‘On Swedes and their noggins’
Last week, in ‘Close, but no cigarette’, I wrote about malapropisms. You know, like when someone warns about ‘upsetting the apple tart’ or says they put too much ‘canine pepper’ in the soup. (Thanks for that one, Ruth!) Infamous Chicago Mayor Richard Daley once mentioned ‘Alcoholics Unanimous’ in a speech. And, of course, Donald wants our nuclear weapons to be ‘top of the pack’.
This week, I’m going to write about Swedes and their heads, a subject dear to my heart, since I am in possession of a classic example. But first, speaking of heads, did you ‘get’ the title? ‘What’s that in the road — a head?’
When I was a kid, our mother would regale us with stuff like this all the time. Like, she would say (or sing, actually) ‘She has freckles on her but…she is nice’ (with extra dramatic flourish on that word ‘but’) and we kids would absolutely crack up. There’s nothing like the word ‘but’, with or without that extra ‘t’, to make a little kid weep with laughter. Incidentally, the next verse was ‘and when I’m in her arms, it’s paradise’.
I have no idea what you call this sort of wordplay. (Would it be a ‘pun’? Somehow the word ‘pun’ for this kind of thing seems somewhat inadequate.) Here’s another example, this time dependent on a visual:
Anyway, back to Swedes and their heads. What’s the deal? you may be asking. Well. Typically, at least in my half-Swedish family, this means our heads are on the large side. (My hat size is bigger than The Dude’s, nyah nyah nyah.) Also, our heads tend to have a sort of ‘flat’ part. When we were little, we liked to say that we had ‘split-level heads’, and that this meant we had more room for brains.
This ‘split-level’ part is on the top, toward the back, and is (usually) hidden by hairstyle or hat. I was once at a party and asked a nice (bald) man I had just met if he was Swedish. He said, ‘Yes, I am. How did you know?’ I said, ‘I could tell by your head. You have a Swedish head.’ ‘What do you mean?’ he asked. So I patted my own head, demonstrating the flat place. ‘Didn’t you know that about Swedish heads?’ ‘No’, he said. ‘And now I’ll never not know it,’ he added, looking somewhat horrified.
I don’t mind my Swedish noggin — it’s the only head I’ve ever had, and I’ve grown rather fond of it, large hat size be damned. But The Dude was relieved that The Child did not inherit it. Her head, I’m happy to report, is perfectly smooth and round. And so far, she’s proved there’s lots of room in there for brains, even without the extra ‘split-level’ addition.
Incidentally, even though the head in the featured photo at the top of this story is missing its top, I can tell it’s not Swedish, since the Met, last time I looked anyway, didn’t have an ancient Swedish sculpture gallery.
But back to my family and their adorable noggins. Pretty much everybody has or had a nice, big, emphatic head. Even my Dad, who wasn’t a Swede, had a doozy. Once, I remember, he leaned too far back, and his director’s chair tipped over. My Mom said, ‘He’s okay. He landed on his head.’
But perhaps the one of us with the most memorable head is my Youngest Brother Doug. Even as a baby, his head was magnificent. He was born in April, which meant that by summer he was one hot heavy babe in arms.
It wasn’t his fault, bless his little heart, but he sure was hot. It didn’t help that we didn’t have air conditioning and that the temperature was about a zillion degrees and with subtropic humidity. We were (sort of) used to it. Though I remember that the metal fridge-door handle felt hot to the touch. Almost as hot as Doug’s head.
Doug was not only a hot baby, he was also a hot little kid. Once, when he was three or four, he confessed to a family friend that he ‘had no hair under his arms, just prickly heat’.
But enough about poor hot baby Doug. I’m happy to report that he grew up and stayed hot — but the good kind of ‘hot’.
Yes, yes, I’m going to stop making fun of Doug, and end by sharing a photo of another Henry baby — the latest Henry baby, in fact. This is Madeleine Rose. She and her Henry Head joined us just last week. I haven’t been able to check to see if she inherited the Swedish Head. But since her Dad and her Grampa (Middle Younger Brother Roger) are mostly Swedish-ish, there’s a pretty good chance she did. Fortunately, as you can see, she is blessed with abundant split-level-hiding hair.
Amagansett, New York. February 2017