I really have no idea what that phrase meant; it was something my dear grandmother said quite often. The best I can tell, it was an old time colloquialism which was pretty much a substitute for “Well I’ll Swear”. For younger readers, I should say that swearing used to be another word for cursing, or cussing. Since we were deep in the Bible Belt, cursing or swearing was strictly forbidden – at least in our family. 

Our family, meaning pretty much the entire clan, were/are Christian. Today the term “Christian” can mean just about anything, and might conjer up an image of some right-wing fundamentalist group set on changing the world. The Christian world that I grew up in was vastly different than it is today. The best way I think I can describe it is that they wanted to change or improve the world around them, or their circle of people. They didn’t go out and threaten others around them with hell and such; they just strived to live the best way they could according to what the Bible taught, and teach their children to do the same. I can’t remember anyone in my family ever saying to me that if I didn’t accept Christ, I would go to hell. Oh, they believed that, and it was probably woven into life lessons, but it was never used as a threat or scare tactic. Christianity was more like living cleanly, being meek and modest, and helping those around you that needed help.

I should say that my grandma pretty much raised me until she died when I was seven years old. My father had pretty much abandoned my mom and I when I was very young. In those days it was very difficult for a woman to be able to support herself, much less raise and support a child as well. We were forced to live with my grandma and grandpa for several years. My mom worked full-time and went to as many college classes as she could, believing that it could make things better for us. My earliest memories of my existence were somewhere around three or four years old. My grandma and grandpa stand out mostly in those faint memories. I called my mother mom, but it was grandma who raised me during those years. Sadly, “Mom” was just a moniker for the lady who came into my bedroom late at night and held me for a few minutes, kissing me on the forehead and telling me she loved me. Please note that I am not criticizing my mom; she was doing her best for us that she could. 

My grandmother was practically a saint, especially compared to those who say they are Christians these days; myself included. She woke up very early in the morning, prayed for wisdom, grace and for those around her that were in distress. She made sure that my grandpa had breakfast, and packed his lunch, which was one sandwich, one apple, a coconut macaroon cookie, and a thermos full of hot coffee. I can’t really remember ever being awake when either grandpa or my mom left in the morning. I feel pretty sure that she woke me up by a schedule that best suited her daily duties. What I remember about the start of my day was her turning on the T.V. set while she made me a bowl of oatmeal. This would have been in 1961 or 1962 perhaps.

We had a television, but in our house the T.V. was primarily for watching the news and not for entertainment. My T.V. time was the exception. There were basically two shows that she allowed me to watch; “The Lone Ranger” and “Captain Kangaroo”. By the time Captain Kangaroo came on, she had brought my breakfast to me, and returned to the kitchen to finish washing the breakfast dishes and plan for dinner that night. 

“The Three Stooges” came on right after Captain Kangaroo, but I was forbidden to watch them. I can still remember Grandma marching into the living room to turn the T.V. off when she realized that Three Stooges were on, and muttering, “foolishness!” as she reached for the knob (known today as the power button). I loved the Stooges, and it may have been my giggling that alerted her to the fact that I was committing an infraction. I have never been sure if she didn’t want me to watch the Stooges because it had no redeeming value, unlike Captain Kangaroo and the Lone Ranger, or if it was because they were just … foolish. It could have been a combination of both I suppose. 

I didn’t have many toys. I remember two stick horses, a Teddy Bear, a homemade sock monkey, and a small plastic stagecoach with horses and a driver. I also remember a dart gun which had the darts with suction cup ends that Grandma didn’t like. She had thrown away the darts, and the gun itself usually lived on the mantle, where I couldn’t reach it. I had several puzzles too, and was quite adept at working them. My mom says that even when I was very young I would finish working one of the bordered puzzles, and hold it up, over the top of my crib, or playpen with one thumb in my mouth, until someone exchanged it for a puzzle that I had not worked that day. 

My grandma was the consummate housewife of days gone by. She spent her days preparing dinner, washing clothes and hanging them out on a line to dry. Just about everything she cooked was from scratch. I’m still not sure if the Coconut Macaroons she pout in Grandpa’s lunch every day were store-bought or homemade. She sewed a lot, and she quilted some very fine quilts too. I can’t remember if we had a garden at that house or not, but I don’t remember being in a garden at that house like I do after Grandpa bought the house that I currently live in. We had a pretty big garden here, and the tending of it fell to Grandma, all except for the plowing. My grandpa pretty much thought that anything that couldn’t be done with a chainsaw or a tractor was women’s work. I can remember sitting in those old metal yard chairs in the shade of a big Hackberry tree helping her snap beans and shell peas into a big porcelain wash pan. I probably wasn’t really much help, but it kept me occupied. 

Grandma was my sole disciplinarian. She believed in the old saying, “Spare the rod, spoil the child”. I can recall the first time that I remember her tearing my bottom up with a switch. Someone (maybe Grandma) had likely pointed out to me a Robin’s nest up in a tree when I was maybe four years old. It must have been springtime, and I faintly remember my grandma saying that the robin might have eggs in that nest. I’m not sure if it was out of personal curiosity, or if I was trying to check and see if her theory was right. I got one of my grandpa’s cane poles out of the shed and knocked the nest out of the tree. I remember one angry bird, flitting around fussing at me, and the sadness I felt when I lifted the overturned nest to discover that there were pretty blue eggs, and they were all broken. My sadness was punctuated by fear as the screen door slammed and I recognized the look of anger as Grandma made a beeline down the steps in my direction. In her hand was a switch (an ancient instrument of corporal punishment). The next thing I can remember is my best rendition of moonwalking, and any other dance-steps that we thought Michael Jackson invented. I’m quite sure that this wasn’t the first time I had met “the switch”, but it was the first time I remember it being applied in earnest. If any readers think that my grandma was a horrible person for whipping me, please note that I never disturbed another bird nest on purpose. Switches were small, but were sure the to the get attention of an errant child. I can’t remember Grandma ever using one on me when I didn’t deserve it.

I have taken a large rabbit trail, as I often do, to circle back to the start. Grandma didn’t allow words that could be conceived as cursing. This really makes me wonder about my assumption about the meaning of the phrase, “Well I’ll Swan”. Back then, people also used the phrase, “Well I’ll declare!”. I should say that I was a very literal child, and had been read the story of “The Ugly Duckling”, so I knew what a swan was. When grandma would say, “I’ll Swan”, I would watch her carefully for a few minutes to see if she would turn into a beautiful swan like the Ugly Duckling. I’m not sure what I would have done had she turned into a large waterfowl, but I do know that it was a source of confusion for quite some time. 

Another thing reason I question my original theory is that Grandma didn’t allow cuss word substitutes. I’m not sure if she lit me up with a switch for it, but I remember repeating the words “darn, dang and gosh”, and getting in trouble for it. I can’t imagine what Grandma would think about the vocabulary that is accepted these days. As much as I miss her, I’m glad she isn’t alive to hear how people talk. I’m pretty sure at times she might even make me go get a switch for her to use on me.