Grandpa liked to talk. He was not one to blather on about himself; he did not talk to hear himself talk. But he enjoyed a good conversation, and you could be sure he would do his part to keep that conversation lively. Grandpa’s language was usually colorful and plenty salty but never vulgar. Listening to Grandpa talk was fun because of the things he said.
Grandpa Ray was a master of metaphors and aphorisms, even if he didn’t know what those were. His eighth-grade education did not provide him with much sophistication, but his hardscrabble farmboy upbringing gave him a unique perspective on life and living.
Just as he enjoyed good conversation, he loved eating, and talking about eating. Coming in from a long day in the fields or woods Grandpa usually had built up a good appetite, often saying “I’m so hungry my stomach thinks my throat is cut.” After enjoying a big meal or an especially good piece of cake or pie, he would say “I wish I was bigger so I could eat more.”
Grandpa always had a colorful way of describing certain events, people or things. An icy sidewalk was “slicker than snot on a doorknob.” Something moving very fast through or past an obstacle was “like s**t through a long-necked goose.” A guy who told tall tales or talked a lot about himself was “so full of s**t his eyes were turning brown.” Such a man may also qualify for the application of another of Grandpa’s sayings: “he don’t know his ass from a hole in the ground.” He did tend toward the scatological. When he needed a beer it was because he was “drier than a fart in a windstorm.”
Another phrase he borrowed from Grandma. Whenever she talked about something she didn’t like or didn’t understand she would use the term “ferluvnermunny”. For example, when talking about traveling to or in the Twin Cities she would say, “why, the traffic down there is just crazy. Cars coming at you from all directions. I wouldn’t live down there ferluvnermunny.” Translation: for love nor money. It kind sounds like she considers these equivalent, but I don’t think that’s what she means. Even today Grandma often evokes Grandpa: “I know Raymond always used to say…”
A lifelong Democrat, Grandpa was not above talking politics. A favorite saying he borrowed from his dad, a farmer, went as follows: “Never trust a man in a suit. He may be a banker or a lawyer or a revenuer. But you can be damn sure he’s a Republican.” I never thought of Grandpa as a racist, but he would occasionally say things that made me wince. Southern Minnesota farm country in the 1920s and 30s was not a place you where you would learn about racial justice. Grandpa was a product of his time.
One of the funniest things I ever heard Grandpa say happened on a fishing trip in Canada. This story requires a little background, but I’ll write more about our Canadian adventures in a future post. On my third trip there, when I was about 15, I was lucky enough to hook what was probably the biggest pike I’ve ever seen. I fought it for about 20 minutes, trying to get it close to the boat so Dan, the guy sitting in the bow, could net it. Finally, I got it within three feet of the gunwale and Dan reached out with the net. He got the fish just out of the water; I remember it barely folding up in the net. Then the big pike straightened out and the next thing we heard was a big SPLASH! The fish was gone. The double-hooked smelt rig I had on was mangled, the hooks almost straightened back into wire. The pike had torn a gaping hole in the net. (It turns out Grandpa packed an old, rotting landing net instead of a new one he’d bought for the trip.) I turned to Grandpa who was manning the motor and said, “I don’t know if I should laugh or cry.”
When we got back to our fish camp that afternoon, the story was told and retold to the guys in the other boat, who had gone a different direction that day. As the beer flowed and the whisky bottle made its way around the campfire, the one that got away got bigger and bigger. Apparently, it was the biggest fish Dan had ever seen too. He couldn’t stop talking about it. Finally, Grandpa got tired of hearing him talk about it and said so. Then he said:
“Your mouth is flapping like a whippoorwill’s ass during chokecherry season.”
The little fish camp erupted with laughter. We were literally rolling on the ground with tears in our eyes. They could probably hear us in Winnipeg that night.
Grandpa was never a rich man, but he knew how fortunate he was. When he was relaxing in a boat or a lawn chair or driving through the countryside just enjoying the day, he would say “I wonder what the poor (or rich) people are doing today.” He wasn’t a snob, but he felt rich.
This is what I take away from my experiences with Grandpa Ray. Anyone who enjoys life as he did is rich indeed.