Four Sayings from My Dad

My Dad in Oregon, 1937
My Dad in Oregon, 1937

W.J. Astore

We tackle heavy subjects at this site, but occasionally we throw in a change of pace.  My Dad was a fount of homespun wisdom and sayings.  Three of them immediately spring to mind. “Water seeks its own level,” meaning (for him) that you don’t have to coddle talented kids—they’ll find their own path in life. “The peaches don’t drop too far from the tree,” meaning kids are often a lot like their parents, even when (especially when) they take pains to deny it.  And “The cream rises to the top.”

That last one is less than obvious to today’s generation.  In these days of homogenized milk, many people have no experience skimming the cream from the top of a glass bottle or bucket of milk.  But my father did.  He recounts his experience in a short anecdote he titled, “A full mess cup,” when he was in the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937:

We were in a rest area [in Oregon] when the pickup truck loaded with five gallon cans of fresh milk came in.

I was first in line with my mess cup.  I guess it held more than a pint.  Those days milk wasn’t homogenized.  Being first my cup was filled with 100% cream.  Who thought of fat and cholesterol in those days?  What a taste treat.

Sometimes it pays to be first in line, especially when you can skim the cream from the top.

My father’s fourth saying?  It’s one of my favorites: “The empty barrel makes the most noise.”  I think of this whenever I encounter blowhards — someone like Donald Trump, perhaps?

13 thoughts on “Four Sayings from My Dad

  1. Or, as my comrades and I said “back in the day” about the parasitic capitalist ruling class: “Scum also rises to the top.” Back then, Donald Trump was just another real estate speculator. Seems he filled a football stadium in Alabama with adoring fans yesterday. Fine. Let him be the GOP choice for 2016. Unless women are barred from polling places this will guarantee victory for Hillary, Bernie, Joey or whomever.

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    1. The buffoonery of Trump — and his momentary popularity — proves you can attract a lot of people by banging a drum loudly. It also highlights, I think, the lack of any real enthusiasm for candidates like Jeb and Hillary. Among the GOP, we have the usual homogenized suspects — and Trump. Among the Democrats, we have the usual suspect — and Sanders.

      Trump and Sanders are gaining attention because they are both unconventional. Trump, of course, is just a blowhard, but at least he’ll speak his mind without constantly holding a finger to the wind. Sanders, of course, actually has some convictions and is willing to take unpopular stances for workers’ rights.

      Are they two sides of a populist coin? Trump the voice of angry old white guys of privilege (however minor those privileges may be), Sanders the voice of angry workers looking for someone, anyone, willing to talk about their plight.

      I don’t think so. Trump’s just on an ego trip. It’s all about him. Sanders has some populist bona fides; his ideas actually promise meaningful change. Which is exactly why there’s little hope for him in our rigged election.

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      1. Bill–If only Trump appealed primarily to “angry OLD white guys” we could take comfort in knowing those supporters would soon (relatively speaking) be pushing up daisies! But of course the vein of xenophobia and jingoism he is tapping into is ripe with ignoramuses of all ages. The fact that inside his own pea-sized brain “It’s all about ‘The Donald'” does NOT mean he can’t become POTUS, pardon my double-negative.

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  2. The Donald by himself is barely-worth-notice buffoonery. The Donald, in an age of instant media saturation capacity; when the most accessible media outlets offer at best superficial “reporting” on an oligarchically edited list of candidates only; during a period of duress/unrest, for a plethora of reasons, nationally/internationally/planetary; in a nation of people one third of whom (like humans anywhere) craves authoritarianism, particularly when experiencing rising stress level: this Donald is terrifying, simply due to the fear- and racist-blinded pool of afore-mentioned authoritarians eager to demonstrate en masse as nativist true believers. Anybody who is not uneasy to the core and wary of an unchecked outcome over this state of affairs is so oblivious to reality as to be as threatening to the notion of human rights as any totalitarian humanbot.

    Now that I have vented a bit about that, a personal anecdote. From grades 4 – 6, my father and one of his brothers shared ownership of a cow kept on an acre with a barn where we lived on the outskirts of the tiny town I grew up in. Uncle Cal commuted some distance to work and so took care the evening milking, while I went to the barn almost every morning for two years to sit on a three-legged stool and milk old Bossy. Anyone who has never milked a cow by hand would be surprised, I think, by how often the animal’s tail moves to swat insects during summer, and by the percentage of times cow tail connects with milker’s far eye. My right eye. Not to mention the amount of fecal material said cow’s tail tip is coated with. You’d think the milker-person would get used to this, maybe even develop some sort of coping strategy. I think you’d find you are wrong about that.

