Monday, April 8, 2013
It Ain't the Things You Don't Know
Lord, at least I think Mark Twain said that.
My mother Mur had a ready answer for any question you could ask, and suffered no reluctance if she herself did not know the answer. For instance, once we were driving through the rain down to Florida, and my sister asked if it would be raining when we got there. Mother replied confidently it would not, because she had seen "the rainbirds flying south." Chris was fascinated and spent the next ten or fifteen highway miles staring out the window asking where the rainbirds were, what they looked like, and other meteorological/ornithological matters. Finally Mother admitted that she hadn't seen any rainbirds, that there were no rainbirds, that she'd made the whole thing up so we'd stop talking about the rain, and that she had no idea if it'd be raining when we got there, but it didn't do any good to fret about it.
Other times Mur would tell us little-known facts that turned out later no to be facts at all. Every once in a while, I will trot one of these out in conversation - such as the startling news that LBJ was the first southern president since reconstruction or that the panda is not a true bear at all, but is more closely related to a raccoon - and it will explode in my face like a trick cigar. Nor were her children the only ones to drink from her font of knowledge. A friend once asked her the purpose of a mysterious-looking truck, and Mur informed her it was a truck specially designed for carrying commodes without chipping the porcelain. The friend passed this tidbit to her husband who hotly told her they were not trucks for hauling toilets but pulpwood, that he had worked at a pulpwood plant for years and seen such trucks in this service. Mur's friend, however, staunchly defended Mur's version of reality, and it was only by going back to the horse's mouth, as it were, and getting the horse to shame-facedly confess she really had no idea what the trucks were for, and that she had merely made an educated if somewhat far-fetched guess when she said they had to do with toilets.
This condition I believe is traceable at least as far back as my maternal grandfather, Boss. Mur's brother Charley, working on a homework assignment, asked Boss whom Shakespeare had married. Boss without hesitation replied he'd married a Swede, sending my innocent Uncle Charles off to school the next day armed with this piece of weird misinformation to share with his astonished teacher who was expecting the answer Ann Hathaway.
Now I find the misinformation gene has been passed to me. One day my carpool buddy asked what it is called when the first part of one word is made from the overlapping letters from the previous word, as in a billboard advertising a hospital's emergency services, "Get Help SoonER." (See, ER is made from the last part of "sooner." There's better examples, but I can't think of any.) I happily informed her this was known as "cannibalism," something I swear I learned from my buddies James Iredell and Mike Dockins. (Back me up on this, guys.) However, Ms Hruska checking her iPhone could discover no definition for cannibalism unrelated to eating human flesh, and when I got home, I confirmed the same thing.
Then, just another day, we were talking about language, and how odd the whole concept was that our minds convert dots of ink on a page or a computer screen into sounds and that these sounds have meanings. Apropos of that, I told her that the Mandarin symbol for "trouble" was a man and a woman in a house. She whipped out her iPhone and as perspiration beaded my brow, searched for the Chinese ideogram for "trouble." She came up with nothing. Finally, though, she discovered that the ideogram for "misery" is two women together, which as far as I'm concerned is close enough. So I dodged a bullet that time.
Meanwhile, I'm stilling waiting for Jamie or Mike to confirm cannibalism means what I think it does. And while I wait, here's a brand new ideogram signifying "humiliation."
It's me with my fat mouth open.