My conversation remains sprinkled with colorful expressions common among the adults of my growing-up years. When I think about it, listeners probably don’t have a clue as to what I’m meaning to say.
Comparisons that I make provide a prime example.
When I describe someone as being “mule-headed,” I forget that most people in my audience never interacted with a mule. If a mule decides not to pull the heavy load behind him, there’s no changing his mind-set. Many times I cried with frustration when neither my harshest words nor the end of the plow lines across his back made the mule pull; he only flinched a little and stood still.
“Slow as molasses” is out-of-date. What’s molasses? Syrup poured on pancakes is thin and quickly runs off the edge. My grandchildren haven’t experienced a winter morning at the breakfast table with backs to the Home Comfort stove. Hot biscuits from the oven melted the butter we spread on them, but they cooled significantly before we got the thick sorghum molasses to leave the pitcher and make a standing mound on our plate.
Most of the time I am “as happy as a lark.” Larks are bound to be happy because they sing all the time, but how many modern-day people know the habits of a lark as compared to that of a crow?
Or how many have observed an old wet hen running around fluffing and shaking her feathers, obviously overly upset with her circumstance? Saying that someone is “as mad as an old wet hen” fails to paint the picture I want to convey.
For me, “cold as kraut” originated from a directive from some mother to rake snow off the cellar door and get a “mess” of sauerkraut for dinner. The shredded cabbage was packed in a brine mixture in a three-gallon crock jar, a heavy old dinner plate laid on top of the kraut and weighed down with a rock. A thick cloth was tied over the jar. By the time I had uncovered the contents, dug out a big serving and replaced the protective coverings, my hands and the rest of me were nearly frozen.
I have no idea who Dick was, but I did not have to know in order to use the phrase “as tight as Dick’s hatband.” Everybody wore hats, and we all had worn a hat that was too small. The too-tight leather or woven band around the crown just above the brim would cause you to have a headache in no time flat. I figured Dick was too stingy to buy a new hat that fit, although he had plenty of money. The person whom I was describing as “tight as Dick’s hatband” was known to hold on to his money regardless of the consequences.
Hatbands are too few today for this interpretation to be clear. Neither do we see many oxen around, but I still describe a young, muscular man to be as strong as an ox. It was probably a stretch for that expression to have been taken literally in the first place, so I keep on using it.