    I did not have to skim the cream very often, mostly because I was too indifferent to do the task well enough to satisfy my mother (it could be that strategy played a role, here). But every Saturday afternoon I cranked the handle on the churn until cream was butter. Milking and churning is an excellent method for developing disproportionately large forearms during primary school, an outcome I never realized a practical application for.

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    1. As for wise old sayings, we could assume that ‘The Donald’ missed the logic of “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar”; alternatively, we might conclude that the xenophobic vinegar he’s hawking is honey to his followers….I believe there is no substitute for manual labor-power in the kitchen. The satisfaction of producing whipped cream by hand has largely been lost to the convenience of modern living. Don’t get me started on the concept of the “bread machine”! The very notion makes me nauseous. Once I went too far with my whisking and ended up with butter, essentially, instead of whipped cream. There’s just no substitute for the real thing. Remember that on your next trip to the supermarket….”lsnrchrd1,” too bad you missed your chance to play Popeye in Robert Altman’s movie! You would have relieved the late Robin Williams of the flak he took over that role. Personally, I enjoy that movie greatly. And not just because I’m a contrarian by nature.

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  3. Let’s get off of Trump and back onmilk and cream.
    Believe it or not at one time in this country’s history, milk was not available in a supermarket ( there were none) but was delivered to your back door, summer and winter, by a horse drawn “milk wagon”. It was delivered in a glass, one quart ,milk bottles. Since the milk was delivered at four or five in the morning to keep it cool, in winter it often froze in the bottle. When the temperature dropped and the milk froze in the bottle the cream ( which being lighter in weight) in the non homogenized milk rose out of the bottle giving each bottle a cylinder of real ” ICE CREAM”. Now that is living!

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  4. I remember that Traven, but our Dairy Service was of the Motor Driven Milk Wagon. I doubt if Will rem. this being born on the Cusp of the baby boomers, but I do rem. the Cream on top, and getting Chips of Ice in Summertime from the Milkman…

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  5. Fathers and sons…. My father had few words of advice for me as the oldest of three boys. He was an immigrant from the defunct Central European Austro-Hungarian Empire. Firm discipline was his contribution to my life. As a former Ober Lieutenant in a combat infantry company in the WW I Austro-Hungarian army, discipline was his forte. Severely wounded in battle with shrapnel to his head he lived.

    He loved his sons but the belt was his threat of discipline for our childish misdeeds. All he had to do was make a move to remove his belt and we would change our behavior. I always felt he really did not want to use his belt but wanted us to learn self discipline from him. He was a true authoritarian and much of that trickled down to me. All three of us boys slept in one bed and we would rough house before going to sleep. He would walk into our room and tell us to be quiet and we would keep fighting. He would then take off his belt while I, as the oldest,would tell my brothers to keep under the down covers and play like we were crying while he brought the belt down on our protective down cover. He undoubtedly knew what we were up to ( I was just ten ) and would then walk away.

    He had only two things he told me that I have carried through life. When I was about twelve he told me that Franklin Roosevelt was the “greatest President” and “If anyone asks, you tell them you are a Jew and proud of it”.

    Now I am the veteran of another war (WW II) and I still believe that FDR has been our greatest President and although proud that I am a Jew, I am not so proud of other Jews who have forgotten our special dedication to not the rulers but the downtrodden of the world.

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    1. Yes — my Dad believed in the belt (used sparingly). He cited the Bible’s injunction: “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”

      Having survived the Great Depression, he believed all you needed was three things in life: a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and three square meals a day. And he believed you had no real complaints if your basic needs for food, shelter, and clothing were met.

      Nowadays, of course, children are raised in a far more permissive way. Clothes on your back? They must be the right clothes, with the proper labels (Polo, Hollister, etc.). Food on your plate? It must be the food that little Johnny likes, or in the trash it goes. A roof over your head? Please make it a McMansion, and make it bigger than the neighbor’s.

      Well, life was tough in the Depression, but it did forge character.

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  6. Our Father did alright, but I’m sure We challenged his patience as well. I think I’m becoming him more, and more as my Life wears on, but I don’t regret it for a minute Traven, nice story!.

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  7. Will: I just remembered one more golden nugget of a story our Father told on as I rem. more than one occasion, and I Quote ” There once was an Englishman and he went to the Market everyday well he carried on him a Gold Coin say a crown, and if he heard one meaningful, intelligent, philosophical conversation ever discussed he’d give the Coin to whomever uttered it, Well as you might surmise He went his whole Life without giving it away!. Nary a Shilling…! :/ :o)

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