Sunday, May 08, 2011


"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.


  1. I'm a grammar freak, too, and I'm glad to know that I'm not alone. Bad grammar grates on at least one of the working nerves I have left. I've been known to send back business letters that have spelling and grammar errors with a grade.

  2. We still collect rainwater in barrels and when I was a kid, the farmers came into town driving wagons pulled by horses. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Dianne

  3. A very nice nostalgic story. I can see where you got your wisdom.

  4. What a lovely post! My Uncle Henry's farm was a magical place that I got to visit only once. My friend Joanie's dad was a grain buyer, and we used to ride along with him when he visited nearby farms. I loved climbing into the hay loft and collecting pigeon skulls, much to my mother's consternation.....

  5. A fine story for Mother's Day. We didn't live on a farm, but my father often translated documents and letters for German immigrant farmers and thus had many friends among them. One of our favorites was a Mr. Timm. I loved visiting his 160-acre farm and learning about how he did his work.

    Mr. Timm farmed (and did some logging) with a pair of horses. He had no truck or car. When he came to town once or twice a month, he walked the five-mile distance.

  6. I really enjoyed this post. I'm a bit of a grammar freak too....but nothing like my husband was. My kids all 'towed the mark' in our house when it came to using proper grammar....and it has served them well since some of them are writers.

  7. You've probably lost some of the comments on this post....mine being one of them from a few days ago. I don't know if Blogger has been fixed...and I don't have Blogger as my blog provider, but I for one am so frustrated because several of the comments I've left on sites have just disappeared. Sorry about my little rant JoAnn. This was a good post. Both my late husband and I are sticklers for proper grammar...he was even more so than I am. In our home out kids used grammar in the correct way...or would be called on it. I guess it was a good thing since a couple of them have become writers. Take care....hope this comment goes through... ~Joy

  8. Joy: Something weird with Blogger is happening since your original comment which was here along with all the others up and until a few hours earlier today. Now your original comment is gone and has been replaced with this latest one.

  9. I loved your family stories that gave history a personal touch, especially the part about waiting for an airplane.