Take the Money and Run

It’s Cotton Tail in the lead by three lengths…

You probably think today’s blog post has something to do with The Steve Miller Band song of the same title. You know the one where the lead singer (possibly Steve) throws grammar and rhyme to the wind? Actually, today’s blog post is about the phrase give them a run for their money. I used the phrase in my novel, The Tedescos, when describing the success of a peripheral character’s sisters.

Per the Collins dictionary, if you say that someone could give someone else a run for their money, you mean you think they are almost as good as the other person. Per the Macmillan dictionary, it means to compete very well against someone so that it is hard for them to defeat you. And about the phrase, the Urban dictionary offers the definition to challenge someone.

Other websites dealing with phrase origin claim that the saying came from horse racing where one wants a run for his money. This means he wants a horse upon which a bet has been placed to participate in the race. If the horse withdraws from the race after bets are placed, the bettor does not get a run for his money.

Also going along with the horse racing theme, to give someone a run for their money is to give a good race (even if you don’t win) in return for their backing. The definition suggests a challenge, and it is in keeping with the definition presented in the Urban dictionary.

The Oxford English Dictionary agrees that the phrase originated with horse racing and suggests that it could be used in a figurative or extended sense to mean any sort of challenge whether or not money is spent. The OED supplied the earliest usage of the phrase that I could find.

“1874 Slang Dict. 274 To have a run for one’s money is also to have a good determined struggle for anything.”

It has also been suggested that the phrase originated with the British style of hunting where one chases animals with hounds but doesn’t shoot them with guns. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the fox die at the end of these hunts? I’ve watched enough BBC shows to know Brits use guns to kill animals. But I digress.)

Supposedly, if an area of the country wasn’t well stocked with animals to kill, a hunting party had to purchase a fox or stag to set free so they could chase it. The purchase of an animal to hunt added to the already high costs of hunting (good horse, proper riding clothes, and correct footwear) but was considered to be worth it if you had a good run for your money. It all sounds so civil. I wonder if they recycled the fox or stag.

I used the phrase when describing the rate at which my peripheral character’s sisters supplied grandchildren. The sisters gave rabbits (well known to be prolific producers of progeny) a run for their money, and yet the challenge wasn’t really for rabbits.

If you are at all familiar with a grandparent’s desire for grandchildren, you know that more than a simple challenge was presented. The gauntlet was thrown down at the feet of their childless sister. I expanded the definition to show an elevated level of aggression. Wouldn’t it be lovely if this additional aspect was added to the definition of the phrase with the line from my novel cited as the first usage?

The Hoopla About Chuppahs

Beautiful white chuppa with red flowers for outdoor wedding ceremony.

When John Welles’s best friend, Sam Feldman, invited him to a party Sam’s mother was hosting, John was not at all enthused. Sam, who always had a girlfriend on his arm, wanted John to run interference for him as he dodged the girl his mother wanted him to meet. Little could either young man have predicted how captivating Abigail Cohen, called Babby, would prove to be. Not only was Babby beautiful, the young school teacher was intelligent, articulate, and poised. John began to rethink his opinion about dating Babby, but not in time. By the end of the party, Sam and Babby hit it off exactly as Sam’s mother knew they would. John did not begrudge Sam his good fortune. Rather, he and Claude Willoughby were the best men at Sam and Babby’s wedding.

Being Jewish meant Sam and Babby took their vows under a chuppah. A chuppah is a Jewish wedding canopy with four open sides. There are many traditions surrounding the chuppah, and they have changed throughout the years depending on an orthodox or modern interpretation.

The chuppah is usually a square of cloth supported by four poles. The fabric can be as elegant as silk or velvet, as simple as cotton or linen, or as important as an heirloom piece of lace or tallit belonging to a family member. The poles can be free-standing or held in place by friends of the couple. Either way, the poles should touch the ground. It is a great honor to be asked to hold the chuppah poles, and this role is often given to people very close to the couple.

Many couples like to decorate the chuppah poles and tops to match the theme of their wedding. Whatever material is chosen, be sure that it will withstand unpredictable weather conditions if the ceremony is outdoors. Ruining a family heirloom or the collapse of an unsteady chuppah will definitely spoil the wedding.

the-hoopla-about-chuppahs-2The purpose of the chuppah is to symbolize the new home the couple will create. At one time, the cloth chuppah was draped around the bride and groom but was later spread over their heads. Ancient rabbis compared the chuppah to Abraham’s tent during Biblical times. Abraham was famous for his hospitality, and since his tent was open on all four sides, travelers could enter from any direction.

The bride and groom are brought to the chuppah by both parents. The space inside the chuppah should be big enough for the couple, clergy, and a small table for ritual items such as wine and glasses. The bride will also need enough room to circle her groom without tripping or snagging her dress. Don’t forget to make the chuppah tall enough for the tallest person to stand under without hitting the fabric where it will drag in the center. Family and friends in the wedding party, including parents, often stand outside the chuppah. Afterward, the new couple can receive guests in their chuppah as a symbol of the love and openness of the home they will build together.

