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It Doesn't Run in the Family, It Walks. Slowly.

By Vol-E

I always thought I looked like my mom from the nose up, and my dad from the nose down. My head is larger than average, like Mom's and those of her father and sister, and a couple of cousins. But it's rounder, like Dad's.

Both my parents had blue eyes; each was the only blue-eyed sibling among six! I inherited that eye color, and so did my son, despite his dad being a hazel from a family of nothing but browns. We have a new grandchild, by the way. It's too soon to tell what his eye color will be, but when he makes his little furrowed-brow frowny face, as though thinking of a particularly tough problem in string theory, he takes directly after his pretty mom.

We can talk about earlobe shape and the presence or absence of a tongue-roll. I never noticed whether or not my mom could turn her tongue into a taco, but I'll bet she could. She could also roll her R's, which I never could. I got the talentless-tongue trait from Dad, apparently.

As I grow older and observe the behavior of those around me, I've become much more aware of one specific trait that both sides of my family share equally.

Slow, deliberate movements and speech.

It's sort of understandable from Mom's side. She grew up in the upstate New York countryside (they lived on Street Road...if that isn't a country name, I don't know what is), where there wasn't any real need to hurry. The chickens would lay their eggs in their own time, and while the cow did appreciate you getting out to the barn early to milk her, you weren't exactly on a time clock for that. Nature dictated your speed, rather than a boss or social fashion. And people spoke in measured syllables, being careful to enunciate and use tones that conveyed what they wanted you to understand. My grandpa was like this...his routine way of answering any question was to start off with "Waaaaaaaal...." then take a deep breath, as if to reassure himself that "Well" was the word he really wanted, before continuing. Nearly everything he said, as I recall, sounded like a suggestion. "Would you like to...?" "Do you think...?" "How about...?"  And when he told a story, like the one about the horse he had in his youth, you needed to be ready to settle in for a long "visit." His voice was calm and soft, and it was really a question of who would fall asleep first during the conversation, you or him. The older he got (he died at age 84, about a year after suffering a nasty stroke), the more likely he would beat you to nap time, and the only other question was whether he would forget to put down the pipe he was smoking. His pipe tobacco of choice was something called Half and Half, and it smelled absolutely wonderful.  My grandparents' A-frame duplex house always smelled like a combination of pipe tobacco and rutabaga (or "waxed turnip"), my grandmother's specialty. That house has been occupied by someone else for over 30 years now, but I will just bet that if you walked in, you'd still get a transient whiff of those aromas. At least, I hope so.

Grandma was a little more emotional and verbose than Grandpa, but she still used the same rural cadences.  "He come over yesterday." "That was a-nawful thing!" Mom didn't appreciate her country roots. Once she left and moved to the city, her tastes always ran to the sleek and modern. No wagon-wheels adorning the front yard for her. [I went into some detail about this about five years ago in this post.]   She didn't like country-style speech, either. The slightest hint of it from me (saying "Ah'll" instead of "I'll" for example) could incur her wrath and a detailed session of angry verbal correction. But her speech was still slow and precise. As were her movements. It was kind of a culture shock when I got married and my culinarily inclined spouse tried to show me the chef's style of slicing with a knife, where the point stays on the board and the wrist chops the handle up and down, moving the food laterally to produce quick, efficient slices. Ha! Not this chick. To this day, I slice just like Mom always did. One ... very ... slow ... careful ... slice ... at ... a ... time.

Oh, did you fall asleep? Sorry about that.

It's the "slow" part that endured through generations and changes of setting. Dad was the same way, even though his roots were in Brooklyn and before that, eastern Europe. I believe Dad's slow speech came from something different. He had a terrible case of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. It derailed his education, because in the 1920s and 1930s, if you couldn't keep up in school, you were considered either "stupid" or "bad," depending how enlightened your teachers were. Dad got the message, dropped out, took the one solid talent he had (music) and went on the road. He traveled around the country, listening to regional variations of speech in his curious, observant way, and forming lots of judgments, not all of them well-founded. He didn't like sounding like a Brooklyn boy, so he reworked his speech style into the Missouri-newscaster style of Walter Cronkite, complete with the "R" that Brooklyn stole from so many. When he got excited about something, though, the Brooklyn came right back. My mom was constantly criticizing the way he pronounced "Avenue." "Aaaaaavenyeh?" she'd repeat, until he said it correctly. Mom was no one to mess with.

In any case, I've observed the same general tendency toward slowness in various uncles, aunts and cousins. It's not the lifestyle, per se...I've got cousins who clearly prefer a brisker pace to life. They are not the type to sit around with a pipe and reminisce about their old horse ... but they still take the time to speak clearly and address whatever it is in the moment. More than a few of them will, somewhat uncannily, preface their responses with "Well..."  Whatever they have to say, you can understand it without asking them to repeat, because they don't mumble or slur over words like so many younger folks I know. As Charles Schulz said in a Peanuts comic, some people talk like they were recorded at 33-1/3 and played back at 78. And if this reference escapes you, it has to do with phonograph records.
A good illustration of this is the sound of  "Alvin and the Chipmunks."

"Slow down." "Not so fast." "Take it easy." "WALK!" "What's your hurry?"  Those are some common phrases I heard growing up. That seems to have been the ethos of my parents' generation, because even in fast-paced New York metro, everyone wanted the kids to slow down. "Speed kills" was often seen on posters around the school. It applied to stimulant drugs, dangerous driving, and even running in the hallways. But what normal little kid doesn't bounce off the walls and want to see, hear, and relate every new experience instantly and simultaneously? Some of us dealt with it better than others. At home, I was always regarded as "the speedy one," being admonished daily to calm it down a notch. And so, when I heeded those instructions and brought them to school, some classmates and teachers assessed me as being "slow" and "pokey." It seemed to me that the basic instruction was, Be fast at school (except when in the vicinity of one of those "Speed Kills" posters) but slow it down around family.

And now, old age is making its voice heard. While I have to continuously watch the speedometer and ease up on the accelerator, especially when driving on the Interstate, in most cases it now requires a conscious effort on my part to do anything fast. I can be a very speedy reader, but that takes the form of "skimming," and just means I'll have to read the whole thing a second time when I try to rush through. Lately, I've been seeing articles almost daily on the internet about mindfulness. Things like "meditative eating" and "walking meditation." Maybe my parents' families were Buddhist monks about a hundred generations back. Trace it far enough, and most of our roots will be somewhere in Asia, courtesy of Genghis Khan.

So my slow-moving relatives were paradoxically ahead of the pack when it came to their approach to life. They would heartily have endorsed a cartoon featured in "MAD Magazine's Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions." A man is up to his waist in a swamp, and his friend, standing on dry land, asks "Is it quicksand?" The unfortunate guy responds, "No, it's slow sand. What's your hurry?"


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