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Swift: Dad-isms offer car maintenance tips, fashion advice

By Tammy Swift / Forum News Service Columnist

I definitely have my mother’s skin, her fair coloring and her penchant for worry. But when it comes to my sense of humor, I’m 100 percent Virgil Swift.

In my completely biased opinion, my dad is a funny guy. I once watched him — a rancher who didn’t attend college — keep a roomful of educated, urban professionals enthralled as he told hilarious, flawlessly timed stories of his growing-up years. A definite highlight of my early career was seeing him brag to my mother about one of my columns.

But when we were growing up, Dad was just Dad. I figured every family was headed by a male figure who snapped off deadpan one-liners like a Midwestern Bill Cosby.

He provided the script of our childhood with a series of wry observations and memorable zingers. These “Virgil-isms” were lightning-quick and often sharp-edged. Still, he got away with it because he couched it with a disarming smile and a folksy, Will Rogers-esque charm.

It occurred to me one day that we should keep better track of his Virgil-isms. In fact, even as I worked to recount some of his one-liners here, I struggled to remember them all. I really should sit down with my siblings at the next family gathering to work out the Definitive Directory of Dad-isms.

But in the meantime, here’s a sampler to lighten your weekend.

On aging: “They should take me behind the barn and just bring back the bridle.” Or: “I don’t need new glasses. I just need longer arms.”

When ordering steak at a fancy restaurant: “Just warm it up a little.”

On people with hangovers: “His eyes looked like egg yolks in pools of ketchup.”

On pretentious weddings: “Your mother spent all this time picking out a nice gift for those people, and then you show up at the reception and they feed you a mushroom on a cracker.”

On the inequality of cookie exchanges: “I hate those things. Your mother will bring in her wonderful homemade sugar cookies and then some joker will show up with Oreos.”

When one of his children made a bad decision: “If you had a brain, it would rattle.” Or, “You make as much sense as a submarine with a screen door on it.”

When someone gave him too small of a piece of pie: “Can I have a magnifying glass with that?”

On my mom’s one-time crush on Richard Chamberlain in “Dr. Kildaire”: “I used to come home and your mother would be sitting with her arms wrapped around the TV set.”

When someone stood in front of the TV: “You make a better door than a window.”

On people who pretend to be something they aren’t: “He’s all hat and no horse.”

When his daughters wore too tight of jeans: “Did you have to jump off the dresser to get into those?” Or, “If you had a quarter in your back pocket, people could tell you whether it was heads or tails.”

When his daughter parallel-parked too far from the curb: “That’s OK. I’ll walk the rest of the way.”

On car care: “If you can’t change your own tire, don’t tell anyone you’re my daughter.” Or, “Are you trying to wean your car off gas?” Or, “If you slammed your door any harder, it would swing both ways.”

On red tape and bureaucratic inefficiency: “That’s the government for you. It takes one guy to dig the hole and four guys to lean on their shovels and watch.”

So, here’s to you, Dad. Thanks for bestowing us with a healthy sense of humor, a dose of down-home wisdom and an aversion to cookie exchanges, irresponsible car ownership and horseless cowboys.

I hope you enjoy reading this. That is, if your arms are long enough.

Swift writes a lifestyle column for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is a part of Forum News Service. Readers can reach her at