Roy M. Pitkin
Family/Genealogy Writings
Curriculum Vitae
Professional/Scientific Bibliography
Family/Genealogy Writings
Whom the Gods Love Die Young


1. Letters to Pauline 2003

2. Addendum to "Pitkin Family of America: The Descendents of William Pitkin" 2006

3. Canadian Roots 2007 (available on request)

4. Letters from Nana/Mother/Pauline 2008 (available on request)



Roy M. Pitkin


Of many factor influencing lifespan, most authorities agree the strongest is hereditary.  In studying our family history, I have been struck with a marked difference between paternal and maternal lines with respect to how long our ancestors lived.  Among the last eight generations of Pitkins, the average lifespan of males in the direct line was 58 years, whereas among the last five comparable generations of McBeaths (including one female, my mother) it was 91.  Here are the individual data:


Pitkin                       McBeath


William (1608-1643=35)       Alexander (1746-1849=103)

William (1635-1694=59)       John (1792-1878=86)

Caleb (1687-1773=86)         Morrison (1828-1907=79)

Joshua (1735-1775=40)        William (1863-1949=86)

Stephen (1772-1834=62)       Pauline (1900-2001=101)

William (1812-1859=49)      

William E. (1849-1922=73)

Roy (1894-1957=63)



Most families probably have a number of sayings or expressions that describe situations or feelings concisely and often in colorful terms.  Ours certainly did, and many of those aphorisms have become incorporated into our everyday communication.  They have been passed down to subsequent generations and sometimes to friends, who are so taken with these sayings on hearing us use them that they adopt them themselves, without any knowledge of their origin.  Many of these expressions came from our father, and they especially reflected two major influences on his early life: horses and baseball.  Some of these may have been original, but most were probably something he heard or read.  Intelligent, although not well educated, he possessed a sharp sense of humor and a wonderfully retentive mind.


Roy Macbeth Pitkin

Helen Pitkin Johnson


Burr under the saddle


An obvious horse-related expression describing irritation or annoyance.


Tail over the whiffle tree


The whiffletree is a wooden bar behind a horse hitched to a buggy or wagon and to which the traces are fastened.  Normally the horse’s tail is in front of the whiffletree, but if the tail gets over the whiffletree, the horse can get skittish.  Thus, the expression (as in “Don’t get your tail over the whiffletree!”) refers to being upset or discombobulated or discomfited.  It is similar to “burr under the saddle” but somewhat different in that the latter expression connotes annoyance more than confusion.


Rode hard and put away wet


A horse, after a long and strenuous ride, especially in hot weather, needs to be wiped off and walked slowly until cooled down.  This expression is used to describe a woman who seems to be trying too hard to be glamorous, to look younger, thinner, and prettier than she actually is, by rather garish overuse of clothes and makeup.  Some might consider it a sexist comment, but it surely is descriptive.


Covers a lot of territory in the outfield


A baseball expression meaning a person, usually a woman but could be a man, who is rather on the “fast” side and not overly constrained by strict morals.


High stepping


A term that describes a person, nearly always a woman, whose appearance and dress grabs attention.  It is somewhat related to the preceding two expressions, but without any negative connotation.


Like a catcher who can’t make the throw to second base


A baseball expression to describe some one who is not quite fully qualified for his job or task; not quite up to snuff.


The tail might as well go with the hide


An argument against holding back or incrementalism, roughly equivalent to “In for a penny, in for a pound.”


If you want to save money, stay home


One of Dad’s favorite expressions, and probably original with him, when anyone worried about costs of travel.


Every old blind sow will sometimes stumble onto an acorn


A way of explaining unexpected, and often unmerited, good fortune.


Crooked as a dog’s hind leg


He’d steal corn from a blind rooster


These two expressions, basically identical in meaning, reflected Dad’s disdain for any suggestion of dishonesty or breach of trust.


I ain’t never paid no ‘tenshun


Mother needed to go to Omaha and arrangements were made for one of the Anthon worthies (probably Theodore Frank) to drive her.  She tried several times to engage the driver in conversation: Is it shorter going through Rodney or Mondamin?  How long does it take from Missouri Valley to Council Bluffs?  And so on.  Each time the reply was the same: I ain’t never paid no ‘tenshun.  For us, it’s a common response to a question when one doesn’t know the answer, and doesn’t think it’s very important anyway.


A prince of a fellow


We’re not sure whether this was Wynne Garrison’s description of Paul Johnson or Paul Johnson’s description of Wynne Garrison, but it in either case it is an apt characterization.


The B shift and the drop shift


When someone asked about working hours in the drug store, Dad would reply that there were two choices: the B shift is to be there from the time the store opens until it closes, and the drop shift is to work until you drop.  This was always followed with a hearty laugh, for he really didn’t work his help or even his family very hard.


This tast-tes just like I wanted it to


This came from Tom Weirich who, as a three or four-year old, was watching Nana make a chocolate cake.  He watched every step—the mixing, the baking, the cooling, and the frosting—patiently, until finally it was ready and Nana cut him a generous piece.  Sitting with the piece of cake half eaten, much of it on his face, he looked up and said this.  It has come to mean for us having something to eat that fulfills expectations.




We don’t know the origin of this term that means diagonally.


When I get my money from Correctionville


A woman owed a long-overdue bill at the drug store and, whenever she was asked about it, she would say she was expecting money from some unnamed source in Correctionville (the town seven miles north of Anthon) and she would pay the bill as soon as the money came.  Probably, it never came and she never paid.  We use the expression to describe anticipating receiving money or sometime having recently received money, as in “I finally got my money from Correctionville.”




What is so rare as a day in June, for then if ever come perfect days


This is a quotation from The Vision of Sir Launfal, a poem by James Russell Lowell, that Dad would always say on a beautiful Iowa morning in June.  We have no idea how or where he ran across it or whether he actually knew the source.  The full stanza is:

And what is so rare as a day in June?

Then if ever come perfect days;

Then heaven tries earth if it be in tune,

And over it softly its warm ear lays.


Company is like fish: starts to smell after two or three days.


We’ve seen this other places and it surely wasn’t original.  It expresses fear of overstaying one’s welcome.


Children are a great comfort in your old age  . . . and they do much to bring you to it.


Dad would always laugh after saying this, and he didn’t believe it for a minute.  Once when someone observed that his kids must have cost him a lot of money, he replied, “They sure did, and that’s all they cost me.”


Go out and get the stink blown off


This expression came from a neighbor of Mother’s as she was growing up.  She regarded it at the time was incredibly crude.  Perhaps it is, but it’s also expressive of going out for a walk around the block, especially after being inside for a long winter day.


I’ve seen a lot of trouble in my time . . . and most of it never happened


Things often don’t turn out as bad as it first seems they will, according to this statement from one of the Anthon bank-corner philosophers.