Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wisdom from Abe Lincoln or Mark Twain or somebody


Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

Monday, June 28, 2010

We interrupt our silence briefly to bring you...


Shane Stever!

Shane, who spent several years in the church youth group where my son served as youth pastor, is one very talented individual. He just graduated from Vanderbilt University in Nashville as a communications major. He is about 22 years old, I think. He put together a nine-part a capella arrangement of Justin Bieber songs himself and posted it on YouTube today.

So even if you have never wanted to hear a nine-part a capella arrangement of Justin Bieber songs sung by one person, humor me and click here.

I think you just may end up enjoying it.

I have decided to take Yorkshire Pudding's advice...


...and simply stop talking.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

I don’t know Nick the bartender from Adam’s off ox


In my previous post I used the phrase “Adam’s off ox.” For those of you who have never heard that expression before, click here for an interesting explanation by a British blogger named Michael Quinion.

For the record, my mother said “Adam’s off ox” and she was born in Philadelphia. I suppose that explains why I say it; after all, I learned to talk at my mother’s knee. My wife says “Adam’s housecat.” She was also born in Philadelphia, but she moved to North Carolina when she was eleven. I never heard any of the other variations Michael mentions (Adam’s brother, Adam’s foot, Adam’s pet monkey) in my entire life. In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Nick the bartender said, “I don’t know you from Adam’s off ox.”

Today’s trivia factoid: Nick the bartender was played by Sheldon Leonard, who in later years produced the television series The Danny Thomas Show (1953 - 1964), The Andy Griffith Show (1960 - 1968), The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961 - 1966), I Spy (1965 - 1968), and some episodes of Gomer Pyle, USMC.


Something else I say is “Braddock’s bull.” My wife says “Blalock’s bull.” We are obviously incompatible.

[Editor's Note. I also say “buck naked” but a lot of people say “butt naked.” Epstein’s Law comes into play here, which I have named for my friend and former colleague, Sanford J. Epstein, a 305-lb. Jew from Burlington, Vermont, and Pompano Beach, Florida, who said, “If there’s a difference that makes no difference, then there is no difference.” He also wore a Kelly green suit every St. Patrick’s Day and changed his name tag to read Sanford J. O’Epstein, but I have chosen to ignore that. -- RWP, 6/27/2010]

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Trivia for a summer’s day


My stepmother’s brother Marvin and his wife, Big Fat Thelma, had a son named Cletis Claude and a daughter named Daisy June, not to be confused with Daisy Mae. The kids stayed confused, though, whenever their parents called them, because their nicknames were C.C. and Sissy. The kids, I mean, not the parents. The parents always remained Marvin and Big Fat Thelma, except Marvin was sometimes called Ed. Thelma was never called Ed.

My goodness, you’ll believe anything, won’t you?

This must be how fiction writers get started. I always thought they made things up out of whole cloth, but it’s a lot easier to take a kernel of truth and parlay it into a whole cornfield of lies and call it fiction.

My dad’s name was Clifford Ray and when he was young everybody called him Ray, except his family, who called him Ted. My mother also called him Ted. He was never called Clifford by anyone, but late in life he was called C.R. by the postmaster in Coppell, Texas, who didn’t know him from a hill of beans (Southern-speak for Adam's off ox). I am not making this up. Once he received a letter addressed to Mr. Theodore Brague, my dad I mean, not the postmaster in Coppell, Texas. People mean well, but sometimes they are just wrong.

Lots of other people in Texas called my dad Yankee because he grew up in the midwest, Wisconsin and Iowa, and talked funny. For example, he said rut instead of root, ruff instead of roof, and crick instead of creek. He also said “Yes, mom” and “No, mom” instead of “Yes, ma’am” and No, ma’am” like everybody else in Texas, so he sort of stuck out like a sore thumb. I always thought he sounded like people in England, where they say “Yes, mum” and “No, mum” to the Queen.

