‘Just a smidgen, please’: Generations adopt words into vocabulary


Every generation adopts a word into their vocabulary that becomes popular for several years. Some drift off into obscurity, while others stick around far too long after they have worn out their welcome.

When I was growing up on our farm, everything was recycled. Everything! Not a drop of water was wasted. The compost pile got all leftovers, that is, after the animals had taken their share. One of the most interesting words we heard is now seldom used, and I’m resurrecting it as a feature for this story.

The kitchen was steaming from an unusual hot summer day, plus the radiating heat from the cook stove, lit earlier that morning for canning vegetables and preparing the evening meal.

There was not a flutter of a breeze coming through the screen door, and the kitchen curtains had not moved from their overly starched perches. The only movement was a lone yellow butterfly feasting on the purple butterfly bush outside one of the windows.

“Now, just add a smidgen of salt to the flour,” instructed my grandmother, laboring over a large mixing bowl where she was crushing strawberries. She had been blendingbutter and flourat the kitchen cabinet where the flour was stored in a suspended apparatus that hung inside the left section of the large cabinet.The bottom portion of the flour storage bin contained an attached sifter, which made it easier for sifting for baking purposes.

She was preparing old fashioned strawberry shortcake for the evening meal. “As soon as I cut my batter into two large cakes and start them baking, we will start that recipe Grandma Sarah Elizabeth gave me for real southern Blackwater lemon pie. Nobody outside of Lee County has the recipe, and it’s been in our family for many generations.”

After the batter had baked in the hot oven for twenty minutes, my grandmother cut the cake in about six equal sections, each section horizontally in one half and spread the center liberally with butter and crushed berries, and then she moved back to the stove and started a double boiler, in which she placed water, butter and salt. “Now, remember it only takes a smidgen of some ingredients to bring out the taste of most food,” she said, wiping away the beads of sweat starting to drip from her forehead. “Grab me a fresh towel, honey, and wipe away my sweaty face.I don’t want a smidgen to drip into these beaten egg yolks.”

“Let’s take a short rest until the stove cools down a smidgen or two,” my grandmother said, as she poured two glasses of fresh lemonade she had removed from the old icebox that had been in the family for generations. “Honey, while I’m thinking about it, turn that card in the window to the highest number the iceman can read when he delivers ice this afternoon.”

“Here, let’s add a smidgen of extra sugar to this lemonade for some energy, and grab a couple of thosefrosted gingerbread cookies I baked this morning, especially for you.”

I grabbed more than two of the cookies and joined my grandmother on the back porch. She had already seated herself on one end of the swing and instructed me to join her.She had removed her apron and kicked off her ancient battered house shoes, and the moment I sat down, the two of us pushed the swing into motion.

Life was good during those special summer days I spent with my grandparents in Kentucky.As soon as school was out for the summer, my parents put me on the train, along with my suitcase filled with summer shorts and shirts.We didn’t use the word “suitcase” back in those days.We called them grips.

One memorable evening my grandfather said to me before I went upstairs to bed:“I just wanted to warn you about eating those green apples on that tree in the back yard.I noticed that you were eating one when I came home from work today.Now, if you get sick during the night and have to run to the toilet with your “runoffs,” try not to keep everyone else up all night.”

“I only ate two, Grandpa,” I admitted, already feeling something strange going on in my body.

The next day, the first full day of several days of stomach pains resulting from a few more than two, my grandfather invited me to sit with him on the front porch. “Remember this, grandson, it only takes a smidgen of some things to teach us some vital lessons about this game of life.”

At the end of the summer, the night before my grandparents took me to the train station, where I would journey home to see my parents and four siblings, all of whom had a more peaceful summer in the absence of my constant meddling and nerve-wrecking ways, my grandmother baked a Kentucky Pie.She allowed me to do most of the mixings.“You will need three cups of brown sugar, three eggs, one half cup of butter, one half cup of cream, one teaspoon of vanilla, and a smidgen of salt.”

The following day, they took me to the train station.My grip was full of freshly washedclothes,a box of fresh fruit (no green apples), and a tin containing the Kentucky Pie.

The first night back with my family, the Kentucky Pie was served for our dessert.When everyone had taken their first bite of the pie, they pushed the remainder of the dessert away and reached for their water glasses.

Almost in unison, they said,“Too much salt.”

Today, I still recall that word “smidgen,” and the fact that I had violated the instructions of the recipe by adding to the pie that extra sprinkle of salt that rendered the dessert a concoction of brine.

Every time I read a particular quote written by George Bernard Shaw, I remember that strange little word that the great writer alluded to when he wrote, “less is more.”

After all, it only takes a smidgen, according to Mr. Shaw.