My dad always told me to keep my eyes peeled. It was just one of those funny things he always said, like “talk ’til I’m blue in the face.” He always said that when words alone couldn’t convince someone of something.
Sometimes, when he had nothing to say at all or when he wanted to infuse the room with a happy neutrality, he’d rest his chin in the palm of his hand and ask if we thought the rain would hurt the rhubarb. I loved that saying and many more.
The thing is, I never knew what half of my father’s sayings really meant. That is, until my sophomore year in college when I wrote a research paper on euphemisms and idioms. Away, it took all the mystery. It seems by the time we figure out that some stones are better left unturned, we’ve already turned them all over. But, anyway.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled
Yesterday, while looking for paint brushes, my little girl, Bridgy, 4, said, “Well, keep your eyes peeled.”
Amazing. I had to smile.
These are the things we hand down from generation to generation. They take root in families and cross oceans and survive fires.
Thomas Elliott was my great-great-great grandfather. He was born in 1807 in Killybegs in County Donegal, which is located in the famously troubled Northwest Ireland. He was the first Elliott in my family tree to come to America. He died in Ohio in 1859.
I’m not sure when Thomas immigrated to America, but I know he died nine years after experts say the phrase, “Keep your eyes peeled,” first appeared in the United States. I like to think that maybe he brought it over.
By the way, Killybegs is the largest fishing port in Donegal. Last year, a travel writer referred to it as a lonely, seaside town marked with wild beaches and cheerful pubs. It’s like my father personified. Me, too. And, Bridgy, super and wild, moody and cheerful.
They’ve been fishing in Killybegs for centuries. My father loved to fish, probably because he loved the ocean. After he got out of the Navy, he never stopped longing for it. For awhile, he worked on a fishing vessel for the California Department of Fish and Game just so he could sail.
All my dad ever really wanted was to go back out to sea. This is one of the most dominant themes in his poetry. I know he would have loved to visit Killybegs, and if he’d made it there he would have never wanted to leave. Someday, I’ll go for both of us, I think.
These are the things we pass down from one generation to another. Legacies and phrases, poems and desires.