Friday, February 06, 2004

GREASY, GRIMY, GOPHER GUTS


When I was a kid, I remember skipping along singing some dumb song about "greasy, grimy, gopher guts". Don't remember the song, just that phrase. It got me thinking - how did the person who first sang the song know what gopher guts were like?

I remembered my father talking about his work and life experiences. We'd be in the kitchen, after dinner, when my dad got chatty. He wasn't much of a talker any other time, but something about digesting his evening meal brought out the talkative side of him.

He would talk about his childhood in WV - he always said that he wasn't a hillbilly, he was from the Ohio River valley. True enough, although he spent a great part of his childhood visiting relatives in the hillier parts of the state, like Folsom and Sistersville. His father died when he was 7, and he spent most of the rest of his childhood bouncing around from relative to relative. His mother wasn't able to keep all of the kids, just the youngest two. Some of his sisters and brothers were much older, and kindly offered to keep him. If my grandmother hadn't made that trade-off, welfare would have taken all of the children. And stories about welfare's social workers licking their chops about selling blond, blue-eyed babies abounded in the Appalachians at that time (some of them true).

His stories were mostly funny, and some sad. He talked about quitting school at 14, and taking any job he could get. He only lasted a short time at a job running a punch press - the sight of the old-timers with missing digits led him to quit in a short time. He said nothing about that job, except to say "whatever you do, don't take that kind of job. If you get that desparate, come see me and I'll lend you the money". He wasn't kidding. That was the only time I ever heard him offer to lend money. He wasn't cheap, but he believed it ruined character to support a grown person. He worked hard, but there were some jobs he just wouldn't do.

Today, when I couldn't get that phrase out of my head, I realized that it must have been overheard from someone who actually knew what gopher guts were like, and couldn't forget that disgusting experience. I decided that such an experience was one that would not be repeated if the person could help it. You know, the kind of job that someone won't talk about, except to say that before they touched a gopher again, they'd rob old ladies.

No comments: