Thursday, July 20, 2006

"God willing and the creek don't rise"

I don't know if you've ever heard that old expression, but my grandparents and parents say it all the time. I recently took a journey down to Shannon County, MO, where my grandparents' families are from. When they were growing up, the saying was a lot more literal. When it rained hard, the creek rose, and they couldn't get to town. That seems pretty clear to me, but now I'm not so sure, given some sources I've found on the internets (such as this one) that take the "creek" part of the expression as referring to a native american tribe known for harassing west-bound travellers. Then from etymology to current usage, I don't quite agree with the definitions provided here, either. Now I'm no expert, but if I were, I might paraphrase the old saying with something like "barring any unforeseen obstacles" or something like that. For a remote, rural, and religious family in the Ozarks, God and the creek were two very real obstacles to be reckoned with.

There were other obstacles, too. My grandpa's family had a truck with disfunctional brakes. When they drove to town, they had to coast down some big ol' hills on some thin passageways through trees that we might hesitate to call roads today. So, God having willed it and the creeks having stayed at a ford-able level, they'd drive that way to town, but on the way back there was a hill that was too high and steep to coast down safely. So they had this tree they'd cut down, and they'd tie it on a long rope or chain to the truck at the bottom of the hill, then drive up and over, dragging the tree up as a counterweight to their descending truck.

Not all obstacles come in deity or natural-phenomenon form, either. Language is another barrier. I'm not talking words themselves, but specific usages. Take this dialog between a waitress and one of my great uncles on the occasion of his first-ever trip to a restaurant, for instance:

Uncle: (orders something)
Waitress: How do you like your eggs, hon'?
Uncle: Oh, I like them a lot. I eat 'em most every mornin'.
Waitress: No, I mean how you like your eggs cooked?
Uncle: Oh, now that's the best way to eat 'em, if you ask me.

Now, I know these stories seem implausible, but I have every reason to believe they're true. And I know it's trite, but it blows my mind to think about how much we take for granted today as compared with the world these stories tell of. Last night a violent storm tore down trees and knocked out power all over St. Louis. I wanted to find out about the damages, but there was no TV, no internet, no nothin'. I turned on my car radio and lots of the local stations were out as well. Hell, the Eads Bridge even closed for a while because some of a building fell on it. Now, that's not quite the same as the creek rising, but it's sort of close.

Hmm, that was supposed to tie things together and wrap 'em up a lot better than it did. Well, shit, as my grandma says, ain't that enough to gag a maggot? Well now that's a whole 'nother story for a whole 'nother time.