"If everything seems to be going well you've obviously overlooked something." -Anon.
I don't remember my parents' home being filled with little slogans or plaques covered with the "Serenity Prayer" and that sort of thing. Nowadays you can't even get a teabag that doesn't feel it has something uplifting to tell you.
I do remember some of the places we rented on vacation went in for homey things like the verse about the owl. The crash of rhythm and meter in the last line -in a desperate attempt to get some thought in before the form died - has stuck with me all these years:
A wise old owl lived in an oak
The more he saw, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard -
(Here comes the downfall of poetry - although it was pretty well on the ropes, if not actually on the canvas, before this down-homey sludge began:)
Why can't we all be like that old bird?
Presumably the perpetrator of that piece never stopped to consider (". . . anything!" someone shouts from the Mezzanine). . . well, at least he did not consider the consequences of having his advice taken seriously.
Oh well, I have to admit Carson McCullers, whose writing I have never read - I always think of her as living in the vicinity of William Faulkner - made me sit up and take notice the other day with a wonderfully frank comment (which, of course, I saw in a collection of quotes): "I was always fired. My record is perfect on that. I never quit a job in my life."
Actually, the slogan at the top of this piece showed up on the cardboard tab attached to a tea-bag of decaffeinated tea this morning as my wife and I clustered around the breakfast table (which is also the lunch table, dinner table, supper table, and principal storage place for all the mail and other detritus which seems constantly to flow in but hardly ever to flow out - unless of course it is something you are looking for and then it's bound to be gone).
Decaffeinated tea is right in there with down-homey slogans as a sign of the times, but we won't get into that because we have probably already offended enough people who think that that doggerel about the owl makes good sense and we don't want to get the tea and coffee cartels after our hide as well.
"If everything seems to be going well you've obviously overlooked something." That's a knock-on-wood witticism, that is. Like the people who tell you that "we're bound to get a cold Spring." They're knocking on wood, too. If we get a cold Spring, they have the satisfaction of having predicted it, and if we don't get a cold Spring, well, at least they were prepared for it.
Predicting the end of the world is knock-on-wood stuff, too. No doubt the first such prediction was made in the parking lot just inside the main gates to the Garden of Eden. I mean, someday . . .; why not the next free Saturday in the month? With our luck it's bound to be raining anyway. There's not much on the telly to watch, unless it's another Exxon official telling us that now that they have made a mess of Prince William Sound it's time to get back to business as usual. Might as well have the big clearance sale and get it over with. (Knock on wood.)
People don't stop knocking on wood just because they are no longer alive, you know. As the world goes serenely on its way ignoring all the signs of the times and everyone else, my mind strays back to Martin Elginbrod, a canny Scot (I would presume), now at home in St Giles' Churchyard, Edinburgh, who was not above trying to bargain his way into the preferred seating in the next world. His grasp of rhythm is a little rough, too, but I suppose you can only do so much with a tombstone:
Here lie I, Martin Elginbrod.
Hae mercy on my soul, O God,
As I wad do were I Lord God
And ye were Martin Elginbrod.
Mummies of course, as another tea-bag tells me, were simply Egyptians who were pressed for time. I don't know whether they knocked on wood or not.
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.