A Vision in Red

I woke up this morning thinking about the red glass rabbit. The memory must have ridden in on the tail end of a wild night of dreaming because I haven’t thought about her in decades. In my mind, she still holds center court among the animal figurines sitting on my great aunt’s kitchen windowsill in Tennessee.

My great aunt never hesitated to let me play with what I believed were her most treasured possessions. For this reason, I took great care not to break any of the inch and a half tall animals in the collective herd. There was a goose and a deer among the group, but my favorite was the solid red, blown glass rabbit with two miniscule dollops of white glass for eyes. She was perfect.

Red Glass RabbitThe red glass rabbit starred as the heroine in all my adventures played out on the kitchen table. She forever needed rescued by the other animals led by her boyfriend, the deer. I’m pretty sure I named him Bambi; I don’t recall what I named the rabbit. Every scenario, in which I imprisoned her in a tiny basket, ended with her being declared queen, a title she graciously accepted.

Occasionally, her liberation depended on the assistance of my great aunt’s salt and pepper shakers. There were four of them, two couples of different size, reminiscent of the man on the Cream of Wheat box and Aunt Jemima. These shakers are the type of item labeled Black Americana today and are found in antique stores and probably homes south of the Mason/Dixon line. I could be wrong about that, though.

During one summer visit to my great aunt’s home, I was horrified to discover that since the last year, someone had chipped the ear of the red glass rabbit. My great aunt didn’t seem as upset as I believed she should have been. She said either she, or my great uncle, or her mother probably knocked the rabbit off while washing dishes. My thoughts fluctuated between relief that it wasn’t me who caused the mar and appreciation that the damage could have been so much worse.

My great aunt broke up housekeeping several years ago after my great uncle and her mother passed. She sold the home and large items in Tennessee, bestowed smaller goods upon close friends, packed up the rest, and moved back to Ohio. It was good to have her home. I asked about the salt and pepper shakers because I trusted their size ensured they survived until my adult years. Unfortunately, my great aunt had already given them away.

I never inquired about the red glass rabbit. I knew in my heart the tiny treasure had disappeared long ago. Before I stopped playing with my own collection of animal figurines, the red glass rabbit probably had her ears and toes chipped until she appeared in a sorry state. Or perhaps one tumble into the depths of the empty kitchen sink was one too many, and she had to be discarded.

Does it matter that my great aunt probably doesn’t even remember owning such an item?  Does anyone reading this even care? Who can say? All I know is that somewhere in time, a very talented glassblower created a beautiful red glass rabbit that brought immeasurable joy to a little girl.

Vonnegut & Orthodontists

Vonnegut and OrthodontureLast Tuesday, I took Joshua to his orthodontist for a checkup. This usually pleases him because he loves getting out of school early. We stopped by the house to pick up his toothbrush so he could remove the remnants of lunch from between his teeth before heading south for his appointment.

The two gentlemen who own the practice are competent orthodontists. Unfortunately, I can never remember which is which, so I call them Dr. Young and Dr. Old. They would be mortified if they knew this, and their egos would be crushed. I should probably feel bad, but I don’t.

Dr. Young conducted Joshua’s visit. He breezed into the consultation room looking extremely GQ with nary a gelled hair out of place. This is always true of both doctors, although I don’t believe Dr. Old uses gel. He attempted the usual round of pleasantries with my sullen teenager and made the typical mistake of calling him buddy, trying to sound hip.

The discussion centered mostly on the fact that Joshua does not have a permanent tooth below one of his baby teeth. I live in fear of that little sucker coming out. We’re talking an implant and thousands upon thousands of dollars to make sure Joshua doesn’t have a permanent hole in his smile. Much to my dismay, the latest x-ray showed the root disintegrating rapidly.

I asked Dr. Young why Joshua didn’t have a permanent tooth. He launched into a long explanation that began with, “Millions of years ago, when we were all cavemen and had three or four wisdom teeth beyond what we have today…”

I could feel my face hardening into the mask of smiling politeness required to keep me from laughing out loud. Malibu Ken proceeded to explain to us that because our diet has become softer over millions of years, we no longer need as many teeth as we used to.

“In fact,” he said, “in 100,000 years or so, kids will probably have a lot fewer teeth than they do today.”

“So we’re all going to be rabbits,” I replied, clicking my top and bottom incisors in demonstration.

Dr. Young didn’t respond. Instead, he turned to don grape-scented gloves and check Joshua’s teeth. At that precise moment, my eyes locked on Joshua’s. My darling, surly teen executed one of the best eye rolls I have ever seen in my life.

As we drove home that afternoon, I couldn’t get Dr. Young’s words out of my head.

“You know, Josh, between Dr. Young’s explanation of the deterioration of teeth and Kurt Vonnegut’s portrayal of people in his book, Galapagos, in the future, we’re all going to be rabbit-toothed, fur-covered, flippered seal people.”

Now if I can sell the movie script on that storyline, I could probably pay for Joshua’s implant.

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