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James R. Stout

Paw-Paw Gonna Fall In The Low!

            When I was a growing up our family made a once a month trek to visit my grandparents on their farm in East Texas. It was always something that we all looked forward to. In those days, we lived about 120 miles from the farm and in the very early years the trip was made on two-lane roads with speed limits not exceeding 55 mph. We generally would leave our house on Friday evening after Mom and Dad got home from work and a quick sandwich for dinner. Money was too tight to spend on eating out. It usually took us about 2 and a half hours or so to make the trip. It depended a lot on how much traffic there was. Those drives are great memories for me. We would play games such as the “alphabet” game in which we would look for letters of the alphabet on billboards and road signs. We started with “A” and of course ended with “Z”. The winner was the first person to get through the alphabet. You had to be the first person to point out a letter in order for it to be “yours”. We also would sing songs and harmonize. The songs were usually either hymns or American standards such as “Little Annie Rooney” or “In the Good Ole Summertime”. My sister Barbara would also insist on singing her junior high school “fight” song!

            We would sometimes listen to the radio, but generally we made our own music. We each had opportunities to share about our day or the week that was just ending. I was the youngest of we three kids and I was always relegated to having to sit in the middle of the back seat or sometimes my sisters would get the seat and I got the floor, hump included! Note we didn’t even think about wearing seat belts. In fact, our first car to have seat belts in the rear seat wasn’t until much later when my parents bought a 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 in June of 1967. Most of my memories of those drives were in our 1961 Ford Galaxie 500 that my parents bought as a demo in the spring of 1962. I loved those cars. They were roomy inside and very sturdy. I do have some of my earliest memories of those trips when we still had a 1956 Ford Fairlane Station Wagon. Dad was a Ford man up until the early 80’s.

            All children are branded for life by things that they say when they are kids. For my sister Debbie it was her asking Dad, in a tearful voice, if she could have some Debbie-Q instead of “Barbara-Q”. She thought Bar-B-Q just wasn’t fair! Being the youngest meant that I got laughed at a lot by all hands-on deck. When I was about 3-years-old we were making one of our trips to the farm and as we crossed the Trinity River, I suddenly burst out with one of the sayings that I was stuck with for years to come. I loudly exclaimed while pointed at the river below, “Paw-Paw gonna fall in the low!” Well, my parents thought that was just hilarious. They had no idea where I came up with it. For that matter, neither did I. But I do remember being fearful that my grandfather would drive his tractor off the bridge someday and fall in the river. It apparently got to the point that every time we were in the car and crossed any bridge, I would repeat my exclamation of concern for my grandfather’s safety. It was soon relayed to extended family members and friends of my parents that Randy, as Art Linkletter used to say, “Said the darndest things”.

            Life marched on and even as a young adult my parents would occasionally remind me of my exclamation, “Paw-Paw gonna fall in the low!” Fast-forward to 1990. I was just about to finish my college education. I had started very late at the age of 31 and would graduate from Houston Baptist University two months shy of my 35th birthday in 1990. That spring, as I was finishing up my requirements for my B.A., I had to take 6 college hours of a foreign language to complete my credits. I wasn’t really interested in taking any particular language. Anything would do. I just needed to get those 6 hours. I decided on taking French. I soon learned how to order breakfast in French, count in French, ask for directions in the event I was ever in France, learn how to address someone properly in French, and generally get a taste for the language. Heck, I can still count to cinq (five) in French all these years later and I figure I’ll survive in Paris on “omelette au fromage” (cheese omelet).

            One day in French class we were learning about common words and imagine my surprise when I learned that the French word for water is “L’eau”. It’s basically pronounced “low”. Holy water buffalo, Batman! Apparently, I was speaking French at the age of 3. To be honest, it kind of freaked me out a bit. The next time I saw my parents I told them about this revelation and Dad started singing the Twilight Zone theme! Now, I don’t actually believe in nonsense such as reincarnation, but it is odd how such things as this happens to us in life. Coincidence? Maybe so. But then again, who knows? There’s no rhyme or reason that I can think of that would explain how a 3-year-old child born and being raised in East Texas, where twang is most definitely fixin’ to git er dun, could come up with referring to a body of water as “low”. Well, it does give one pause.

            Over the years I still think of “Paw-Paw falling in the low” when I drive over a bridge. Only now I’m the Paw-Paw. There’s a large creek that runs through the farm and there’s a county road that crosses that creek about 3/10’s of a mile from the farmhouse. I have crossed the wooden bridge over that creek countless times in my 63 years of living. I pretty much cross it every time I go anywhere. I’ve crossed it on foot, on a tractor, in several cars, a 4-wheeler, a “mule”, and in my trusty Dodge pick-up truck over the years. Every single time I cross it I think of my Paw-Paw either on his 1953 Allis-Chalmers tractor or in one of his Chevrolet trucks (a 1955, 1958, 1961 or 1964) crossing that bridge and I worry about him falling in the “low” or “l’eau”. Thankfully, he never fell in the l’eau-low. Isn’t it funny how we carry these things for life?

            How about you and any sayings that you made as a child that became family folklore? If you have one, then share it in a comment to this blog. I think we could have some fun looking back on those things. Now, don’t go fall in the l’eau, mes amies!

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