Thursday, October 29, 2015


A few months ago we explored Billboard Wisdom—lots of good thoughts right out there in the open air for all to read.

Sometimes Wisdom arrives unexpectedly. A chance remark by a stranger . . . an old saying pops into mind . . . a half-remembered quotation that I have to look up to get the proper wording.

Many folks go to the Bible for words to live by. They have favorite verses, favorite psalms committed to memory; or perhaps favorite hymns from their worship services. These bring comfort in times of distress or sadness. Brick-and-mortar bookstores have shelves sagging from the weight of such books—whatever direction your faith has taken you, there’ll be something for you to read if you want to. Or try the public library, or the library of your faith community.

Then there’s the Wisdom—or what passed for Wisdom—that we grew up with. Such as:

Waste not, want not!  How often did we hear that one in our youth? Folks who grew up in the Depression  (roughly, 1929 to 1941) would understand this one all too well. And they passed along the message to their children.

A penny saved is a penny earned. Well, not really, not in today’s financial climate; but there’s no denying, a penny saved is a penny saved.

See a pin, pick it up, All the day you’ll have good luck. Offering us good luck was one way to keep pins off the floor where little kids and pets might come to harm. Or barefoot adults. A good reminder for safety. And the corollary worked the same way: See a pin and let it lay, Bad luck you’ll have all the day.

If your nose itches, company’s coming. This was one of several dozen my mother quoted—if it wasn’t an itchy nose, it was dropping silverware, each type indicating the gender of the company to come. Later on I heard it another way: If your nose itches, you’re going to kiss a fool! Hmm, not a very exciting prospect. I’d prefer company coming.

My mother also told me about itchy hands—and to this day, I can’t get this one out of my head. If your left hand itches, you’re going to receive money. (Yay!) If your right hand itches, you’re going to shake hands with somebody. (Meet someone new.)

Another one about money: Foam on the top of a cup of coffee or tea was called “Money on your cup.” (I don’t think this includes cappuccino, though. Just bubbles that form when you pour the liquid into the cup. Sorry about that.)

Some sayings had honest-to-goodness sense behind them. 

Take this one: As the twig is bent, so grows the tree. That was about more than bending your young tree into an interesting shape; it was meant to warn us how to rear our children (twigs) is such a way that they would grow up into the type of adults (trees) we would like them to be.

Or, The apple never falls far from the tree. Seems obvious, if you’ve ever had/seen an apple tree. After all, the tree doesn’t fling the apples around, even in a windstorm, and the fruit is heavy enough to fall pretty much under the tree it grew on. This was another metaphorical piece of wisdom: Don’t expect your children to be much different from the parents. (I seem to recall the children so described were usually budding delinquents.) In the Nature vs. Nurture debate, this one seems to straddle the fence.

From what I’ve observed, what we glean from old sayings, proverbs, and family wisdom depends on our family’s history and experience. We were pretty much Midwestern agrarian—hence the practical nature of the quick pieces of advice I learned from childhood on up.

Dig around in your memory bank for those words to live by that your family treasured. Bet you haven’t heard them recently. But they’ll still resonate with you.

If you don’t think they’re especially wise, see if you can file them under Advice. Or Insight. Or, Old Sayings.

Here’s my current favorite saying (on a whiteboard at the Y)—hope it says something good to you:


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