Every day, it seems, I find myself looking up words and their etymologies, trying to get at the root of what something I've just read means. Sometimes it's a word in the Bible, and I end up wading my way through ancient languages I've never studied, searching for clues. Other times it's just words from daily life that suddenly pertain to some matter I'm struggling with or considering. Often the word has changed over the centuries; I find such words particularly fascinating—particularly when, as is often the case, the word's current meaning is at odds with what it once meant. Some of these word studies find their way into my writing projects. My goal is to post new words weekly, sometimes brand new material and sometimes excerpts from my books.

15 January 2010

Resolutions of a Yum-Yucker

The other day my daughter Charlotte called me a yum-yucker. I just googled this term and got, amazingly, no hits, so I'm guessing it's original to one of my colleagues, who also used it some weeks ago—the first and only other time I've ever encountered the term—in response to my response to his going on about summer sausage. It was the second or third time he'd mentioned summer sausage in a week. How he craved it. It was the season.

"I can't figure out why it's called summer sausage, though," he told me, "since it's only available in winter."

“I can’t figure out why you like it,” I told him. “It makes me feel a little sick when I eat it. Like those bottled salad dressings that have that weird aftertaste . . . ”

That’s when he called me a yum-yucker.

And Charlotte inherited the term from my telling the summer sausage story at dinner that night. I can’t remember what we were talking about, but she went even further.

“Your colleague was right. You’re a yum-yucker. You’re always yucking on people’s yums.”

Her supportive example (parenting tip: I always demand these from my girls, when they assert their views. It has made them both formidable arguers.): “Well, like, we go in a store, and I say, ‘Look at this skirt! Isn’t it cute?’ and you’re like, ‘Eeewww!’ That’s you. Totally. A yum-yucker.”

She refused to acknowledge the fact that, when we’re shopping and I like something she points out, I get all excited, in the positive direction. Or that I frequently find things I like and say, “Here, put this on. It’ll look really good on you.” And she does, and I’m right, and she buys it.

I call it being enthusiastic and honest. I’m just not into empty praise. Or vacuous or openly dishonest pep talks, like the ones my mother-in-law once told me she used to give my husband as a teenager whenever he left the house. “You look so handsome!” she’d croon, especially if he looked, as she put it, “down in the mouth”—her euphemism for depressed, a word she hates and refuses to use. I admire the impulse—to lift others up, an ambition that pretty much defines Mamaw—but, ever since she told me about those routine remarks, I’ve never trusted as genuineany word of praise she’s ever offered me.

Indeed, her praise often makes me suspicious she actually means the opposite. “Your car looks so shiny and clean!” she’ll tell me, and I’m suddenly aware that it’s way past time to do something about the salt and grime that’s been building up for months.

All this to say that my new year’s resolution—and my plan for Lent, which is coming up in a month—is to work on yumming others’ yums. To consciously seek out role models, rather than focusing, as I'm prone to do, on others' failures.

Not surprisingly, having made this resolution, I've gotten two lessons on the topic over the past few days, as the semester has started up again. One was from the head librarian at my university. I was telling her about the next book I’ll be working on, tentatively called Easy Burdens, on how the life of the believer really is supposed to be delightful, not a trial. Yoked to the powerful One God Sent, our burden, however heavy, should actually feel light. I started the book in response to an ongoing series of pep talks I’ve been giving to a beloved former student—possibly the most spiritually devoted person I've ever met, a woman whose every action seems imbued with the desire to love God back—who is crippled (as, secretly, I often am) by the worry that she doesn’t do enough as a believer. (In the book, in other words, I hope to convince myself as much as her of what I believe to be true about what God expects of us but nevertheless struggle to embrace.)

“Yes, I know a lot of Christians worry about not doing enough,” the librarian told me. “But I never feel that kind of guilt. I think it’s because of my father, who was always so encouraging and positive. There was nothing I could do that didn’t impress and please him.”

The next day, I was asking another colleague how he came to have the goal of being available to whoever walks in his door. Whether it's a student or a colleague or an utter stranger or just me, he drops everything, always, with a smile on his face. So inviting. I guessed he had been the victim of someone—probably a parent, such important formers and deformers—who was saliently unavailable to him in his past. Always too busy. Or too negative and closed. Perpetually yucking his yums. I figured he had made it his life goal to never be that way to anyone else.

“It was my dad,” he said. “He was a pastor.”

“Ah,” I commiserated. My father wasn't a pastor, but I could imagine that life: the endless flow of needy sheep, the neglected sons and daughters.

“You know,” he went on, “his door was always open—to me and to anyone else. ‘Nothing is more important than being there for someone who needs my attention,’ he always told me.”

“It’s hard sometimes," my colleague continued. "I mean, I get behind in things. But I figure, a lot of what I do”—he gestures at his computer, some open textbooks, a pile of papers—“is just fluff, and people are more important.”

I want to be like this man, the pastor’s son—and a pastor himself, though he may not know it. And like the librarian—Miss Mary, I call her, which is what my daughters called her in Sunday school—who not only never suffers from guilt but never causes it. I’m certain of this. I want to be like Mamaw, who prods and primps everyone around her out into the world with the confidence that things aren’t so bad. And I want to inspire my daughters to be like these people—to keep their doors open, to feel no guilt, to enter the world without suspicion but only buoyancy and blithe confidence.

Which is not to say we shouldn’t be wise to the dangers ahead of us. Like those potato chips coated in an oily powder that purport to taste like sour cream and green onion and that, if I break down and eat the one Charlotte thrusts at me in her enthusiasm, will make me burp artificial onion taste for days afterward.

Eeeewww yuck!


Jan Heinen said...

Hi Patty,

This is the first time I've heard the expression "yum-yucker", but I like it! Thanks for the reminder that it's no fun to be around one! Better we think the way Philippians 4:8 tells us to!

Jan Heinen
Publisher, LiftChairReviews.com

オテモヤン said...