Ever since my wife got a concussion a few years ago, she’s mixed up common every day words with uncommon non-every day words. Take the title of this essay: even an old dog can loon new tricks. That’s verbatim a sentence she said to me about five minutes ago. We were talking about learning new things as we age (ex. me learning how to cook).
Naturally, I thought to myself: what a great name for a new blog post.
Author’s note: Before I go any further, I want the record to state that Allison gave me her blessing in writing this essay and has signed off on the final draft in case there is anyone out there who may think less of me by the end. How is even less even possible?
It’s possible the words she is replacing are words she’s reeled in from her current environment. She was talking to me and used the word loon. Is that an honest mistake in vocabulary or is it because I was standing right in front of her and she thinks I’m zany?
The world may never know.
When I made mention to her that she may have been subconsciously referring to me as a loon, the conversation went like this:
Me: When you said loon instead of learn, was it because you think I’m a loon?
Allison: A loon is a bird. I think I was thinking about birds because so many birds are at the feeder right now.
Me: Hmm. [glances at bird feeder but still unsure of her intent]
Allison: [an expression on her face that says, “Is he buying it?”]
Over the course of the last five years, my wife has turned into the second coming of Yogi Berra. For all you non-baseball fans out there, over time, Yogi Berra became known as much for his off the field sayings as his on the field play. A Berraism or Yogiism is a malaprop, meaning: the use of a wrong word that is similar sounding to, but not quite, the right word.
It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.Yogi Berra
My wife has this in spades. Allison confided in me that last week, as a group of students were finishing up an assignment, she told them, “Don’t forget to write your rain on the top of your paper.”
Was it raining outside at the time she said this? Was there rain in the forecast? Had she heard Prince’s “Purple Rain” on the radio on her drive to school which evoked memories of one of our first dates together in which we watched my DVD copy of Purple Rain starring Prince as “The Kid” and Apollonia as “Apollonia” in my apartment on the grounds of the University of Virginia? All good questions.
A concussion isn’t a laughing matter of course. My wife struggled mightily when she had hers. She couldn’t remember her way to work despite having worked there for nearly a decade at the time. Even basic math, as in what’s 2+7, she’d get wrong. Anger and frustration would set in as her brain tried to process this simple addition problem.
“I don’t know,” she’d finally give up and say.
As the months wore on, her ability to process information accurately began to return. A graduate of both the University of Virginia and William & Mary, my wife has a brain on her. But the concussion she suffered has had lasting effects on that very same brain.
She’s not as quick as she once was and you can sometimes visibly see her trying to process a question or answer in real-time. She’s prone to frustration more now than before when the right words don’t come to her. The word for it is aphasia.
I see and hear it because I live with her. I’ve told her more than a dozen times, “It’s likely no one notices.” And even if they do, rarely does anyone think much of it. People say quirky things all the time.
If I see you somewhere at 3 PM or 6 PM or 8 PM, don’t be surprised if I say good morning to you. Don’t equally be amazed if I see you in the morning and say, “Hey, how are morning?”
Not: Hey, how are you?
Or: Hey, how is your morning?
I want to know from you firsthand: How are morning?
As a side note, I’m fairly certain I had a concussion back in the early 2000s. I had taken a charge in the closing seconds of a basketball game during college. I caught a knee to my chin, blacked out, and woke to a pool of blood all around me. My teammates looked on in horror as I came to.
My first words when I woke underneath the basket: Was it a charge?
The first words I heard in response from my coach: Yes. Don’t move.
My second words: So we’re going to overtime?
The second words I heard from my coach: Yes. You’re not playing.
My third words: [Summoning my inner Daniel LaRusso from the original Karate Kid] Wrap me up coach!
We ended up winning the game in double overtime. I played OT looking like an Egyptian mummy coming unraveled. I couldn’t turn my head sideways because the lower portion of my face was wrapped with gauze and taped to the back of my head.
After the game, I was taken to Newport News Emergency Room which was an experience unto itself. My coach was with me as gunshot victims and overdoses piled into the ER. There was a line of blood I’ll never forget that was streaked all the way down the hallway as I was taken to a room to be stitched up.
You may wonder why I did this after the game. During that timeframe, there was still limited info about concussions. No real protocol like there is today. And there was no way in hell I was not playing overtime after taking that charge and losing a couple pints of blood as my sacrificial offering to the basketball gods above.
Is it possible I, too, say odd things because of my concussion all those years ago just as my wife does? For her, I tend to believe it’s a long-term effect from the concussion she sustained whereas my situation is more I’ve always been like this because my brain was wired by our Heavenly Father on a Friday afternoon. You know what they say about getting surgery on a Friday, after all.
I’m not making light of her situation or the after effects. There’s a great deal we still don’t know about concussions, especially the full breadth of the long-term effects. But as she and I have discussed — when she tells me she sometimes “feels stupid at work” for saying the wrong thing — you can either let the frustration get the best of you or you can find the best in the situation and find the humor.
I mean, it’s hard not to laugh when your wife is standing in front of the stove at 7:30 in the morning on a Saturday with a cast iron skillet warming up and looks you square in the eye and sincerely says:
Can you reach in the fridge and hand me the dog food? I’m going to make patties for breakfast to go with the eggs.The secret ingredient to Allison’s world renowned sausage patties
It’s gotten to the point where the mix-ups serve as reminders for other things. “Oh, yeah. I need to fix Motzie’s breakfast.”
Back when our kids were younger, my wife kept a running list of all the odd things they’d say. Considering my daughter couldn’t hear worth a damn up until about age 8 because of chronic ear infections, it’s less a list and more a scroll. It looks like one of those never-ending receipts CVS prints for you at check-out that Jack Kerouac could have written the entire manuscript for On the Road on.
For example, my daughter used to lovingly refer to me (Daddy) as Dougie until she was eight years old because she had the hearing of a naked mole rat. During the holiday season, our kids’ favorite part of decorating for Christmas used to be when we unveiled the box of crackernuts (nutcrackers) to display under the tree. Because of Annabelle’s vast love of the English language and poor hearing, she passed down the tradition of the crackernut to Henry.
Even an old dog can scratch new ticks
I’ve been thinking of bringing back this type of documentation in regard to my wife’s malapropisms. In December, I will then compile the top twelve quotes — one for each month — and create a 2025 calendar for keepsake. First, I need to ask her what we should call this new list.
I can’t wait to hear the name.
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