I guess you have to be careful what you say. Having a sharp tongue and knowing how to use it is partly inherited and partly practical experience. Use your words. I’ve heard that so often, that I’m sick of it, but using your words with a sharp eye and mind every day is something that makes a difference.
I come by it honestly. My grandfather came out to the west coast of Washington State following his stint in the Big One, WWI. At that time, the West Coast was pretty much just that, a coast. No Starbucks (see how I worked coffee into that one), no grudge bands, no traffic jams.
It was the final stages of America’s manifest destiny, the other sea in the sea-to-shining sea that remained unsettled by folks looking for land and gold and sometimes, just an opportunity. In the early 20s Uncle Sam encouraged homesteading in the Pacific Northwest’s Olympic peninsula, offering land to those with the constitution for the wilderness environment. It was the final push of the westward movement, and it wound up in the rainforest where most of the year was spent in the cold and damp. Plants grew. Animals thrived. With some backbone and perseverance, you could carve out some kind of a life for yourself. It wasn’t easy, but in Grandpa’s mind, finding his own way in a wild, untamed environment beat the hell out of making a life in the more suburban Chicago, his childhood home.
And he did. With his hands and his brain and his sweat and his blood, he found what work he could and became part of that Western Washington frontier culture.
Because work earning a living was sometimes less than consistent in that environment, the local grocer would front made of the resident accounts, keeping track of their flour, sugar, beans, and other staples that rounded out their subsistence living. Going to town in those days was truly something of an effort, it meant stocking up on supplies and taking care of all other business that could only be taken care of in town. It only happened once a month or so and sometimes even less frequently.
The local Merchant was Swanson, and the Swanson family served the growing population in the Grays Harbor area that earned its keep primarily through logging and fishing industries. So, as the story goes, on one of these trips to town for supplies, Grandpa got into something of a disagreement about what his actual tab was. He was no fool. He knew what he owed, in spite of what Swanson told him, which was a lot more money than he’d taken in credit.
“You’re wrong,” Grandpa told him to his face. “You made a mistake.”
Swason’s reply was disdainful.
“I don’t make mistakes,” he said.
Grandpa reached over and plucked a pencil out of Swanson’s shirt pocket, its eraser worn down by constant use, and waved the evidence of the nub in his face.
“This says otherwise.”
That was his final word. As the story goes, he wound up settling up with the man, paying what was demanded, but, as was the not uncommon practice of the pioneer culture, never did business with him again.
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