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)
5. A NOTE ON LONGEVITY
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:
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 E. (1849-1922=73)
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.
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
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
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
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.