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The things we pass down from one generation to another

Dads Cream Soda at Pops on Route 66

Dads Cream Soda at Pops on Route 66

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.


Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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  1. jenx67

    Sometimes, I think the older I get the more I see things through the metaphorical sense.

  2. Rose Byrd

    My dad always says,”This world and one more”, when amazed at goings on in the world at large.  He also said to us when we complained about the doings of another kid, “It takes all kinds to make the world go ’round.”  What would any language be without these idiomatic mottos?  Love the colorful boats tied up at Killybegs Harbor!

    • Stacy

      My grandmother always said “this world and one more” as well! I have no idea what it means but it always fits!

      • Jennifer

        I grew up saying so many things and am still not sure what some of them mean! Thanks, Stacy. =)

  3. Bhelenmartin1034

    I am not really sure.  She was always taught it was sinful to “swear” so I am asuming she (as well as others) would substitue “I’ll Swan.”  LOL  If anyone knows another reason I would welcome hearing it.  Can’t recall how many times I have escaped misfortune —  except by the “Skin of my Teeth.”

  4. jenx67

    Thanks, Mom. What does “I’ll swan,” mean? I always say the grindstone phrase. At least once a week or more often than that!

  5. jenx67

    I’ve picked up gestures. And, this morning, when Bridgette got out of bed cranky, I said, “You got up on the wrong side of the bed.” I always wanted to know which side was the right side so I could get up on that side. Later, I would discover, as in, MUCH LATER, some people actually enjoy getting up on the wrong side. Do it on purpose even. So they can make other miserable. Life is full of lessons, mostly that not everyone is like me or thinks like me. I think we think alike, Andi. I can’t wait to see you, somewhere, in 2012. Maybe Tokyo!

  6. Andi Fisher

    Not only sayings but gestures I notice as well.  Things my mom does that I sometimes catch myself doing as well or that I remember my grandmother doing, those catch me by surprise as well.

  7. Bhelenmartin1034


    Love the photo and the post.  Your dad and I often visited San Diego and took a sail on a wind-jammer.  (A local tourist attraction)  We both were soaked to the skin.  He loved the thought of Fiddler’s Green.  It was reflected in much of his poetry.

    In my own childhood, I recall my grandmorhter using the term “Scarce as hen’s teeth” and “keeping your nose to the grindstone.”  I’ll never forget her “I’ll Swan.”

    Thanks for an intresting and fun post.

    Hugs–  Mom


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