old-time expressions evokes story
by Delbert Trew
of you might not know that lines of flying geese are called "skeins."
Those same geese walking on the ground are called "gaggles." This
information comes from the book "The Cracker Barrel" by Eric Sloane
a well-known author/expert on old-time expressions.
This brings to mind an Old West classic story with this disclaimer.
The following story might be more "Trew" than "true."
An early settler couple raised two sons to maturity who along with
their father worked as cowboys on neighboring ranches. The mother
passed away, and sometime later the father married a nearby widow
with six children. Along with his new family, the father acquired
a large menagerie of poultry including a gaggle of geese. Geese were
an important part of frontier life because their down and feathers
provided feather mattresses and pillows for more comfortable sleeping.
The family lived on a creek bottom where wild plums and grapes grew
in profusion. They milked several cows, fed hogs, raised a large garden,
fed and processed their own meat. The new wife was a hard worker and
frugal in her ways, never wasting a morsel or a penny.
During that summer, the annual grasshopper crop arrived, forcing the
father to mix a mild poison with wheat bran and scatter it about the
garden and yard to help eliminate grasshoppers. A day or two later,
while the men were away working, the children came running to the
house yelling, "Mama, come quick. The geese are all dead." Sure enough,
down by the creek the entire gaggle of geese lay scattered about in
wild abandon. It was a terrible loss to the woman who had taken great
pride in her poultry dowry when she married. Her frugal ways kicked
Instantly, she blamed the grasshopper poison. The geese had ingested
so many dead grasshoppers the poison had killed them. Next, she suspected
the meat from the geese might be poison to her family. However, the
down and feathers could be salvaged without a complete loss. She ordered
the children to gather the dead geese and bring them to the yard where
all were quickly picked clean of down and feathers. The product would
be washed in tubs, dried and packed into gunny sacks and stored in
the barn loft to make pillows and mattresses next winter in the family's
Late that evening, the father and sons returned to find the mother
and children standing in complete bewilderment, surrounded by extremely
upset and completely naked geese, honking their displeasure at being
plucked of their feathers. It was a weird sight to behold.
The mystery of the dead geese was solved when the two older sons examined
their cache of fermenting wild grape wine, hidden up the creek in
heavy timber. Somehow during the day, the geese had pushed aside the
lid and drank enough of the brew to become falling-down, passed-out-dead
drunk. Their debauchery had cost them their down and feathers.
I guess the moral of this story could be this: "If a gaggle gobbles
too much to waddle, it might be their luck to get plucked."
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew"
September 26, 2006 Column