Midwestern Proverbs

Opening the large paperback Bible to Proverbs, I settled into the chair next to my bedroom window. Small print densely covered both pages. Having recently finished reading the Psalms, I knew that reading too much at a time would make my brain lose focus. In order to get as much as possible out of my daily reading, I gave myself permission to only read 14 proverbs at a time if that was all I could handle.

Most mornings I stop for a few moments to read a page from the Bible. Consequently I’ve read the Good Book from cover to cover more than twice. With each reading, I notice different things in the familiar stories. Reading the fascinating books of Ruth and Judith, I have a hard time stopping, but with the book of Leviticus, reading it once was enough.

Later that morning, I looked up the definition of ‘proverb’. The dictionary said proverbs were short pithy sayings in general use, stating a truth or general advice. In thinking about it, that seemed true of the biblical proverbs. The ones I’d read that morning had to do with fools versus wise men, and lazy or unscrupulous men versus honest, righteous men. Only one made me wonder if Solomon was prideful when he wrote, “The king’s lips are an oracle; no judgment he pronounces is false.”

         Many secular proverbs exist. Most of them are born of experience. For example, a proverb in my mother’s family was, “For as long as spring peepers sing before Saint George’s Day, that is how long they will be silent after it.” They believed that if the weather warmed up too soon in April, there would be a deep freeze on Saint George’s Day, April 23rd, causing the peepers to burrow back into the mud and be silent.

As I thought about it, I realized I have a whole collection of proverbs of my own, many typical of someone who lives in the Midwest.

Proverbs for farm children:

  • When running through a cow pasture barefoot, avoid spots where the grass is tall and extra green. If the thistles don’t get you, the cow pies will.
  • Never go raspberry picking in shorts. Never walk though the swamp in shorts. Never stack hay bales in a mow wearing shorts. Thistles, knife-edged swamp grass, devil’s shoe laces and hay stubble tears up exposed skin.
  • A toy no one wants to play with, will become highly popular the minute you pick it up.

Proverbs for adult women:

  • Never tell secrets to a gossip.
  • The desire to eat fresh cucumber, tomatoes and garden greens increases as their availability decreases.
  • When dining out, you will always want what your table companions ordered.
  • Every house has clutter in it. Some housewives are just better at hiding theirs.
  • Women are refined creatures. They never sweat; they glisten. Women never snore; they coo. Women never pass gas; they suffer from the ‘vapors’. Women never shout; they just have voices that carry well. Women never belch; they purr.
  • It isn’t necessary to blab everything you know. Some thoughts are meant to stay behind buttoned lips.

Proverbs for senior citizens:

  • A young person seldom dreams about working, but a retired worker constantly dreams about work.
  • Dreamers often see themselves as children in their dreams, but never old.
  • The snap-crackle-pop that you hear every morning isn’t your breakfast cereal, it’s your arthritic joints bad-talking you for getting out of bed.
  • Never beat around the bush. If you have something to say; spit it out.

All my life I’ve had a hard time remembering names and faces, but a good story or saying sticks to my brain like steel to a magnet. My brother-in-law logged wood for a living. I once heard him tell my husband, “The easiest time of the year to peal bark off poplar saplings, is in the spring when their leaves are the size of mouse ears.”

That proverb is probably not in general use, but is a truth that he knew from experience.

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