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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of "A Man is Known by the Company He Keeps" (without using the actual phrase). (01/31/08)

TITLE: Up a Tree Without a Paddle
By Shelley Ledfors


“I’d better find the book I need for finishing my report that’s due tomorrow or…you know what they say…I’ll be up a tree without a paddle!”

Poor cousin Charlie. He’s not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, if you know what I mean. Okay, okay…to be honest, Charlie is really not stupid. But he is unique. He does, shall we say, march to the beat of his own drummer? In a kind of absent-minded professor manner.

You see, Charlie loves to quote the wit and wisdom of the ages. Or at least Grandma’s never ending litany of wry platitudes. But the problem is, Charlie never seems to get these sayings quite right. When Charlie begins his now-signature phrase in that characteristic drawl… “Well, you know what they say…“ we all know what’s coming next. The murder of some well-known bit of wisdom.

Sometimes, he gets it totally wrong, like being up a tree without a paddle. On other occasions, he might have the wording right, but gives the saying an entirely new twist. Like the time he was eight, and my aunt found a store of change in her fancy marble vase. Upon questioning Charlie, she was surprised to learn that this was the proper place to keep change, because, after all, “A penny saved is a penny urned.”

It’s funny, though. Despite mangled wording or alternate interpretations, Charlie often manages to portray the essence of a saying or some related truth quite correctly in his quirky way. Kind of like Yogi Berra. You know, the baseball legend famous for pronouncements like, “When you get to a fork in the road, take it”, or “The future ain’t what it used to be”. Or--the one which could be Charlie‘s life motto--“You’ve got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.“

Yes…just as Yogi is known for his “Yogi-isms”, so our Charlie has his “Charlie-isms”.

One of my favorites came about when several of us had gone to watch my little sister Amanda compete in a swim meet. A fierce competitor, Amanda had done very well all season, but on that particular day had finished in second place by the narrowest of margins.

After the meet, Amanda emerged from the dressing room and stomped toward the car. Head down, hands stuffed into the pockets of her jeans, she made it clear that she was not pleased with her placement. She shrugged off all attempts to cheer her. That is, until Charlie quickened his pace to draw beside her.

“That’s okay, Amanda. You know what they say…you can’t win the mall.”

My sister whirled sharply…hands now on her hips, facing her cousin. “Did you just say you can’t win the mall?”

“Yep. You know…no matter how good you are, you can win lots of things but you can’t ever win the mall.”

This declaration worked where none of our others had. The corners of Amanda’s mouth twitched slightly…then softened into a smile. Finally, she chuckled. Patting Charlie on the arm, she acknowledged, “You’re right Charlie…you’re right.”

Another Charlie classic came at chicken butchering time. Our extended family always gathered to help accomplish the tasks involved. Dad and Uncle Bob dispatched the birds, while the rest of us took care of the plucking, cleaning and processing chores. When we had finished Aunt June made a quick tally then commented that we were short by a couple of packages. Uncle Bob admitted that two of the fowl had flown the coop, so to speak, on their way to meet their Maker.

“Well, you know what they say…”

Everyone looked toward Charlie.

“Don’t count your chickens before they’re hacked.”

Hmmm…a variation on the original, to be sure, but you have to admit…the meaning’s spot-on.

The Charlie-isms continue. The latest edition occurred just recently…not long after the death of our grandfather.

Grandpa had made some modest investments and his will stipulated that these stocks be distributed among his now-adult grandchildren. Charlie received shares of a natural foods conglomerate and a tobacco company.

“I’ll keep my natural food stocks, but I’m definitely selling the tobacco shares,” he told me emphatically one day, shortly after receiving his inheritance.

“But why? It’s a great investment.”

“I don’t care. They’re a business which causes harm. Like it or not, a man is judged by his associations. If I kept that stock I’d end up being known by my affiliation with that group!

I…just…won’t…keep…that…company!” he insisted.

“Because…well, you know what they say…“

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This article has been read 832 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Sherry Castelluccio 02/07/08
I love it! This was so much fun to read. I loved the Charlie-isms.
Holly Westefeld02/07/08
Loved the fun and the puns.
Debbie Wistrom02/07/08
Great title and what a character. You are indeed blessed if he is real.
Joanne Sher 02/07/08
A fun read. I'll bet you had a blast writing this. Great title too.
william price02/10/08
Creative and entertaining. Enjoyed the read. God bless.
Jan Ackerson 02/10/08
Hilarious! I'm a huge fan of all manner of word play, and this is simply outstanding. I've got to give you props for kind of skirting the rules a bit, too, in a fun way. Love this piece.
Ann Renae Hair02/10/08
Very clever and fun. I'm impressed with the twists on the well known sayings. Great writing!
Sharlyn Guthrie02/10/08
I kept wondering how and when you would nail the topic. You did it brilliantly. But then, I'm not the sharpest knife in the chandelier.
Patty Wysong02/10/08
LoL. This is purely wonderful and Charlie is sooooo endearing! I love that play on words. So fun!
LaNaye Perkins02/10/08
Charlie is a very endearing and lovable charactor. I really enjoyed your entry!
Dee Yoder 02/10/08
"Don't count your chickens before they're hacked"-hilarious! Very clever and I love this man-what a hoot he would be! Fun story.
Loren T. Lowery02/11/08
Cute and clever. I always admire people that can come with these type of witty on-spot remarks. Reminds me a bit of a Roger Dangerfield.
Lynda Schultz 02/11/08
This was so much fun. And kukos for being so clever at NOT saying what we were all waiting for.
Beth LaBuff 02/12/08
What a great entry. It was totally fun. I couldn't wait to read the next Charlie-ism. Very good work on this!
Rita Garcia02/13/08
Creative, delightful and sooo well written!!
Maxx .02/13/08
The story's great ... but the title is the best part for me! Caught my attention and drew me right in! Very well done!
Rebecca O'Connor02/14/08
This is witty and wonderfully charming. I am a believer in cousin Charlie...so don't tell me if he's just a fiction of the imagination!!
Celeste Ammirata03/01/08
I love this story, Shelly. Charlie is an endearing character.
Couldn't help but laugh at his Charlieism's. And I like how you kept on topic at the end and how he didn't want stock from a tobacco company.
Very nicely done