The summer afternoon was hot, so I sought out the cool shade under a row of mountain ash trees between our farmhouse and the driveway. After sitting down on the grass, I discovered a small cool breeze liked it under the trees as well.
Across the driveway, between the barn and a row of maple trees bordering the road, was a garden-sized field of timothy hay. Shortly after I sat down on the grass, Daddy walked across the yard with a scythe in his hands. Starting at the edge of the patch, he began to rhythmically swing the blade back and forth. As the tall grass fell, Daddy stepped forward to cut the next swath.
A car pulled into the driveway before he had a chance to cut the entire patch. The neighbor needed something we had in the machine shed. Leaning his scythe against the barn, Daddy followed him to the shed.
Eyeing the old-fashioned grass cutting tool leaning against the barn wall, I thought, “I wonder if I can make the scythe cut hay like Daddy?” Jumping to my feet, I ran across the driveway. The scythe was fairly heavy, but from watching Daddy, I knew how to hold it. Stepping up to the grass, I held the blade low and using my whole body, made it swing smoothly in an arc.
Most of the grass fell, but I knew my swing needed a little more oomph. Putting muscle behind the scythe swing, I cut two more swatches. I felt proud that I could cut grass like Daddy! Unfortunately, I wasn’t strong enough to do it for more than three swings. I returned the tool to where Daddy had left it.
Children learn to talk by listening to their parents and to do things, by watching them. Unlike classroom studies, learning this way is so easy that kids don’t even realize what knowledge they are picking up. If their parents have a funny way of saying or doing things, children learn this, too. For example, my family pronounced the word, “scythe”, to sound like the word, “sigh”. I suspect my parents, who spoke only German until learning English in grade school, thought the last three letters of the word should be silent.
Luckily, I never picked up Mom’s way of pronouncing, “December”. To her, the last month of the year was, “Dezember.” Only one of my brothers picked up that habit!
I have always had a problem spelling the word, “recipe”. Teachers would say, “Sound the word out.” That’s good advice for people who say the word correctly, but I didn’t. It should be pronounced, “res-a-pea”. Mom pronounced it, “res-a-pay”.
Even old dogs can learn new tricks. I was in my late forties when a friend gently informed me of my mispronunciation. It took me the entire summer to break my old habit and say, “recipe”, correctly.
The same friend also mentioned I don’t say the word, “often”, the way it should be. She explained that it’s pronounced, “off-en”. My parents were strong on clear pronunciation so we say, “off-ten”. I’m not willing to give up the ‘t’ yet.
I recently told my sister, Agnes, “I have the scythe and post hole digger both Grandpa and Daddy used on our farm. The wooden handles are weathered and fragile from age, so they can’t be used anymore, but I don’t want to replace the wood. They’re more valuable to me the way they are.”
Agnes exclaimed with a smile, “When I was small, I remember watching Daddy cut the orchard grass with the scythe!”
With a sly grin I confessed, “One day when I was 11 years old, I watched Daddy use the scythe to cut hay by the barn. His job was interrupted. While he was away, I picked the scythe up and used it with fair success, but discovered it takes power to do it right and that a person would have to be very strong to swing that heavy blade all afternoon!”
Leaning forward, I announced proudly, “I have a scythe-and I know how to use it!”
Agnes laughed and asked, “What did Daddy say when he came back and saw the area you’d cut?”
“Nothing.” I said with a chuckle, “He just looked at what I’d done, looked over at me, adjusted his hat and grinned before returning to work.”