Google+ Badge

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fox Paws

Back in the days when my little Gram was a youngster, the rules regarding education were different than they are today. I was quite surprised, actually, when I found out that she had only gone through the eighth grade. In those days, it was the standard required schooling period. It didn't seem to hurt Gram at all, though, because she was pretty bright. I am pretty sure that her father never gave a thought to her going to high school. After all, there was no need for a female to have that much education. (Note: this is not the opinion of the author of the blog. I am simply relating these events as they happened.) I know that little Bessie butted heads with her dad on some subjects, one of the most memorable being the time she broke into her piggy bank and went to the barber to get all of her long hair cut off. Her dad was so upset that he refused to talk to her for several days. But since very few kids went to high school, I doubt that she put up any fuss about it.

As I have already said, Gram was not a dummy. Although her father did not send her to high school, she was very well-read. She told me something about her daddy that I found very impressive. Even though he was a devout Catholic, if he heard that the Church didn't want you to read a certain book, for example The Sheik, he would go straight to a bookseller and buy it. He firmly believed that if anyone wanted a book censored, he'd should read it, and used to say something to the effect that it was up to him to decide what to read. He didn't want anyone making those decisions for him. This attitude directly affected Bessie because he always had her read the books aloud to him. When he was a child working in a factory, his eye was injured, so he couldn't read any print smaller than newspaper headlines.

So with all of her reading and life experience, she managed to hold her own. She married at age seventeen and had four babies, the first of whom was stillborn. When her kids were in school, she became active in the parent-teacher association, and at one time was the local president. She used to regale me with stories about some of the women she worked with in the PTA. One story that always gave her the giggles was about a woman who really did a lot of good work for the organization. One of Gram's responsibilities as the leader was to recognize high achievers at meetings and luncheons. So she had to introduce this very kind lady on a number of occasions. The problem? Gram found her name a bit embarrassing to say, and so she tried to kind of mispronounce it on purpose. The lady in question would come up to the podium for her recognition and proudly announce, "Thank you so much, Mrs. Curtis, but you have gotten my name wrong. My name is Mrs. Nickleschitz." When Gram told me this, I got the giggles from it too, I have to admit.

Like most people, Gram had one or two words that her mouth just couldn't seem to pronounce. For instance, if she told me about a story in the newspaper about a drug bust, she might say something like, "The police confisticated ten pounds of marijuana when they raided the house." And I found it adorable and charming. On the other hand, though, she used the normal pronunciation of the French phrase faux pas. Another lady in the PTA did not, however. This lady liked to think that she was very refined and otherwise smarter than the average bear, so she tried to throw phrases in various languages into her conversation on a regular basis. It neither bothered nor impressed Gram as she could spot a phony from across the street, but sometimes it gave her some entertainment. Especially when the lady would say something like, "Did you hear what Bernice said during the meeting last Tuesday? That was really a fox paws!" Gram did not reveal her amusement. She simply agreed that yes, Bernice had committed a social blunder. 

I loved hearing Gram tell this story! It really tickled me that the lady was trying to be superior to Gram (my hero!) and failing. It also became a part of our secret language. From time to time, one of us would ask the other, "Do you think it would be okay to say thus-and-such to Mrs. Jones, or would it be a terrible fox paws?" Then we'd laugh until we cried, and if I was lucky, she'd tell me another delightful story - and she had plenty!