Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Family Lexicon, or Aunt Christina's Press

In this post I outlined some of the highlights of the locality in which my parents live in Ireland. Many of you were kind enough to comment on that post and add some of the exciting things to see where you live - Carla's cattle adventures, the church where Liz's husband's relatives got married (perhaps this one? Intrigued, I Googled churches at crossroads in Whitley Bay. This could be it, readers, this could be it - the scene of Aunt Margaret and Uncle Andrew's nuptials!) Or the criminal court in Canada where Barbara plighted her troth (sadly, this one was more of a challenge than my Google skills could handle, so no accompanying pictures here.) In any case, all of these places are important because they're part of your Family Inventory: places, objects, memories that are special to your family and make up part of your Family Lexicon. Every family speaks its own language, every family has phrases and terms that are incomprehensible to people outside of the family circle. Sometimes phrases even emigrate from one family to another: my husband and I like to indulge in a psycho-pee (separately, not together) before we leave the house. This is a trip to the facilities even though you really don't have to go - it's a just-in-case mission. It's short for a psychological peepee, and although mentioning it has already lowered the tone of this post, I believe that it's a very useful term that was lacking in the English language. Thus, it did not surprise me when I recently heard the boyfriend of a friend use it. Clearly it has the potential to become A Thing, like Googling and earworms.

A press. Not Angristyna's press
- hers is bigger and better cared for.

Another example: my mother inherited a large sideboard from her aunt, Christina, after my aunt's death twenty-four years ago. Christina's name is pronounced ChrisTYNA, not ChrisTEENA for reasons no one really knows, and this doesn't make the next part of this story any easier. Although she was, technically, our great-aunt, we kiddies always called her Aunt Christina, too. Actually, we called her Angristyna, all rolled up into one. So now we have a big mahogany sideboard in our living room, which we refer to as a 'press', Irish-style (note: a press in Ireland is a cupboard. If someone asks you to get the biscuits out of a press, open a cupboard and look for cookies) belonging to a dead relative that most of my younger siblings never even met prior to her demise (= because they were still twinkles in my father's twinkly eyes, not because we kept them locked up or anything.)

In any case, Aunt Christina's Press (Angristynaspress) has become a kind of jumbly black hole in our house, the place where all kinds of things end up. A recent peek in the middle drawer revealed a stapler, a single knitting needle, two earrings - not matching - an empty box of matches, a fluffy piece of modelling clay, a lone marble, a piece of Lego, the legs of a Lego man (maybe he crawled in looking for his brick and his torso was eaten by the drawer?), sundry pieces of paper (old electricity bills, prayers to a multitude of Catholic saints, scraps of paper with indecipherable notes on them), rubber bands, dried-out felt-tip pens, a pencil with the nib broken off, part of one of my father's pipes ... and you get the idea. You probably have a drawer like this at home. But you probably don't have an entire sideboard dedicated to collecting pieces of stuff that have no discernible use till they are thrown away ("Awww, flip! I could've fixed this wobbly table if I still had the legs of a Lego man!" etc.) In the twenty-four years that we've had it, the cupboard has defied physics by managing to house more rubbish that can possibly, logically, fit into its modest dimensions. MacGyver could build a particle accelerator that would put CERN to shame with the contents of middle drawer alone.

Aunt Christina's Press has become the last refuge of the lazy looker: missing something? Why bother search for it? At some point you're going to pull open one of the side doors and your missing knitting / magazine / baking bowl / running shoe / sunglasses / comb will simply fall out on an avalanche of assorted bric-a-brac. "Check Angristynaspress!" has become the answering roar to any questions that start with, "Have you seen my ...?"
Sometimes, Angristynaspress is so self-explanatory that we forget that it actually isn't. When my German husband wanted to know where he could find a pen, I told him to check Angristynaspress - like, of course. I found him bumbling around the living room, checking the coal scuttle for a writing implement (?). Annoyed, I tapped the top of the mahogany sideboard and explained (sigh) that this was Angristynaspress. Like, of course. His blank stare reminded me that there was no way that he could have known that
(a) in Ireland a press is actually a cupboard, a sideboard, a dresser or basically any wooden box with doors
(b) it used to belong to Aunt Christina
(c) Aunt Christina is my mother's aunt
(d) she died in 1988 and my mother inherited her sideboard
(e) and, contrary to all logic, we continue to refer to this piece of furniture as Aunt Christina's Press as though my parents' home were so chockablock with cupboards that its deceased former owner was the only means of differentiating it from the sundry other mahogany cupboards knocking around my parents' living room.

Readers, I was stunned. Not every home has an Angristynaspress!!! Or maybe they do, but they call it something else, like the jumble drawer, or the curiosity cupboard, or Mummy's Craftroom. Astonishing! Of course, I had to give my husband a tour of Angristynaspress ("And this is where my mother keeps the napkins - behind the Christmas decorations, the year's supply of old TV guides, the broken remote control and tin of throat lozenges") and show him how to delicately extract something from a thundering landslide of  accumulated junk, whilst simultaneously shoving the whole mess back inside. He was very impressed and even found an interesting-looking copy of the Reader's Digest from 2009, which he kept to read over a cup of tea.
Mind you, we never found a pen, but the miraculous middle drawer coughed up the stub of a green crayon and that did the job.

So come on, readers - share some terms from your Family Lexicon!

