I know a farm father who, when his kids were loafing at chores, told them, “Don’t just stand there with your teeth in your mouths!”
My dad had a similar line that he picked up during the Korean War. It has to do with canines and mating behaviors. Since I was old enough to hoe the garden, I knew the meaning behind his one-line motivational quip; it wasn’t until I thought of the metaphor concretely that I was utterly appalled.
My dad and the farm-family father know the importance of saying what you mean in just a few words.Why belabor a point when you can just state it? Here are a few samples of our patriarch’s compact points:
On my latest car purchase: “Heated seats? Aren’t you afraid your candy-ass will melt?”
On my angst-filled puberty: “When I was your age, I could have gone for the rear end of a skunk.”
On the cause of “shingles,” an affliction my mom had a few times throughout their 53-year marriage: “Sin, I tell you. A pure heart doesn’t put up with such tom-foolery.”
On my brother’s Ph.D achievement: “That’s right, son, you have a Ph.D, and I have a J-O-B.”
As much as he is the master of word economy, my dad also knows when silence is the best option; I am especially reminded of this when spring storms roll around every year. You might know a person who has a fear of thunderstorms. Not so for me, and I have my dad – and peanut butter – to thank for it.
One particular late-1960s memory finds a sleeve of saltines, my dad and I sitting below our front door’s overhang, and a jar of peanut butter. Crashes of thunder and blinding flashes appeared on the black canvas sky as my dad spread the creamy goodness on each cracker.
He simply sat with me, eating peanut butter crackers, without lecture or effort to coax me from fearing the storm. He did, however, ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhhh’ at the explosions of thunder as if it were an Independence Day celebration. His enjoyment was contagious, and I too was reacting with joy at each bolt and subsequent boom.
A secure soul was engraved in me that day I’ve carried into my adulthood storms.
It’s no wonder then why I sleep like a baby during severe weather. The wind, rain, and thunder may as well be a Brahms lullaby. That’s the power of a parent who knows when to say nothing just as well as a poignant canine reference.
— Doug Clough
Doug Clough writes a column for the Ida County Courier in Ida Grove, Iowa, called “From our backyard…” His work has appeared in Farm News, The Iowan and Boating World, and he served as a travel scout for Midwest Living. “I am a father of a salad bowl family (aka ‘blended’), a customer service manager, the possession of my Labradoodle and — in a former life — an English teacher. Someone has to enjoy that mix; it may as well be me,” he says.