[Editor’s note. Northerners think saying “Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am” sound subservient and should never be said. Southerners, who were brought up to respect their elders and to be polite to strangers, think they should always be said. Thus was born the famous old saying, “North is North, and South is South, and never the twain shall meet.” The Queen of England doesn’t care whether people are Northerners or Southerners as long as they are part of the British Commonwealth of Nations and stand when she enters the room. --RWP]

The story within the family was that when my dad was just a little tyke, Teddy bears had become a popular toy named after President Teddy Roosevelt, who loved to go out west and hunt big game. One day, three-year-old Ray came down the stairs wearing nothing at all and announced to a room full of startled adults, “Me Teddy Bare.”

My stepmother came from a big family. Russell Sterling Williams and his wife Pearl Cannon Williams had eleven children. There were Cleo, Mildred, J.D., Margaret, Russ Junior, Marvin, Billy, Faye, Kenneth, Freddie, and Sue. Kenneth died in infancy; Cleo named her oldest boy after him. Junior’s wife Dorothy and Billy's wife LaWanda were aunt and niece. Faye married a Junior, but he was Junior Gates. Freddie’s wife Martha and Sue’s husband Jack were sister and brother, so the children in the two families were double first cousins. Only Junior is left now, and he will soon be 90.

There are 22 first cousins in all: Kenneth, Janice, Jerry, Bobby, Eddie, Pat, Billy, Jimmy Wayne, Gary, Mike, Helen, Carol, Brenda, Daisy, Ray, Libby, Danny, Larry, Terri, Jeff, Paula, and Russ. The last four are the double first cousins. Second and third cousins have become as innumerable as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.

My stepmother also had a friend she called Big Fat Dorothy to distinguish her from Junior’s Dorothy, who was neither big nor fat. Big Fat Dorothy was from Australia and used the word “skivvies” a lot.

Where else could you learn such fascinating tidbits of useless information?

That’s right, nowhere else.

Only I know which of the above statements are true and which are false, and I intend to keep it my little secret.

Now go forth and multiply do likewise.

.......................(Copyright Capp Enterprises, Inc.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Do Dah Day Redux


About a month ago I introduced you to Do Dah Day in Birmingham, Alabama. I lamented the fact that we were going to have to wait an entire year before enjoying Do Dah Day again.

I was wrong.

Photographer extraordinaire Virginia over at Birmingham, Alabama, Daily Photo apparently has a few more scenes from the Do Dah Day Parade up her sleeves. Wrap your mind (if you can) around this sight for sore eyes.

And then put that in your pipe and smoke it!

Monday, June 21, 2010

What? Summer Solstice already?


For your Summer Solstice 2010 reading pleasure, I give you

my Summer Solstice post from 2009

and also

my Summer Solstice post from 2008

because I wouldn’t want to have to work too hard in all this heat

and all this light

which is the whole point.


For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, we will now have a group sing.

All together, now:


Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med

And springþ þe wde nu,
Sing cuccu!
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
Lhouþ after calue cu.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel þu singes cuccu;

Ne swik þu nauer nu.

Pes:

Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!


There now. Don’t you feel better?

And for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere who are currently experiencing mid-winter, bleak or otherwise, and who may prefer a little eye candy to all this singing (hi, Katherine), I give you Paul Newman, who won the Best Actor Award at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival for his role in The Long Hot Summer:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

In which the blogger ponders unanswerable questions


Last night before I went to bed I watched The Singing Bee on CMT (Country Music Television), not because I like country music especially but because the only other choices were Leno, Letterman, and reruns of Roseanne on TVLAND.

I have never heard most of the songs on The Singing Bee and it amazes me that so many other people know them all. Wait, I lied. One time several months back I actually knew all the words to “I Walk The Line” as written and recorded by Johnny Cash in 1956.


My friend Tom used to sing it this way: “I keep my pants up with a piece of twine / I keep my eyes wide open all the time / I keep the ends out for the tie that binds / Because you’re mine, please pull the twine.”

