When I began learning the Irish language, teachers taught me proverbs as a way to comprehend its cadence. The first was “Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile” – one cockroach recognizes another. Proverbs were often silly like that, which made them easy to recall. One favorite was “Everyone is sociable until a cow invades his garden.”
The more in-depth my language studies became, the more I became fascinated with the story behind these proverbs. They were often steeped in hard-won wisdom.
“Ní neart go cur le chéile” – there is no strength without unity, was inspired by Irish fishermen who rowed their currachs out to sea.. The lightweight boats of tarred canvas stretched over a wood frame had to be rowed in unison to make headway over choppy waters.
“Maireann na daoine ar scáil le chéile” – together we live in each other’s shadow, was obviously inspired by the Famine times. Shadows represented death as well as life; what affects one affects all.
Proverbs have been a subliminal influence my whole life. For example, my Aunt Mary Reilly (who used to wonder aloud “Where do those Hylands get this being Irish from?”) recited a Celtic-like triad for as long as I can remember: “There are three things everyone must learn,” she’d say. “How to swim, how to type and how to drive a car.” Her other golden rule: “Ham is good for a crowd.”
My best friend’s family is Italian. They’re always speaking in proverbs. Her grandfather taught me how to garden. “The wind dries faster than the sun,” Nonno said. Her father Joe, who learned from him, told me “Water keeps plants alive; rain makes them grow.” After a slight, her Aunt Palma wagged her finger once and warned “What goes around comes around… and it comes around again!”
I just turned 50 and a friend at work told me I’m now a crone. The good news is that the old definition of a beaked-nose woman in a babushka has been dumped by New Agers for something sexier. Crones today are considered goddesses of wisdom. (Cool, can I add that to my resume?)
Since proverbs are a way to impart wisdom, I’ll share some of mine.
This I believe:
“The day you no longer have any desire to learn is the day you become old.”
“Don’t worry about getting even. God takes care of that soon enough.”
“That thing you’ve been longing to buy? As soon as you buy it, you’ll forget it.”
“Men like pie.”
“A clothing sale rack always has the fewest choices in your size.”
“Life is too short to not wear rhinestones.”
“There is no ‘yes’ in polyester.”
“Never order seafood in Sundance, Wyoming.” Trust me. As the Irish would say: “Sin scéal eile” – that’s another story.
My favorite proverb was passed down to me by my late mother: “Dull women have immaculate houses.”
Well Mom, you would be proud. You sure can’t call me dull.
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