Rebecca Roberts, host:
Commentator Laura Lorson tells a story of how she picked up some particularly odd swear words form her grandmother.
LAURA LORSON: My maiden Aunt Una - universally known to everyone as Nunn - was 75 when I was born. She lived with her youngest sister - my grandmother - for pretty much her entire adult life. They had what you'd call a problematic relationship. They argued over minor, ludicrous things incessantly. Who took the last of the cottage cheese? Is teal more like blue or more like green? When is Hee-Haw on? They bickered over everything. And they swore like longshoremen. I acquired a working knowledge of the most multivariate and polysyllabic foul language imaginable. My mother and father never, ever swore, except on one memorable occasion involving my dad, a carving knife, and an especially tough-skinned pumpkin.
I spent lots of time with Gran and Nunna when I was a child, and for many years, their frankly deplorable language was something I considered to be our little secret. I was convinced that if my mother learned that Gran and Nunna regularly had profane, obscene verbal pyrotechnics over which was better, chocolate or vanilla, I wouldn't get to go back. Which brings us up to this time when I was maybe 8 or 9, when the jig was most assuredly and completely up.
My sister Amy and I were over at Gran's waiting for my mother to get back from the beauty parlor, where she got a permanent every week. Nunna was making our lunch, which was invariably egg salad on Wonder Bread, which she would serve to us with Ruffles potato chips on - get this - little Styrofoam trays, which had at one time been used as the base of packaged meat.
The bizarre little economies of people who lived through the Depression never cease to amaze me. So Nunna was fixing these sandwiches, and Gran came in the room and something happened - maybe she burned her hand on the pot for the hard-boiled eggs, or maybe she thought the Ruffles were stale, whatever, and she starts up with the swearing. It was at this precise moment that my mother, backcombed within an inch of her life and smelling powerfully of Climatress hairspray, walked into the kitchen.
Gran shut right up, guiltily. And my mother, who'd heard about three of the ninety bad words in this particular scatological symphony, went bananas. I have had enough of you exposing my children to your foul language, she said. I will not tolerate it, not one more minute. You say one more bad word, Mother, I am takin' these children right out of here right this red-hot minute and you are never going see them again, do I make myself clear?
My grandmother weighed this information for about a sixth of a second before we heard this deep, deep intake of breath. She was clearly getting ready to expel something amazing, some kind of edifice of profanity the likes of which would be monumental, architectural, dazzling in nature. But she couldn't dare let it out. It was just barely possible that my mother actually meant to spirit her grandchildren out of her life, so she could not risk it.
Well - well, chickenbutt.
My sister and I did what we would later learn is called a spit-take. We looked at my mom, who to her credit really does know when something is funny, and she was trying valiantly not to laugh, which would have spoiled the whole effect.
Okay, said my mom. I just hope you will just think about what you have done, and how you're going to react the next time you are angry, and that you will honor the Lord with your thoughts and deeds, to which my sister and I assiduously looked away from each other so that we wouldn't crack up. My grandmother apologized. Nunna glared at Gran. Mom herded us out the door, radiating dignified injury. As we shut the door behind us, I could hear Nunna say, where in the hell did you come up with chickenbutt? Because I'm going to use that.
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ROBERTS: Laura Lorson has occasionally been heard to mutter chickenbutt at her home in Perry, Kansas.