"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride." This was one of many sayings my mother often quoted. When she said these words I knew whatever I was wishing for would likely not become a reality. Probably this saying had its origins in horse and buggy days, or even before that during the Victorian Age.
Mother was born into a nineteenth century agrarian society that was becoming industrialized as she became a young woman in the beginning of the twentieth century. My grandfather was a successful farmer whose well cared for animals, fowl, garden produce, fruit trees plus fields of corn and grains provided his family almost complete self-sufficiency. They had their own firewood forest, and fresh clear well water accessible by using a hand pump with a little elbow grease applied. Rain water collected could augment more ordinary household needs and watering the livestock.
A field near the house harbored a leafy green plant that my Grandmother introduced to me many years later. I learned there were leaves I could actually eat, that tasted good and I've enjoyed mint ever since.
Grandfather died many years before I was born, so my impressions of him are based solely on Mother’s stories. He maintained his farm land in a manner he described as being one indication of a good farmer -- someone who kept all his fences mended and the fence rows cleared of unsightly weeds. He proudly never expected his wife to perform outdoor farming duties since he believed she was fully occupied by household tasks and caring for the children.
During that time period the automobile was invented but few were seen on the road driving past my Mother’s home. The neighboring farmers who rotated gathering at each others farms to assist one another at harvest time shared a few stories about this new technology.
One story that elicited their laughter was about the wealthy city lady accustomed to having an auto with driver. She came to visit farm relatives she wanted to impress. During her visit she spoke of how simple driving a horse and buggy was compared to handling a car. Goaded to demonstrate her equestrian skills she impulsively accepted the challenge. The horse and buggy were presented. She climbed into the buggy seat, picked up the reins and said to the horse, “Commence!” The farmers made their point when she seemed perplexed, then frustrated when the horse did not move the buggy forward despite her repeated increasingly louder commands. Merely saying the word "commence" to each other elicited laughter for years after from those who knew the story.
Another true tale centered on the farmer friends good-natured teasing of my grandfather, who was perceived as being progressive. He was asked, “So, Floyd, when are you going to get an automobile?” He replied, he didn’t think he’d bother because he thought he’d “wait for one of those airplanes.” The Wright Brothers had recently achieved their first successful but limited plane lift above the ground.
A few years later my 80+ paternal great grandmother startled relatives by taking a short flight in a biplane, considered to be quite daring then for anyone. She would have been considered quite old which made her risk-taking all the more astounding.
Mother shared stories intended to provide a language learning lesson for me like this one. She was a young girl, walking along the country road toward home one sticky humid summer afternoon. There was considerable distance yet to go in the hot sun before she reached the cool shade of her house’s dooryard trees. A neighbor farmer coming up the road with his horse and wagon, called to her, “Do you want a ride?” She responded, “I don’t care.” He retorted, “Well, if you don’t care, then I don’t either” passing her by. Just as my mother learned after her experience, I’ve used great caution saying “I don’t care” once I heard her story.
One of Mother’s lingering grammar lessons flashes through my mind every time I hear the misuse she frequently corrected when just the two of us talked. Any time I ended a sentence with “at” -- such as “Where’s he at?” -- I would be told “Just before the at.” Once she explained how useless “at” was, then spoke the words, I agreed that “Where is he?” sounded much better. I long ago ceased tacking an "at" on to sentence endings.
Ending “where is…” inquiries with “at” occurs in much casual conversation, When I hear TV news personages using the errant phrasing/sentence I can’t seem to avoid correcting the television speaker in my mind. Each time I chuckle to myself enjoying loving memories of my mother.