhaps coming as far south as Pennsylvania in the eastern U.S.)
Sometimes Andy’s idioms leave the land and take us to the water. When Andy thought Ellie was trying to snare him, he said she should “go off somewhere and gig some other frog.”
The mention of frog gigging is something that just might stump the younger generation. I remember when my daddy and the neighborhood men would take their gigs (multi-pronged spears) down to Belews Lake at night to “gig” frogs. They’d shine lights in the water where the frogs’ eyes would glow, making them easy (and somewhat dazed) targets.
Meanwhile, the women and kids would hang out at our house until the fellows returned with a passel of dead frogs. Mama and the ladies would fry up the frog legs, and we’d argue over whether they tasted like chicken or fish.
This is totally foreign to my kids. The only gig they know is the storage unit on the memory cards for their newfangled gadgets or the next performance by their favorite musical group.
Wonder if anybody frog gigs around here now? If so, I’d like to hear about it. And next time your girlfriend or boyfriend hurts you or makes you mad, just look at them and disdainfully say, “Why don’t you go gig some other frog?” The blank look on their face just might be worth it!
Yep, toss out an archaic Andy-ism to throw them for a loop. “There’s more than one way to pluck a buzzard,” you know. (That one puzzles me. Why would anyone pluck a buzzard? Not even other buzzards eat dead buzzards; their flesh tastes like the rotting meat they eat and is chock full of nasty bacteria.)
I would love to hear some of my readers’ animal metaphors/similes/analogies or Andy-isms. I keep pen and paper handy to jot them down while I watch “The Andy Griffith Show.” Guess you could say when it comes to Mayberry and our delectably quaint Southern way of talking, I’m “hooked like a starvin’ catfish!”
Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at email@example.com. Her blog is at http://timesofrefreshingontheoldpaths.wordpress.com.