Sow’s Ear: Soap dish
April 14, 2006
by Gwen Petersen
Big Timber, Mont.
“Dish” is a word that can mean a plate or a bowl.
According to the Dictionary of American Slang by Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D., it also means “to gossip; have an intimate chat; to dish the dirt as in: ‘she dished with the girls.'”
Along with half the country, I watched a documentary purporting to show people living as they did on the “frontier.” I could write my opinion of the film and call it a “review,” but that would be hedging. I’d rather dish with the girls.
Here’s a chance to watch a soap opera set in 1883. It’s a howler, loaded with fussing, feuding, whining, complaining, and soul-wrenching crises all over the place. But is what you see on camera based on reality? Or is it contrived?
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What you see:
– Some beautiful draft horses pulling a covered wagon. Suddenly, the horses “spook” and take off across a shallow ravine and up a grassy slope. The wagon tips, falls over and somehow becomes separated from the horses which go skedaddling off in tandem at an easy lope.
What you don’t see:
– How the harness, the shafts, the tongue, the double-tree ” all the paraphernalia that attaches a wagon to a team ” parted so cleanly without damage to either equines or vehicle.
What you are told:
– A kid was riding inside the wagon before it wrecked.
What you don’t see:
– The actual kid actually inside the wagon.
– Anybody inside the wagon (such as an adult).
– Any belongings scattered about after the wagon falls over.
– The kid himself crawling from or being pulled out of the tipped vehicle.
Things you see:
– Fresh Jersey milk cows with bags the size of horse tanks bobbing between their hind legs.
– Teenage “frontier” girls “milking” a cow.
– Teenage “frontier” girls traipsing through 10 inches of new snow chasing an escaped bovine in order to milk her smack in the middle of trail.
Things you don’t see:
– Any milk in the buckets after any milking.
– The cow’s udders stripped, ever.
– Any boy children engaged in milking.
– Any adults doing any milking
Funniest things you hear:
– Constant bellyaching by the women and girls because they have no makeup.
– Continual complaints by the men because they had to do hard manual labor.
– Unending “Hatfield &McCoy” backbiting between two families.
– Loud whining by child at loss of the one and only worm on the frontier.
– Oscar-winning, dramatic wailing by child supposedly bitten by dog.
Saddest things you hear:
– All of the above.
Saddest things you see:
– Cheating by the children
– Cheating by the adults
– Jealousy and bickering
– The total self-absorption of two of the families without regard for the safety and welfare of their neighbors.
Best depiction of reality in the entire documentary:
– The father and son team who worked together to build a cabin, who got the job done without complaint, who were positive in their outlook and faced challenges with honesty and a wry sense of humor.
Silliest depiction in documentary:
– At the end of the five months, two “experts” crawled around among the homesteads, tallied up score sheets and decided which family would have “made it through the winter” and which would not.
Best joke during the documentary:
– The film-makers thought they were keeping the entire project a big secret. Surprise ” we all knew about it.
There’s plenty more to “dish” about, like:
– In the five months of occupation, what did those people do with their garbage?