I grew up under the roof of Yonkers-Irish idiom, which included a touch of Yiddish. Other sayings were made up entirely.
“I called that man and gave him what for.”
“People want to hear you play the piano! Where’s your hutzpah?”
“What’do you want? An egg in your beer?”
“See you on the campus!”
In our house these sayings were straight forward. Without me realizing, they filled in our language’s dull gaps. Today as an adult I talk without these idioms and notice that since they’re left behind, my speaking often falls into the boring trap of emotion and courtesy. What I lack is that charisma.
Charisma had the run of the house at 56 Lincoln when explaining away a situation.
“Oh don’t worry what Great Aunt Mary said, she didn’t mean that. She’s half in the bag.”
This reliance on fictional language made everything alright. It offered truth. It gave humor, and even better, there was a trusted answer. Looking closer, you might even call it inadvertent storytelling. But it was a handy tool and I can only guess it came from Ireland, though nobody spoke in brogue at my house, at least not by birth. Using the brogue itself was another way to share what needed saying without full consequences. “I’m turnin’ on the Tavay, Carroll!”
I had caught on to the accepted smudging of truth and used it to my advantage. Like when I first heard of something called Bigfoot. I had sneaked TV and saw his picture, the one of Bigfoot looking over his shoulder at the camera. The rocks I saw in the picture, I knew I had seen rocks just like that. Bigfoot was here, he was in Ardsley, he was up the hill, and I would find him. Before I left, I shared that I had already seen him.
“I saw Bigfoot,” I told my little sister, meaning every word.
Then I went to find him. I told no one where I was going.
When I got halfway up the hill I stopped running and I could smell the woods. I knew to look for tracks. I thought about what I would say to Bigfoot and then I realized I didn’t have a camera. And I was hungry. But I kept going. Finally, I reached the start of the woods. The edge. Here, my toes in the woods, there was no movement or sun. The trees were dense and I wasn’t sure of this tall silence. It was a spoken silence that did not seem inviting. But I looked. I looked for his shape, his fur.
At some point I heard Great Aunt Mary’s car. I could hear it before I could see it. Finally I saw it and she waved wildly out her window, her soft arm fat jiggling. I waved back. I felt a little relieved.
She pulled up and looked at me.
“Have you lost your senses?” she asked.
“I’m looking for Bigfoot,” I admitted.
“We were running through the house like chickens with their heads cut off,” she said.
I looked back at the woods.
“Listen,” she said, getting out of the car. “If he’s in there, he may have a gun.”
“Where would he get the bullets?”
We stood side by side looking in to the woods.
“Honey, someone like Bigfoot?” she said. “He’s not all there. He’s arseways. What’s he eating? Leaves? You want to find someone who eats leaves alone in God’s country?”
She had a point. I looked up at her.
“Can we go get gum?” I asked.
“Your mother will have my head,” she said. “One pack.”
She sighed again. “Two but hide the other in your pocket,” she said. “Let no one see.”
She started the car as I settled quietly into the backseat.
Then Great Aunt Mary turned her head slightly, her ear toward me, a quick movement, as if I had said something, but I know she was sensing my quiet disappointment. I allowed myself this glowing of my true feelings about not seeing Bigfoot and I knew she could pick up on it.
Without hesitation, she leaned her head out the window and shouted, cupping her mouth: “Bigfoot! May ye be half an hour in heaven before the devil knows ye’re dead!”
She looked at me through the rearview mirror. “Even Bigfoot needs an Irish blessing,” she said in her fake brogue.