Today is my stepfather’s birthday. Steve has been a part of our family for nearly a quarter-century, and I don’t know what we’d do without his witty humor, his genius handyman skills, and his kind heart. He also has a knack for rescuing baby animals in need.
In this 2014 photo, Steve’s holding my solid-black cat Miller, still a kitten here, whom I’d adopted a couple days before from the Walmart parking lot. Steve is the reason there are so many pets at his and Mom’s house: “Awwwww, look! That poor little abused kitty [puppy/piglet/calf/foal/donkey] needs a home!” Ten cats and five dogs later—yep, you know the drill.
I also don’t know what we’d do without Steve’s obscure Southern vocabulary words. This considerable vocabulary includes exceptional profanity skills for emergency situations. While my favorite Steve phrase is “shining like a diamond in a goat’s ass,” he’s at his verbal peak when danger is near.
One summer afternoon in 2007, Mom, Steve, and I were grilling out at their house when a large hornet flew up out of nowhere. Close to three inches long from antennae to stinger and wearing angry-looking yellow and maroon stripes, it made the kind of noise that lets you know an insect meansbusiness. Sure enough, the hornet made a few dive-bombs at Steve and me. We panicked.
“Goddamighty, Gina!” Steve shouted at Mom, who’d gone back indoors for a minute. “There’s a big-asswawstout here!” [Wawst= Southern pronunciation of “wasp”]
The hornet kept circling the porch, probably looking for its nest entrance. Each orbit brought it closer and closer to us. When it disappeared into a small crack between the eaves of the house, we could still hear its hostile buzzing. This did not bode well.
“This thing ishuge, Mom,” I called. “You better bring the big guns.”
“Just a minute,” we heard Mom yell back from inside the house. She’d been through this before and was in no big hurry to get back outside. The hornet had probably been there for weeks. It would no doubt still be there when she got onto the porch.
Despite my stepfather’s being a formidable-sized guy at 6’2” and 240 pounds, there are two things that rattle him: any kind of thorn-bearing plant, and any kind of stinging insect. I have seen him jump off of more ladders than I care to count when one of these bugs comes buzzing by, just minding its own business.
As such, Steve’s plan of action upon seeing awawsttakes one of three directions:
Drown thewawst(hornet, wasp, yellow jacket, carpenter bee, horsefly, etc.—whatever insect it really is, he still calls itwawst) in half a can of Raid,
Whack at it with a 22-ounce hammer until it’s dead, muttering the whole time that “this thang don’t know who it’s fuckin’ with,” or
Take off across the yard like a shot, yelling his fool head off.
So there was no doubt in my mind Steve was going to put into effect one of his usual threemodus operandithis time, too.
“Brang thewawstspray!” he shouted back into the house. “I can’t grill with this damn thang flyin’ around my head! I’ll burn the steaks!”
“I’ll be out there in a minute,” Mom shouted back from inside the house. “Let me find the ‘wawst’ spray.” Originally from Michigan but having lived in the South for almost 50 years, Mom still pokes fun at a few Southern-accented words—includingwawst.
“Hurry!”Steve shouted. “You don’tknowhow big this thang is!”
“I’m sure it’s the biggestwawstever,” Mom replied, without affect.
“HURRY! This thang’s as big as my left nut!”
At which point I collapsed on the ground, laughing too hard to move, speak, or breathe.
Mom finally emerged from the house, the can of Extra-Strength Wasp and Hornet Killer in her hand. “Mom! MOM!” I gasped between belly-laughs. “It’s as big as Seeben’sleft nut!”
“Yes,” Mom said. “And you’ll also notice that it’s always ‘as big as his left nut,’neverthe right nut.”
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