LESSONS LEARNED WHILE NOT PAYING ATTENTION

By Gwen S. Clarke

The other day, as I batted out of the house for a morning appointment (memo to self: try to stick to afternoon scheduling), I glanced around at the chaos in my wake. In my mind’s ear, I could hear my Grandma Kiefer saying, “It looks like Katsy Sligh lives here.”

In my grade-school punkin’ head, I just naturally assumed there really was a Katsy Sligh, who, as frequently as I did, left his/her bed unmade, littered the yard with tricycle, Irish Mail, and other assorted toys, and caused even worse, more unimaginable insults to polite society. After all, how coincidental was it that Sligh rhymes with sty?

Gone for more than seventy years, that severe matriarch appears on my shoulder with such regularity that I was prompted to ask my sister if she remembered Grandma in the same light. She did. OK.

Once I attained grandparent-hood, myself, there was one phrase that I studiously avoided, as it had been the cause of any ground-down molars I have had, or may even have in the future. Any time an edict of hers was questioned, Grandma’s authority of “they say” was invariably invoked. When I reached what might be called the age of reason, my response of, “who’s ‘they’?” was always met with stony silence and a glare.

Half of a generation separates my sister and me, but when I questioned, her recollection is the same.

Katsy Sligh, for all I know, might have been real – I haven’t thought to Google it.

The universality of childish thought and language was brought home to me when my own children were small. The first Disney Theme Park was in its early stages of growth at the same time that our children were. As soon as the youngest was out of diapers and all three were flight-tested against causing their father to lose his airline job, we hied ourselves from South Florida to Orange Country, California. Using the home of my best childhood friend as base, we absorbed all things Disney and Knott’s Berry.

One evening, as our collective of five wee ones were sharing a bathtub, my friend Nancy’s son and daughter got into a fracas. “You’re a dirty, old Keekeecocker” said one to the other. I was used to hearing that unique term of childish un-endearment used in our house, thousands of miles away, and allowed its use, lest a worse expletive be picked up from a little neighborhood potty-mouth. It took a minute for me to realize that, perhaps as our yet-to-be-born children sat on the edge of the same cloud, awaiting assignment, they shared a common language – maybe even a squabble or two. How else to explain it?

More than half a century has passed since that summer. Nancy is still alive and well, living in Idaho, near her son, a minister who is probably unaware of his dark past. Her daughter is a tenured university professor who has written a book on spiritual meditations. Our three have achieved successes in their own fields as well. To my knowledge, none has been the worse for wear for the language they were allowed to use in those formative years.

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