Will work for wooden nickels


If one of my grandfathers chose me to be a conversation courier, I was eager to take the job. It didn’t matter much to me that I had no idea what they were talking about nearly all of the time.

“Tell your great-grandpa next time you see him I said everything’s copacetic,” is one I remember. I had to ask how to spell it so I could write it down, so that’s what likely committed it to memory.

I completed the messenger delivery just a few days later. This is what great-grandpa Charlie sometimes said in return: “When you see him again, tell your Grandpa he’s Dutcher than sauerkraut.”

I had no idea why they were so worried about the other one taking a wooden nickel, or swatting at flies with a hammer, or the need to convey that they were “fair to middlin” with a mindset toward walkin’ in tall cotton.

Once when I was lucky enough to win a real wooden nickel at a community festival, I jumped for joy and couldn’t wait to show my grandfathers. I finally laid eyes on something I’d been hearing them talk about for all my little life. I didn’t expect to hear the belly laugh each one gave me when my excitement was over-the-top about my new gem.

“Well, don’t that just take the cake!” was the response I got from grandpa Charlie about my new wooden nickel. So, for a few days, I thought that I was surely going to win a cake. It never materialized. I was about to learn that the darn thing didn’t amount to a hill of beans. 

So, I wondered, why did they talk about wooden nickels so much? I had carried that same message back and forth so many times I felt certain it was some kind of treasure one was hiding from the other, and finally I had landed one. It was a baffling set of circumstances for a little kid to unravel.

Still, the messages kept on coming. “How’s your grandpa? I haven’t seen him in a coon’s age!” This is how it often started, and next thing I know, I’d be asked to convey something that simply made no sense. “Tell him to come see me — and he won’t need to get all gussied up just to swap tall tales.”

Eventually, I just quit trying to decode the banter, finally reaching the realization my grandfathers spoke an entirely different language from the rest of us. Someone was always a day late and a dollar short, another had thrown the baby out with the bath water, someone might be holdin’ on a cotton-pickin’ minute or ’til the cows come home.

I had taken my job quite seriously for the longest time, trying hard to remember what one grandpa had asked me to tell the other. One day, I told grandpa Charlie I had been worried that I would forget the message I was to deliver, and sure enough, I did forget and felt mighty bad about it. 

“Well, don’t worry the horns off a billy goat. There’s always next time,” he said as he patted me on the head. 

Now I had questions. How in the heck could I possibly worry the horns off a billy goat?


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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