The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Can't Never Did Do Nuthin', Marthy

By Martha Cockrell Robinson © 1991

Issue: October, 1991

Maw sternly uttered those words as she stood with arms akimbo and surveyed me over her spectacles perched near the end of her nose. I stood looking woefully at the fryer waiting for me to take hold of it and cut it up for the evening meal. Maw had just demonstrated "how-to" on one fryer, then handed me the knife. Twelve was that milestone in a girl's life (this was in the mid-30's) when she was expected to start learning the intricacies of the kitchen, the housecleaning, and perhaps the most gigantic task of all - the washday routine which took over half a day, followed by nearly a full day of ironing.

But back to the chicken - rather, both chickens - no, three chickens - the cut up one, the un-cut up one, and the twelve year old one whose grandmother stood waiting for her to perform. "I can't," I said again in a rather plaintive voice, hoping for sympathy and to be let off the hook. But such was not to be. Maw stood there waiting and, finally, knife in hand, I proceeded to hack up the fowl. Finally, after considerable laborious effort, punctuated by a well-placed sigh here and there, the job was done. Maw didn't say that I hadn't done a good job, although I'm certain that one likely would have had a difficult time discerning what some of the pieces were. Maw just admonished me never to say "I can't" because "you don't know until you try, and if you try hard you'll likely be able to do it." Her words followed me down through the years.

There were other times when I was a "fraidy-cat." When we were in grade school, at recess time the little girls would choose sides for jumping rope. One side turned the rope (two girls from one side, one at each end, turning) while the girls on the other side were supposed to run one at a time into the space where the rope was turning, jump once, and run on out the other side without getting their feet caught in the rope and "missing."

And woe to the one who was responsible for her side getting "out" and having to turn the rope. Everyone was sure to yell at the one who "missed" and I was always so fearful of having everyone "mad" at me that I would stand there hesitating and rocking back and forth in rhythm with the rope, waiting for just the right moment when it was high in the air so that I would be able to run in, jump, and run on out on the other side. Another thing - if you didn't time it just right, that rope could catch you right on the bridge of your nose, and let me tell you, it really stung when that happened. But back to my hesitating. The other girls weren't all that patient and if you didn't run on in, after a few seconds someone would yell, "Come on, Martha, stop 'ketchin' flies'." The expression come from - you guessed it - your mouth hanging open while you were concentrating on just the right moment to run in.

Looking back over my life I can see that I have been prone to "ketch flies." At times I have stood rocking back and forth, figuratively speaking, "ketchin' flies" instead of getting on in there and trying. Over the years I have tried to heed Maw's advice. Sometimes I have succeeded, sometimes not. But always in those times my thoughts return to that day down in Alabama when a little rural Southern girl was admonished by her grandmother that "Can't never did do nuthin'."