But that’s a post for another day.

The only reason I’m telling you about watching The Singing Bee on CMT (Country Music Television) before I went to bed last night is that upon opening my eyes this morning the first words I heard on my own personal Cranium Radio were:

You bring the bourbon, I’ll bring the blonde.

I never heard those lyrics before anywhere and the thought occurred to me that if they are not already part of a country song they should be. Furthermore, I don’t drink bourbon and I’ve never dated a blonde. I’ve never cheated on my wife and I don’t intend to never will. So please explain to me, in 25 words or less, (a) why do we think such out-of-context thoughts? and (b) where do our creative thoughts come from anyway?

Typical answers such as God, the Devil, out of the blue, and too many dill pickles are ineligible for the grand prize, a lifetime supply of these:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Is Alice Tan Ridley the next Susan Boyle?


On Tuesday night, June 15th, on America’s Got Talent, did we just see the next Susan Boyle?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

So I said to her, “Mamie,” I said,...



In the photo above, which is in the public domain, are six First Ladies of the United States at the same table. From left to right, they are Nancy Reagan, Lady Bird Johnson, Hillary Clinton, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, and Barbara Bush. The photo was taken on May 11, 1994, at an event called the National Garden Gala, A Tribute to America’s First Ladies.

What I would like you to do is contribute what you think different ones of them might be thinking or saying based on their positions, posture, and facial expressions.

For example, Nancy Reagan might be thinking, “I could use a Margarita,” Rosalynn Carter might be thinking, “What a hideous blouse,” and Lady Bird Johnson might be thinking, “Hasn't she ever heard of mouthwash?”

Remember that this is a G-rated blog.

This should be good!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Flag Day



The painting above, The Birth of Old Glory, was created around 1917 by Edward Percy Moran to depict the presentation of the first American flag to George Washington by Betsy Ross of Philadelphia in 1776. Research by the Smithsonian Institution, however, has revealed that this event probably never occurred. Someone undoubtedly made the first American flag. It just wasn’t Betsy Ross. That is a myth. But on this day in 1777, Congress adopted the new flag as the official emblem of the new nation.

By the War of 1812, several more states had been added to the Union: Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and Louisiana. Even though there were 18 states, the U.S. flag contained 15 stars and fifteen stripes at that time. It had become obvious that adding a new star and a new stripe every time a state was added would not work. This 15-star, 15-stripe version is the flag that 35-year-old amateur poet Francis Scott Key witnessed during the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy ships in Chesapeake Bay in 1814. His poem, originally titled “Defence of Fort McHenry,” was set to the tune of ”To Anacreon in Heaven,” a popular British drinking song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men’s social club in London. Later, the title was changed to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The tune and Key’s poem did not become the official national anthem of the United States until 1931.

Today, the U.S. flag has 13 stripes to represent the original 13 colonies and 50 stars, one for each state.


Although traditionally only the first verse of the anthem is sung, some of the other verses are definitely worth a listen.

(Click here to hear an expanded version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”)

Note. If you enjoyed this post, you may also like this one.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Well, shut my mouth!


Language is a living thing, ever moving and changing. This phenomenon is noticed only by the old, who have had the benefit of long observation. The young are too busy knowing everything to pay much attention.

By “ever moving and changing” I do not mean -- today, at least -- the coining of new words to describe new inventions (iPod, iPhone) and new technologies (Twitter, Facebook), nor do I mean the putting together of existing words in ways they weren’t previously (car park, space suit, Rachael Ray). And I am definitely not referring to regional accents of the kind one might hear while visiting Alabamistan (“Ah had a rot noss tom last Froddy not”) or Australia (“G’dye, myte!”) or Long Island (“Oy thought Oy would doy; let’s tu-alk over cu-offee.”).

