Who was Adam’s housecat?

Published 2:12 pm Tuesday, February 15, 2011

“I wouldn’t know him from Adam’s housecat,” I am prone to say.

The truth is I don’t know any Adam that has a cat. I certainly wouldn’t know if Adam had a housecat. In fact, Mary Lou and I currently own the very first cat we have owned in our lives. So where did I learn to say such a thing?

I honestly don’t know. I don’t really recall my parents or grandparents referring to Adam or his cat. It is just one of those things that make Southern speak different from anywhere I have been. The more I travel, the more people point those sorts of things out. It is part of the heritage of growing up in the Deep South.

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My cousins from the West Coast often ribbed their Southern kin about these sayings. I am “fixin’” to do something was one of their favorites.

“Your not fixin’ anything,” they would howl with laughter.

“Is it just y’all or are all y’all goin?” It doesn’t seem complicated to me. Just another way of asking who is going somewhere.

They also enjoyed how I was the “spitting image” of my dad. Little Dan and Big Dan went along with the southern description of us as well. Of course, half the boys were called “Bubba” and half the girls were known as “Sister.” I call my only female sibling “Sister” to this day.

Occasionally, we would see the rain at Compass Lake while the sun was still shining. My grandmother would say that the “devil must be beating his wife.” If it was a real bad thunderstorm she might say, “It come up a bad cloud.”

“Frying up a mess,” meant that we had caught some fish that day and were going to eat them the only way we knew how back then—fried.

Children were always around in the South when I was growing up. It did not mean that the adults always knew who they were. Often we were called names like sugar, honey, butterbean or sweetie-pie. It is funny how it was always some sort of food.

Every soft drink in the South was a Coke. It didn’t matter if it was a Pepsi, Royal Crown or a Dr Pepper. They were all called “Coke.”

We would often sit around on a hot summer afternoon like a “bump on a log,” enjoying the breeze, an RC and a Moon Pie.

The pocket on the dash of a car was always called the “glove compartment,” although I haven’t seen a lady wearing gloves in 40 years. It was the same with the trunk of the car being called the “boot.”

People stopping by would be invited to “set a spell.” While an early departure would be met with the comment, “Don’t rush on my account.” They would round up their young ones by telling them to “git on the stick.” By the time everyone left, the children were usually all “tuckered” out or worn to a “frazzle,” whatever a frazzle is.

The children were raised by their parents, not reared. However, you grow corn instead of raising it.

Most mothers would have “cathead” biscuits on the table at breakfast, big enough to poke a hole in with your finger and fill it up with syrup. We would be “Eat’n high on the hog” until we had a “gracious plenty.”

We all knew someone that was just too “sorry” to work. They didn’t give “two hoots and a holler” about what people thought about them. Then again, they might have just been too “stove up” to get out of bed after being “three sheets to the wind” the last Saturday night.

I would get in my share of trouble too.

When I was pretty much “knee high to a grasshopper” I would sometimes get “too big for my britches.” My mother would get “madder than a wet hen” and tell me to “go cut me a switch.” She was going to “tan my hide.” I was just as likely to go somewhere and not come back, pretending to be “deader than a doornail” or “playing possum.”

My brother and I would get in trouble for teasing our sister. “Don’t be ugly to your sister,” my mother would yell. Ugly?

As I got older, I worked in the watermelon fields where the other guys would tease you about “not letting the bear get’cha,” which meant not too worn out and hot. We talked big about girlfriends we didn’t have. If the girls were pretty they were “finer than frog’s hair.” On the other hand, they might have been “so ugly when they were born that the doctor slapped their momma.”

Many of these traditions are carrying on to yet another generation of young Southerners in our family. Our grandchildren seldom depart our house without hearing us yell out, “See you later, alligator.” It didn’t take them long to learn the appropriate response, “After while, crocodile.”

People my age still use most of these phrases, even after satellite and cable TV have made our language more homogenous. But then, what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?