Through the Fence 6-21-10
After 13 years of living out in the boondocks, I’ve learned the origins of many of the country sayings I’ve heard all my life. For example, we’ve had baby calves that literally “high tailed it” towards their mamas when they got spooked. Once, I lost track of some twin goat kids and spent the better part of a frosty morning looking for them. After awhile, I no longer looked for live babies since I couldn’t see “hide nor hair” of them. I was relieved when they both showed up that afternoon. And anyone who’s ever had horses, especially young ones knows how frisky they can be at feeding time. They rear up, kick, bite and get into a scuffle over even a handful of grain. When I see those signs at public swimming pools that say “no horseplay” allowed, I have a vivid mental picture.
I have a friend whose stern father was a man of few words when it came to disciplining his teenage son. He gave him the basics regarding respectful responsible behavior, and left any lectures and constant reminders to his mother. One evening, the usually straight-laced boy came home after a night with some unruly friends. The parents were upset when their son stumbled through the door, well after midnight, reeking of alcohol. His mother deferred to her husband in this delicate matter. When the dad walked toward his son’s room, he found the boy clutching the toilet seat and heaving. When the nausea subsided enough for the boy to lift his head, his gruff old daddy just looked at him pathetically and said, “Lie down with dogs … get fleas,” and walked out. That boy didn’t repeat that painful lesson.
I had a funny reminder of where that expression came from a few years ago. We were living in a tiny farm house with all three of our kids crammed into one small bedroom. Our youngest daughter, Lena, was about 4 at the time but had only recently moved out of her crib for lack of space. She took turns sleeping with the two older ones in their bunk beds. They didn’t usually welcome her and would argue over whose turn it was to have her each night.
One night she talked her brother into letting our big yellow Lab, Lizzie, sleep in his bed as well. They all scrunched in there together and fell asleep after an exhausting day of climbing trees and round hay bales. They looked so adorable, nestled into a mound of covers – two sun-tanned kids and a dog.
The next morning, our Spanish-speaking housekeeper came to help me restore a bit of chaos to our cramped living quarters. It was usually a fun day for my kids since the lady would bring her children along to play while she and I worked in the house. When we finished cleaning, she would French-braid the girls’ hair. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get the braids as tight or as even or as fast as she could. As soon as she began combing Lena’s hair into sections and braiding it, she saw a flea. Then she saw another and another. I speak Spanish pretty well, but when she let loose a verbal tirade on me, I could only catch every third word. But I knew exactly what she was fussing about – Lena’s scalp was peppered with black jumping fleas. She really let me have it, and I was sort of glad I wasn’t getting every word. I tried to calm her down, saying that I would tend to it, but she pointed out each one, saying, “Mira! Mira!” (Look! Look!).
Lena seemed quite unruffled over the whole exchange. I walked her into the kitchen and grabbed the blue bottle of flea spray under the sink and sprayed her hair generously. Afterwards, I laid her on the counter, stuck her head in the sink and scrubbed her head with some floral shampoo. She was no worse for the wear, but I don’t know if the maid ever got over the shock. It was a while before she let her kids came over to play again.