No, Madam Speaker, today I rise to speak of what seem to be, in the overall scheme of things, sudden changes in pronunciation, which like Ol’ Man River, jes’ keeps rollin’ along. [Note. If you don’t click on that link, you will miss something truly special. --RWP]

It’s nothing new. England experienced the Great Vowel Shift centuries ago, which some researchers attribute to the mass immigration to the south east of England after the Black Death.

What this older member of the human species has noticed over his many, many years is how pronunciation of certain words seems to change rather suddenly, even without benefit of Black Death. For example, most Americans used to say Car-uh-BEE-an when talking about that little sea near Central America until President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it the Cuh-RIB-ian. Then the Him-uh-LAY-as became the Him-AHL-yahs. Okay, it pares down the number of syllables from four to three in both of those words, a significant saving of 25%. The world might be better off with a 25% reduction in syllables. Or maybe we’re just trying to sound British. (There are worse things. I don’t think anyone on this side of the pond has said Luh-BORE-a-tree yet, though.)

But how and why did Yom KIP-per morph into Yomka POOH-er? That’s just strange. Maybe we’re all trying to sound snobbish.

As a child, I heard about a disease called di-a-BEE-tis and now everywhere it’s di-a-BEE-TEES. Same thing with the plural of the word “process” -- no more PRAH-cess-iz; it's proh-cess-SEES. Maybe we’re all trying to sound like scientists.

Some people say to-MAY-to and po-TAY-to; others say to-MAH-to and po-TAH-to. Some people say EE-ther and NEE-ther; others say EYE-ther and NYE-ther. Maybe we’re trying to sound cultured. I understand in Scotland they say AY-ther and NAY-ther. No one has yet determined what Scots are trying to sound like.

Proper nouns have their own difficulties. Take the state of Louisiana, for instance. LOO-is-iana and LOOZ-iana are both acceptable, but not loo-WEEZY-ana, because the place was named for Louis, not Louise. New Orleans is especially problematic. Depending on who is talking, we have noo-or-LEENS, noo-ORLY-ans, and NAW-lins (residents say it the third way). The preferred pronunciation of Louisville, Kentucky, seems to be LOO-a-vul. Outsiders may not realize it, but old-timers in Missouri, Cincinnati, and Miami all end their place of residence with an -uh, not an -ee.

I could go on and on, but I’d like to open the comments now for pronunciation changes you have noticed.

We now return you to regular programming. This has been a public service announcement.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Separated at birth?


George Stephanopolous, co-anchor of the ABC television network’s morning news program Good Morning America and former political advisor to President Bill Clinton:
Pat Monahan, lead singer of the band Train:

Monday, June 7, 2010

I’m goin’ whur thar’s no depression, to the lovely land that’s free from care...



Have a listen to The Carter Family -- A.P., Sara, and Maybelle -- singing as only they can, er, could, er, did.

According to my extensive research (Wikipedia, what else?), A.P.’s name was Alvin Pleasant, Sara was his wife, and Maybelle was their sister-in-law. She was married to Ezra Carter, A.P.’s brother, and she was also Sara’s first cousin. Maybelle played the guitar; Sara played the autoharp.

Later, “Mother Maybelle” (as she came to be known) sang with her daughters -- Anita, Helen, and June Carter. And even later, daughter June hooked up with a feller name of Johnny Cash. You may have heard of him.

These raw, untrained voices singing out of their Appalachian experience speak to me in ways that Kathleen Battle and Luciano Pavarotti do not.

And vice versa.

Music, they say, has charms to soothe a savage breast.

Actually, an English playwright and poet named William Congreve (1670 - 1729) said it first, in 1697, in his tragedy, The Mourning Bride. Two phrases from that play have become famous, although frequently misquoted:

* “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast,” spoken by Almeria in Act I, Scene 1. The word “breast” is often misquoted as “beast,” and “has” sometimes appears as “hath.”

* “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned,” spoken by Zara in Act 3, Scene 8. This is usually paraphrased as “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Selah.

