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Speaking of the spoken word (01/18/2004)
By Janet Lewis Burns

"Not every man is born with a silver spoon in his mouth." Who said that? When a phrase has been thrown around for centuries, who knows for sure that the one accredited for its origin is accurate and, more precisely, who cares? These are the things of historical record.

The silver spoon statement does have a humorous story attached to it. It seems that Time magazine's Robert Hughes paraphrased the maxim, to slam Vice President Dan Quayle in 1992. "But Quayle," he quipped, "was born not with a mere silver spoon but with a silver ladle in his mouth." Yikes!

To set the record straight, the silver spoon remark arose from a traditional Spanish custom. A silver spoon was given by the rich godparents when a new baby was born. The most celebrated of all Spanish writers, Miguel de Cervantes coined the maxim in his infamous "Don Quixote," of 1605. The ages old novel has been translated into more than sixty languages and continues to be printed regularly. Trickle-down wordplay?

Three little words "Home Sweet Home," even have a history to boast. "Home sweet cave," or "home sweet teepee," was surely uttered by someone long before American playwright John Howard Payne penned his 1823 song lyrics. All of us past fifty know the words: "Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, be it ever so humble, there's no place like home." Oh, yah, that one!

Song lyrics and the twists and turns of the written word bring out the emotions and sentimentality (that sap syndrome). Trickle-down reminiscence. I foster a recurring dream, to the tune of "Moonlight Sonata." In memory, I glide through the comfy, two-story Lewiston house where I was raised. I view the entire house, room by room, by moonlight.

Mozart's "A Little Night's Music" in my mind ushers in vivid and heartfelt flashbacks. Dreaming, I nestle into the glow of a full moon above the massive pines across the street, between the Reverend Sauders and the Ernest and Esther Andersons, how it would flood in through the front screen door and melt across the hallway, where a varnished wood bannister led to the upstairs bedrooms and bath.

Crickets draw the outdoors inside with their harmony through fondling breezes. I can smell the furniture polish and damp dust, recalling cleaning duties every Saturday, on hands and knees shining the mop boards and wood floors, the bulky cedar chest at the top of the stairs a haunting curiosity.

In dreamland, my mind's got a mind of its own. I gaze through tall, green-trimmed windows. I imagine each scene, squared off and petrified like a freeze frame, a back yard vegetable and flower garden, Mother's wax begonias, and Hvorka's ground cherries in their parchment skins, sweeter for their gifts of earth and labor.

From the bedroom I shared with my two sisters, I could look through the north window to Fremont Street, sauntering between giant trees, long since gone. I could see as far as the railroad tracks and muted street lights from the opposite corner. Except for this country town's bars, Main Street was uneventful. I sat on the end of my bed and stared at nothingness, sometimes watching for my date to come trucking along, and often fashioning a poem in my head. Moonglow and midnight oil.

Down the street about as far as we kids could venture, was the Armin Conway house. Helen Conway had a crippled arm. She had a sweet disposition, as I recall. Watching her as she used her good arm to throw her limp arm over the clothesline, pinning up the wet clothes very adeptly, awakened something pulsing within myself. As a young girl, I was touched very deeply by this woman's tenacity and will.

All the words we carry and release, expressions of emotions, custodians of knowledge, life stories, poetry, shattered hopes...paper moons. A granddaughter living out one's dreams. Windows to the rest of the world draw us out of ourselves...unless we close our blinds.

Moonlight through the pines may want a word with you. 


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