| By Robert Neill
I had the privilege to not only speak at length to, but to engage in dialogue with, a number of teenagers a few weeks ago. We were discussing the art of writing in general, in particular the use of similes and metaphors. I suggested some examples. They had no idea of what I was talking about.
Of course, I am "getting pretty long in the tooth" myownself, but still I figured kids today knew something about country living, and about animals other than dogs and cats. I actually had to try to explain some of the sayings that were common in my day, and still are common amongst my generation.
You try explaining to a bunch of teenagers the significance of "He’s happy as a dead pig in the sunshine!" Matter of fact, I’m not sure that I could explain that one to grown-ups. Few of today’s teenagers have ever slopped a hog, and can conjure up no image of the contented "Oink" of a huge porker lying half-submerged in the cooling mud of his pen on a hot summer day. Nor have they any idea of that smell.
"Clumsy as a hog on ice" would also be a foreign concept to most youth. Heck, with the lack of winters these past few years, we might have to explain ice that doesn’t come from a refrigerator! Your Uncle Bob has actually walked across 150 yards of ice on an offshoot of the Mississippi River, to get to my truck on the Arkansas side.
I once saw a couple of The Jakes, Adam and Clif, drive a jeep across the ice of the swamp, knowing that at any second vehicle, guns, and boys would disappear, but they made it.
One time a pack of deer dogs jumped a herd of wild hogs, along with a dozen deer, while I was hunting on the north rim, and from my high perch, I got to see not only hogs on ice, but one big doe actually landed flat on her back when her feet slipped as she hit the ice of the frozen-over lake.
The dogs were in a little better shape, but hogs and deer ain’t made to run on ice! That doe laid there looking "Dead as a doornail" while the dogs slipped and slid by her in pursuit of the rest of the herds.
Most teenagers have never even seen a mule, much less witnessed one eating briars. But I’ve watched mules chomping happily on sawbriars along a fenceline, with their lips pulled back so as to not get stuck.
"Grinnin’ like a mule eatin’ briars" has a meaning for me. I’ve also duck hunted in the Louisiana marshes with a Cajun who bragged that his pirogue could "Follow a sweatin’ mule down a dusty road," and the way he poled us through the marsh muck, I had to believe it.
Some of the small-town teens knew what chickens were, though most youth figure chickens are fist-sized, and smaller, birds with brown on the outside that come in red and white buckets in both regular and crispy species.
Very few connect chickens with feathers, much less believing that they lay eggs. When you say "She’s runnin’ around like a chicken with her head cut off," youngsters can’t conceive of grabbing a pullet by the neck, swinging it around until the body detaches itself, then watching as the fowl selected for Sunday dinner runs around the yard for a few moments without a head.
Actually, I never saw any farm-raised folks cut the head off a chicken; you always wrung their necks. But maybe the town folks chopped their chickens’ heads off.
I grew up in an era when hawks and owls were regarded as predators of the chicken flocks, so I know that owl is white meat and tastes okay.
Yet the expression "Drunk as a boiled owl" still escapes me. Big Robert had been an alcoholic who quit "cold turkey" when I was five, and convinced his sons that "Neill men can’t drink," so we don’t.
However, Daddy worked with AA the rest of his life, and I heard sayings like "Three sheets in the wind and the fourth one flappin’," which is obviously a sailing ship metaphor, and "He’s so drunk, he couldn’t hit the ground with his hat," which tells its own story.
But the one I never figured out was, "He’s drunk as Cooter Brown." Who in the Sam Hill was Cooter Brown? For that matter, who was Sam Hill?
There’s an old expression describing a very hard rain which involves a cow and a flat rock, but we ain’t going there.
Yet we could use a good old "toad drownder" about now, here in the Delta, couldn’t we? Sure as God made little apples, we could!