Sunday, July 12, 2015
The Repercussions of Vocabulary
The first time I remember purposefully making a statement solely to gauge the reaction was in 1979 or so. My family and I were traversing the Louisiana highways somewhere in the vicinity of Ferriday, home of those musical cousins Mickey Gilley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart. We may or may not have been lost. As my mother’s brain was the precursor to Siri, I feel fairly certain she knew exactly where we were. I however, did not and felt the timing was right to use a new phrase I had recently learned. “God’s Green Earth”. I don’t remember from whom I heard it or the context of why it was uttered, but I had a need to use it, y’all.
Testing the waters, I cried out in a plaintive voice, “Where on God’s Green Earth are we?” Rest assured my mother was less than impressed with my question. My sister looked at me with a mixture of condescension and pity. Truthfully, she looked at most everyone in this manner, so her reaction was not a part of the equation. My mother’s reaction was one with which I was familiar. And it wasn’t good. I swear I thought ‘taking the Lord’s name in vain’ was something altogether different.
The look she gave triggered a memory which caused me to involuntarily shudder. As a child I wasn’t particularly ill-behaved. I do, however, remember making several serious errors in judgment. The one that always pops to mind was when I was a lad in 1977 and was enjoying the summer twixt first and second grade. My sister and I have shared a reliable relationship since childhood. I loved her always; she did not particularly care for me until she became a mother.
We were living in the last of our three houses (Front Street) our gypsy family rented in Winnfield, Louisiana. I remember being psychologically injured in a grievous way; she may have insulted my Lego house or merely told me I was stupid. My typical response was to tell my Mother. For some unknown reason I took leave of my senses and decided to handle this situation myself. Having no physical advantage, I used the only tool in my arsenal, my vocabulary. I felt I was superior to her in this respect, as I was a member of the Gifted and Talented class, people. It’s true.
Her reaction to my response immediately offered proof I had chosen poorly. I won’t repeat what I said but it stopped my sister dead in her tracks. She immediately recovered, smiled maliciously and said, “oooh, you’re gonna get it!” Unfortunately the voice that allowed me to lead cheers in college without a megaphone caused the words to reverberate down the hall to the kitchen where my mother was cooking and singing. She stopped suddenly and asked in a tone signifying doom, “Dustin Terryll Thompson, what did you just say?” My first response was “My name is Dustin?”
You see I had never seen my name written down and had been called Dusty for all seven of my years on the planet. I never knew my actual name was Dustin. I relished the new-found knowledge. Additional knowledge gained that day was what Lava Soap (with pumice) tastes like as Mother decided on a creative punishment for a creative turn of phrase.
Lava Soap was what my father used to get the hard to remove grease and dirt off his hands after work. Never have my teeth felt so shiny and gritty and free from all verbiage which is considered vulgar and unacceptable by one Catherine Waynette Thornton Thompson. I guess it made sense. The colorful phrase was one The Dad had used on a number of occasions. Needless to say the words I uttered never crossed my lips again, even when stuck in traffic in DC or Los Angeles. Synonyms for some of those words, maybe, but definitely not those particular words.
And that’s all I’m saying for now.