Useta-coulds and still cans

A colleague at the Sioux City Journal 40 years ago was a native of Oklahoma. Our offices were adjacent and we got to know each other well. I enjoyed his Oklahoma idioms and his Okie drawl.

One of his frequently used phrases was “useta-could” as in “I useta-could eat a whole bowl of okra all by myself.” He loved fried okra and even tried to grow okra in his South Sioux City garden.

While it’s been more than 20 years since I last visited with my old friend, I still find myself occasionally using his Oklahoma “useta-could.” As I get older the phrase becomes more and more useful.

For instance, I useta-could buy a large soft-serve ice cream cone for 10 cents at a hometown dairy store back in 1959. Across Main Street I useta-could buy a fresh glazed donut for a nickel at the local bakery. This will help you understand when I say that I’ve always had a weight problem.

I useta-could enjoy carnival rides like the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Ferris Wheel. No longer. It takes only one ride to make me … sick.

Roller skating. I useta-could do that! I had a pair of clamp-on steel-wheeled skates and enjoyed rolling along the sidewalk. In fact, I did pretty well for a chubby kid.

On another topic, I useta-could drive six or more hours without stopping. Nowadays, between potty stops and my aching knees, two hours is the maximum stretch of driving for me.

I useta-could eat a lot more than I can today. I remember some 55 years ago dining at a pizza buffet and eating up to a dozen slices of pizza. Nowadays, I can’t eat my money’s worth at a pizza buffet. I swear these days I can gain five pounds on eight ounces of food.

I useta-could grow thick hair. I recall 50-plus years ago asking the barber to thin out my hair in the spring. My hair was so thick I had to use my wife’s hairdryer after my morning shower so I could leave for work on time. No need for thinning shears these days.

I useta-could ride a bicycle and enjoyed doing so. Balance issues have made that kind of scary. I have considered a three-wheeler bike but in addition to balance issues I have grown lazy.

Even my attention span has changed. I useta-could sit through lengthy movies if they were exciting or funny enough. These days I avoid movies longer than two hours. My wife and I went to a Broadway play at the Civic Center a few weeks ago. After the performance was over — some two and a half hours after it started — my wife asked what I thought of the show. I replied that while I enjoyed the play, it was too long. I described which parts I would have cut if I were the director.

I useta-could climb ladders. I was never comfortable climbing ladders but I did so when and as needed. Not anymore. A near fall more than 50 years ago initiated a curse of acrophobia which has grown more intense over the years. Isaac Newton may have come up with the theory of gravity but I came up with Huisman’s Final Law of Gravity: heavy guys fall fast (and hard.)

I useta-could sit dry-eyed through a funeral service, even a funeral for someone with whom I was close. Not anymore. Age has a way of softening the hearts of men and this man’s heart got tenderized good. I always put an extra handkerchief in my pocket when I go to a funeral. I remember the funeral of a business associate in Illinois. The man’s young granddaughter was close to her grandfather and her pitiful sobs during the service broke my heart. I useta be tougher but I am comfortable with who I am now.

Useta-coulds seem to increase as we get older but there are still many “still-cans” in my life. I can still tell the grandkids stories about what an intelligent, talented and well-behaved child I was in the 1950s. I can still share my thoughts coherently and comprehensibly. I can still carry on a good debate on subjects near and dear to my heart. And I can still tease my wife to the point of throwing up her hands and rolling her eyes.

Most importantly, I still can love my family and friends as I always have. Maybe even more than when I was younger.

Arvid Huisman can be contacted at huismaniowa@gmail.com. ©2024 by Huisman Communications.


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