Here are the lyrics from the Carter Family’s version of the song:

1. For fear the hearts of men are failing,
For these are latter days we know
The Great Depression now is spreading,
God’s word declared it would be so

Chorus:
I’m going where there’s no depression,
To the lovely land that’s free from care
I’ll leave this world of toil and trouble,
My home’s in Heaven, I’m going there

2. In that bright land, there’ll be no hunger,
No orphan children crying for bread,
No weeping widows, toil or struggle,
No shrouds, no coffins, and no death

3. This dark hour of midnight nearing
And tribulation time will come
The storms will hurl in midnight fear
And sweep lost millions to their doom


There is also a version recorded by someone named Uncle Tupelo in which the phrase "the lovely land" is replaced with "a better land." Either way, my thanks to Bart Bull, late of Arizona and currently of Paris, France, for pointing me in the direction of A.P., Sara, and Maybelle Carter.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Of what use are rivers? (and other things every eighth-grader should know)


Below is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas, USA. According to an e-mail I received recently, it was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, KS, and reprinted by the Salina Journal.


8th Grade Final Exam
Salina, KS - 1895


Grammar (Time, one hour)

1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph.
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of “lie,” “play,” and “run.”
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6. What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 - 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.


Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)

1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cts/bushel, deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per metre?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.


U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)

1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.


Orthography (Time, one hour)

1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication
2. What are elementary sounds? How are they classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals
4. Give four substitutes for caret ‘u’.
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final ‘e’. Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.


Geography (Time, one hour)

1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America.
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.
7. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.


Notice that the exam took five hours to complete. It gives the saying “he had only an 8th grade education” a whole new meaning. And it also reveals how poor our education system has become.

And, no, I don’t have the answers.

By our next meeting, class, be prepared to stand up and tell what you can of the history of Kansas.

Friday, June 4, 2010

What’s in a name?


A rose by any other name would still have aphids.

(Note: If you click on that link, you may learn more about aphids and ants and caterpillars than you could ever possibly wish to know. Consider yourself warned.)

But just think about it. Suppose the Beatles had been called the Noodles instead, or the Hiccups, or Loads of Dandruff, and suppose that instead of John, George, Paul, and Ringo their names were Motrin, Ithaca, Bactrian, and LaQuandary. And suppose one of them once said, “We’re more popular than Jesuits.” The last third of the twentieth century might have been completely different.

Names do make a difference, after all.

Billy Ray Barnwell, my friend, nemesis, and part-time alter ego, has written about names. Those of you who have not read Billy Ray’s work before should gird your loins now.