11 comments:

Emily said...

Ha ha, this is mad- I was just telling the boys about Angristynaspress yesterday (They didn't realise, also, that Angristyna was a person. Tch!!) We now have "Pauls Press" which hosts an indistinguishable amount of junk too. Great post, made me laugh!!!!

Kelly said...

We have Aunt Gladys' (pronounced glad ees) china cabinet. She was also a great aunt of mine, haha! The top hutch part is tidy and organized with dishes but also has some baskets in it which house random things, like cat toys, a poppy from remembrance day, origami flowers, etc. The bottom cupboard part is where things we don't know where to put go, kids cupcake grill, bead crafting supplies, christmas cookie tins, jars, etc. We just acquired Aunt Gladys china cabinet 2 years ago, so it has time to catch up to Angristynaspress, haha!

Heather - The Good Life said...

This is funny, you should write a book. We have a junk drawer that houses everything from batteries, to nail clippers, coupons and assorted coins. But nothing like Angristynaspress. :-) Thanks for the smile.

Annie said...

We have The Jug of Infinite Capacity, a spare cream jug on the dresser into which we drop all those little bits - tiny screws, oddly shaped pieces of plastic and such - that have clearly 'come off' something but you don't know what, or if said little bit is vital to it's continued proper functioning. We have been doing this for years, and rarely take anything out, and yet The Jug of Infinite Capacity never seems to be full!

But the phrase in our family lexicon that really confuses other people is heard in sentences such as 'Please pass me that deadly dog washer', or 'Where did you put my favourite deadly dog washer?'. I bet it's got you stumped too? It means a sharp knife. Origin probably self explanatory, though please believe me when I say we have never tested the hypothesis.

Beth said...

In our family it was "The Buffet". Inherited from my father's grandmother, it was six feet of American Victorian storage with two deep drawers and two cubbyholes. Everything in my parent's house that didn't have a home ended up in The Buffet. Need a wire diameter caliper? A six-year-old phone book? Mom's gallstones in a jar (I wish I was kidding)? Random dice, screws, nonworking pens, stray hair rollers? It was all in there.

Now I'm a little sad that all I have is the kitchen junk drawer...

Anne said...

I too do not have a Angristynaspress, but as Beth had, I have my mother's "the Buffet" ! It has 5 drawers in the middle and two sides one with three shelves and one with two shelves. The contents are also amazing but could never match the Angristynapress! It holds the turkey platter, some of Grans silverware in the special wooden box, and some china which has dust about 1/2 inch thick since who uses that anymore! The drawers hold odd items like, batteries, vintage pens, precious cards from friends and new scrapbooked cards ready to send. Linen for the table never used and placemats which don't match are waiting to be used! One side of the buffet is half of my cross stitch supplies, new, half done and just need to frame it items. I also look to the buffet when I cannot find something and low and behold there it can be found 90% of the time! Thank you for your humour!! :)

Fiona said...

Because I'm from a village on a peninsula in the Highlands we not only have immediate family lexicons, extended family lexicons, village lexicons and parish lexicons (after that it becomes a dialect). However in our immediate family the most confusing to my husband was location names, especially rooms in our house. For historical reasons the workshop was not in fact the workshop but the posh and rarely used sitting room, the sitting room was the equally rarely used dining room, the two spare bedrooms were Granny's room and Marys room, named after their most frequent but long since deceased occupants. The kitchen is our living room and the kitchenette is our actual kitchen.

This would all be fine if it wasn't for my Canadian husband and kids on our biyearly visit. My husband has just figured out the illogic of the names when it's time to leave.

And don't get me started on the names of all the sheds and workshop outside (which is obviously not called the workshop but instead "Dad's shed". And then the surnames of people that aren't really their surnames but the farms they're from eg Margaret Kirkstyle isn't actually named Margaret Kirkstyle leading to yet more confusion on my husbands part, especially when trying to figure out if people are related. "but how can David Tresdale and Calum Kennedy be father and son?" cries my exasperated Canuck.

Gem said...

When my mam and dad moved into our family home over 30 years ago there was a cupboard in the kitchen over the coal shed that was painted orange and it became known as "The Orange Cupboard". Fast forward 30 odd years and that cupboard had been a multitude of colours (although strangely I don't remember it ever being orange!) but it is still known to everyone in our family as "The Orange Cupboard" :)

Tae said...

We have a thing we call "The Island In the South Pacific." I think it is actually some kind of kitchen storage shelf thing, but we've always just called it "The Island In the South Pacific." We don't shorten the name when we talk about it, either, for some reason. It is always full of the most random assortment of dog stuff, batteries, candle holders, sea shells, among other things up to and including a rather impressive accidental bottle cap collection!

Liz said...

Margaret and Andrew were married in St Pauls, Whitley Bay, not THAT BIG ONE IN LONDON.....although Big J's progeny can be married there....
We were all so proud to get a mention even if it was the mention that we all do our best to avoid when driving anywhere near St Pauls in WB. We felt momentarily famous. On your blog.

Thank you......

The Gingerbread Lady said...

@Liz - I'm a compulsive Googler. OF COURSE I had to try and track down the place where Margaret and Andrew had Their Big Day! I'm glad I could provide a few minutes of fame (and by the way, you would be surprised at how many people clicked on the link to see where the wedding took place - apparently, I'm not the only person suffering from chronic nosiness!)