As a youth, I was fascinated by language, particularly the foul kind. As a budding waterfowler who hung out with crusty old waterfowlers, I heard plenty of it.
According to my grandmother, however, there were rules (hers) that strictly forbade the use of such “blue” wordage. I’d own at least one Pulitzer Prize by now had Mama Beatrice not spent all those years stifling my creativity.
Still, at age 12, I longed to swear like an old duck hunter without fear of grandmotherly repercussion. My first retriever puppy almost made that possible. Wonder of wonders!
My cute little Lab was a female and was openly referred to in dog-training books as a bitch.
Wow! I was delightedly flabbergasted. There it was in black and white: a word I was not supposed to see, much less say. What a glorious opportunity! Here was my chance to cuss like the grown folks and not only get away with it, but also earn a measure of respect for my knowledge of proper canine terminology.
Immediately, I set about impressing the realm of adulthood with my mature worldliness. I eagerly expounded upon the dog-training game with every grown-up I encountered, taking pains to throw in a “bitch” or two with practically every sentence.
The older generation was, at first, taken aback. In that long-ago era, such a word proceeding from the mouths of babes was shocking. But I had ‘em. After all,
I couldn’t rightfully be punished over a “cuss word” regularly used by learned dog experts and even the literature of the American Kennel Club.
“Oh, you shoulda seen that little bitch mark those falls, Mama B,” I told my grandma. “Why, she’s about the classiest bitch I ever saw. I’m going out again tomorrow to see how the bitch does on wood ducks.”
Mama Beatrice was not overly amused, but neither did she backhand me off of my chair.
I soon grew rather smug regarding my off-hand use of off-color jargon.
Sadly though, my euphoric blue-language bubble burst a few weeks later during a holiday-season family gathering, as a cousin and I lit firecrackers in the backyard.Cousin Leon had some cherry bombs, powerful pyrotechnic devices with which out-of-control 12-year-olds have absolutely no business playing. I watched in awe as he lit the first and held it, intending to throw it only at the last possible second. As the fuse grew ever shorter, I panicked, fearing I was about to witness the explosive dismemberment of a loved one.
With no forethought, I yelled at the top of my lungs, “You better throw that bitch, Leon!”
He heard me and heaved. The firecracker traveled 20 feet and exploded, loudly but harmlessly. Unfortunately, Mama B heard as well. Her subsequent “explosion” was not so harmless, at least where her eldest grandchild was concerned.
Now, in years since, I have rightly or wrongly done more than my share of grown-up cussing, particularly during my trials and tribulations as an avid and often-inept waterfowler. However, I never again bitched (properly or otherwise) until long after Mama B’s demise a number of years ago. Even now, when I allow that word to escape my lips, I am prone to look about and cringe, fully expecting a ghostly backhand to descend from the clouds and catch me flush on my 57-year-old jaw. In fact, I’m 100 percent certain that one day it shall.
And by the way, kiddies, a father Labrador is a “sire” and a mother Lab is a “dam.”
Nope. Don’t even think about it.