“Billy Ray Barnwell here, Mama always said fools rush in where angels fear to tread, but here goes anyway, some people have unusual names, don’t you think? for example the principal of the high school I attended back in Not Grapevine Texas was named Willie Pigg, he had a daughter named Barbara Ann and a son named Billy Dale, you’re prolly saying what’s wrong with that? well don’t look now but their initials were B. A. Pigg and B. D. Pigg, why would anyone do that to their children?, and back around World War Eye as the famous bandleader Lawrence Welk would say there was also a Governor of Texas named Jim Hogg, he and the lovely Mrs. Hogg had a daughter they named Ima, that’s right folks, Ima Hogg, and legend has it there was also a Ura Hogg but that has been emphatically denied, I have heard that in her old age Miss Ima Hogg reigned supreme as the grande dame of Houston society sort of like Alice Roosevelt Longworth the daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt did up there in Washington D.C. with her little pillow that said if you can’t say something nice about someone come sit by me, but I don’t know whatever became of Miss Ura, if indeed there ever was a Miss Ura, I guess the jury is still out on that one. In the service I had a friend named Jim Parsley and I knew of a guy whose last name was Turnipseed and I worked with a Marsha Lamb, I don’t know what it is with animals and vegetables, oh and my first grade teacher back in Pawtucket Rhode Island, as the famous newspaper columnist Dave Barry says I am not making this up, was Miss Edith Wildegoose, I still have her wedding announcement that Mama cut out of the newspaper to prove it, yes I was born in Rhode Island but only because I wanted to be near my mother and she happened to be there at the time, but just as soon as I could convince my family, we moved to the South, well that’s a little joke but it’s not entirely untrue, I was six years old and pre-asthmatic when the doctor told my parents I would prolly do better in a drier climate, and since my father thought he might find work in the aerospace industry, we sold our furniture and packed up our clothes and left our third-floor apartment at 61 Larch Street and our landlord Mr. Lee Vitale pronounced Mr. Leave-a-TALLY and the Misses Irma Chisolm and Yvonne Schack at the Pawtucket Day Nursery and also Mrs. Mullins who taught me for one whole week in public kindergarten before I was moved into the first-grade class of the aforementioned Miss Edith Wildegoose at Hancock Street Elementary School and moved to Fort Worth Texas on a train, a trip that took three days and two nights. I can hear some of you saying Texas isn’t the South, it’s the Southwest, well it seceded if that’s any qualification, but getting back to odd names, let us not forget Tom Bledsoe, and Mama said she knew a girl back in Philadelphia named Violet Roach, and when I finally got around to taking Latin in college the teacher who taught me all about conjugating the verbs and declining the nouns and adjectives so that I finally understood Mama’s little joke and also realized that my uncle wasn’t saying “so messy phooey” at all, he was saying the principal parts of the verb to be in Latin, was named Elizabeth Beaver. I have heard that when people began using surnames several hundred years ago they might pick a nearby geographical feature like Hill or Field or Rivers, or their occupation like Carpenter or Taylor or Cooper which means barrel maker, or an identifying physical characteristic like Long or Short, we won’t delve into that any further, or an animal name like Wolf or Fox or Byrd, but why someone would choose Beaver or Roach or Wildegoose is beyond me, and it’s not just animals either, some names just sound right and some do not, take colors for example, we all have friends named the Whites or the Blacks or the Browns or the Grays or the Greens but do we have friends named the Yellows or the Purples or the Oranges or the Beiges? no we do not and in the great overall cosmic scheme of things there’s prolly a very good reason why we do not, and some people go out of their way to try to be cute, for example that guy who wrote the book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang had characters in it named Truly Scrumptious and Caractacus Potts, of course those people were not real, but I think trying to be cute can create a burden for the child, for example George Lear who created Lear Jet airplanes named his daughter Crystal and so far so good but her middle name was, are you ready for this?, Chanda, that’s right, Crystal Chanda Lear, and my friend John Cornelius told me the other day he used to know a girl named Candy Machine but he may have been pulling my leg. Girls seem to have to bear the brunt of parental inventiveness, for example I know a family named Musselwhite where the sons are named Fred and Wayne but the daughter’s name is Fredonia, and I know another family named Furbush where the son’s name is Carl, common enough, but the daughter’s name is Tranquilla. Fredonia Musselwhite and Tranquilla Furbush and both of them are Caucasian, so you can stop giggling and rolling your eyes about the Sha’niquas and Champaydrons in your local African-American community. Two of my all-time favorite names are Ninnie Threadgood and Fannie Flagg, one is real and one is made up, in fact the one that is real made up the one that is made up, maybe we could start a contest and you can guess which is which, just send your postcard entries to me, Billy Ray Barnwell, care of General Delivery, Not Grapevine Texas, say either “Ninnie Threadgood invented Fannie Flagg” or “Fannie Flagg invented Ninnie Threadgood,” whichever one you think, we could have a drawing for the big prize, maybe a year’s supply of fried green tomatoes or something, this could be big, really big, but getting back to names, we all know families who fixate on a particular initial, for example I know a D group, Don, Doris, Darryl, and Dawn and I know a J group where the children are Jonathan, Jennifer, Jessica, Jeremy, Jason, Justin, and Julia, but the parents, go figure, are David and Sabrina. I also know a woman with a beautiful name, Amalfi, who told me her father was visiting in Italy and saw a highway sign that said Amalfi and he said if he ever had a daughter he was going to name her that, I told her if he had gone to Atlanta instead we would be calling her I-285 today, either that or Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. Amalfi’s sister Sammie has a total of 21 names because her father happened to be the pastor of a small church and when his wife became pregnant every woman in the congregation suggested a name for the new addition and since the pastor and his wife didn’t want to show favoritism or hurt anyone’s feelings they used all 21 names, Amalfi can rattle them off without blinking an eye but I can never remember what all of Sammie’s names are, the whole concept is so overwhelming, so whenever I see Sammie I just make some names up and say Hi there, Sammie Imogene Esmerelda Hildegarde Florence Ophelia Desdemona Eleanor Bess Mamie Jacqueline Ladybird Thelma Betty Rosalyn Nancy Barbara Hillary Laura, well you get the picture, and we all have a good laugh, Sammie doesn’t mind, but one thing she does do is she gets married a lot, she has been married several times in what I believe is an unconscious attempt to have enough last names to bring the scales into balance. Then there’s the case of everyone’s favorite violet-eyed actress, the famous Elizabeth Rosamund Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky, I don’t know what her reason is, and let’s not even attempt to understand Zsa Zsa Gabor who is from Hungary and has been married so many times her wedding dress is prolly drip-dry. Speaking of Hungary, foreign names are a world unto themselves, for example people from India all seem to have names like Praline Lolafalana or Bajeeb Bagoshbaghali, don’t you think? and we have all heard about names that are prolly just jokes, you know the ones, let me write phonetically here, fuh-MOLLY, oh-RON-juh-LO, luh-MON-juh-LO (female, orange jello, lemon jello), it just gets worse, my step-uncle, that would be my stepmother’s brother, married a woman named Ovaline and I always called her Ovaltine, behind her back of course, and years ago when a friend of mine married his wife Udella, no kin to Udella Mabry, three little kids I know began calling her Umbrella, behind her back of course, maybe it’s something in their DNA, like I said earlier the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, and on that disturbing note this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.”

(End of excerpt)

RWP again. I told you to gird your loins. Maybe you’ll listen to me next time. Reading Billy Ray may cause you some confusion, but no one ever said life is fair (and if someone did say it, he or she was definitely wrong. Two weeks ago in our church, the guest speaker, a retired three-star Army general, said if life was fair he would look more like our pastor and less like Barney Fife. Then he said our pastor was the Tom Cruise of the Assemblies of God. I am not making this up).

If you know any unusual names you care to share that belong to real people and are not just products of your overworked imagination, the comment section awaits.

(Ima Hogg, ca. 1900)

















(Crystal Chanda Lear)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bye, bye, birdie


This morning, on my grass about three feet from my kitchen window, equidistant from the edge of the patio and the corner downspout, I discovered a dead one of these:


I don’t know how it met its end, whether a cat got it or it flew into the side of my house, but it had definitely expired. I saw that its feathers were mostly blue, but I knew it was neither a blue jay nor a bluebird, so I pulled my handy-dandy National Audubon Society Field Guide off the shelf and discovered that my bird was a male Blue Grosbeak. I don’t remember ever seeing one before, and I’m truly sorry that the first one I saw was no longer alive.

I thought of some words Jesus spoke that are recorded in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew:

“Aren’t two sparrows sold for only a penny? But your Father knows when any one of them falls to the ground. Even the hairs on your head are counted. So don’t be afraid! You are worth much more than many sparrows.”

Today, my Father and I both knew that this beautiful creature, though not a sparrow, had fallen to the ground, and it made me sad. I would gladly have donated a few more hairs from my head if that could have prevented its demise.

I may be worth much more than many sparrows, but around here, at least, a male Blue Grosbeak is hard to replace.