“Where in the love of mud have you been?” is what my father would say to us if we got home particularly late, or if my mother had been waylaid while running an errand and it took much longer than expected. My father has always been a man of few words – even more so in recent years because of a neurodegenerative disorder he has (ataxia with tremors) that makes speech a real struggle for him. But his thriftiness in communication was present long before that.
Case in point: My father’s first encounter with my daughter, his second grandchild, consisted of one and only one word. My father was sitting at his computer when I presented Willow, who was only a few months old at the time. He turned, looked her over and said, “Small.” What you can’t hear just by reading this is the inflection of that little one-word sentence. It didn’t sound like when other people make a single-word declaration about the size of an infant. You can imagine saying the word “small’ in such a way as to convey, “Oh, how cute, how precious!” or perhaps, “Wow, not very big, eh?” No, the inflection is just odd, even mysterious, with the barest hint of up-speak at the end, as if there were more to come, but nothing more came.
Then there was the time my brother Joe and I narrowly escaped an early demise at the hands of a neighborhood bully. We were lucky – the only lasting outcome was a broken passenger window on our car. But of course that broken window my father’s sole focus when we got home. He said, “What were…ya doin’?” with that same not-quite-a-question hint of up-speak at the end. I really don’t know how to properly describe that strange inflection. My good friend Jeff Rhone, however, can do a spot-on imitation of it if you ever run into him.
My father’s continual quest for economy of speech did lead him to do some strange things with acronyms. Whenever anyone was experiencing frustration about something, my father would always say, “Oh well, what can you do.” Eventually, he converted this phrase into an acronym: OWWCYD. Now I lived in Washington DC for five years back in the 1990s, so I became proficient in speaking acronym, which is essentially a requirement for surviving in the nation’s capital. But the acronym my father created actually makes the phrase even longer if you think about it. The original phrase is made up of six monosyllabic words. The acronym, on the other hand, involves saying the letter “W” (double-u) twice, each occurrence of which involves three syllables. The end result is converting a 6-syllable phrase into a 10-syllable acronym, which in my mind sort of defeats the purpose of an acronym to begin with. Even if you pronounce the “W” as a two-syllable utterance (as in dub-ya), you still end up with an 8-syllable acronym.
What I wonder now is if my father ever really thought this through or if he was just being goofy with the whole thing. The jury is still out on that one.