Janice Crow

Wealth of Words

Staff writer Janice Crow - Singer - Songwriter
Staff writer Janice Crow – Singer – Songwriter

As far back as I can remember, I’ve heard the phrase, “Well, back to the old drawing board”. I don’t think anyone ever explained it to me as a child, but somehow I just understood that, for whatever reason, we were starting over.

I had no way of knowing then where the phrase originated, and likely at that age would not have cared; but today I find it interesting that the phrase was a caption for a cartoon that appeared in a World War II issue of New Yorker magazine. Peter Arno’s 1941 drawing depicted military men and a ground crew running toward a plane crash, while the aircraft designer walked away in the opposite direction with the plans tucked under his arm.

By 1947 that phrase was being used regularly in print and by 1966 had become popular enough to title an episode of the old “Get Smart” espionage spoof. Within twenty-five years it had gained wide acceptance and in the fifty years since Maxwell Smart, we hear it almost daily.

Who would have thought a simple line captioning a cartoon would endure for 76 years and counting.

Of course, that 76 year record is eclipsed by the longevity of the phrase most often attributed to Benjamin Franklin in 1789, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes”, and truer words were never spoken. Julius Caesar is credited with “The Die is Cast” and other phrases we use from time to time even in jest…” I Came, I Saw, I Conquered.” That’s a lot of years down the pike.

What does all this mean? It means your words are more important than you could ever imagine. They have a life of their own and will live beyond you, either as ornaments or millstones around the necks of those nearest you.

I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t recall some word or phrase my father or mother said when they were here…some silly phrase or private joke between us…some strange family tradition that would mean nothing to anyone else. I thought of this on January 1, my Dad’s birthday. I missed singing Happy Birthday to him properly…the way he always sang it to us, horribly and intentionally off key. It was a joke that each new person that married into the family had to endure….listening to us butcher Happy Birthday and then laugh hysterically.

When Mom passed back in 2009, I was struck by the feeling that she had left me a treasure chest….not full of jewels or precious stones or anything of monetary value…but a wealth of words and pictures… stories from her youth, pictures painted on my imagination, encouragement for my worst days and songs for the best. How many times have I gone back to that treasure chest and drawn out an “Opal-ism” that just made me smile to think of how her lips turned up and her nose wrinkled when she sang “Mairzy Doats and Dozy Doats and Liddle Lamzy Divey, a Kiddley Divey too, wouldn’t you”…how her eyes squinted with laughter as she told the same familiar old stories again about the goat that charged its own reflection and crashed through the bedroom window, running through the kitchen with a quilt on its head.

Listening to Dad quote from his old orthography book how to discern what a word means simply by examining its separate parts, sent me on a search for a book over 100 years old. He told me “graph” means write, “phono” means sound so that “phonograph” means the writing of sound (on a disc). I was about ten and I never forgot it. Of course, once he got started….”port” means carry, “able” means capable of, so if you had a portable phonograph….well, you get the picture. That led to a fascination with words which served me well through years of medical and legal terminology in connection with a court stenography curriculum…”steno” (narrow or shortened) and “graphy” (writing), meaning basically a shortened form of writing. See, I could go on forever. (Why isn’t orthography taught in grade school anymore?)

Together Mom and Dad took us to church every time the doors were open, prayed with us, read the Bible to us, encouraged us to keep going, to hold our heads high when the unchurched called us names and poked fun at our beliefs. They taught us “it’s not what people think about you, it’s what God knows about you that counts”. They taught us NOTHING is impossible with God, and that all things work together for good to them that love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. I can see mom with her arms in the kitchen sink as she sang, “I Just Feel Like Something Good is About to Happen” and hear Dad half sing/half hum “Little is Much if God is in It”.

My point is this: Those words you think your kids aren’t listening to, those stories you think bore them, those jokes you think they don’t appreciate, those songs you assume they’ll never remember, those life lessons you think they’ll ignore, those tidbits of information you can’t imagine will lead to a career choice on their part, the Bible stories and spiritual guidance you pass on ….it all matters.

So, if in 2016 we didn’t do so well in the “word legacy” department, let’s “go back to the drawing board” and ask the Lord to help us do better.

I want to leave my own treasure chest behind. Who’s with me in 2017?


Janice Crow

Janice Crow is an accomplished singer/songwriter.
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