COMMUNICATION, or WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?

Sitting at my Grandfather’s ancient wooden table the heat warmed me as only a wood-stove burning maple can. Dipping my Grandmother’s still warm bread into a pool of molasses, my only concern was not allowing any of the butter that I helped make slide off.

With a cold weather slam of the porch door, the stomping of snow from boots told me my Grandfather had returned. Entering the kitchen with an armload of kindling he drops it into the wood box.

Seeing my attentive stare he winks and those eyes of God’s own blue smile into my heart. With a hand as big as a dinner plate he delicately picks a small piece of half-ice from the kindling and drops it down the back of my Grandmother’s flowered dress.

To the accompaniment of my laughter she shivers and shakes, dances and dodges, finishing with a flurry of a wooden spoon on iron chest.

With that “I guess I am supposed to be angry” voice the five-foot woman demands of the well over six-foot man “why?”

In a voice smooth enough to sail on my Grandfather replied, “I just wanted to show you it is cold enough outside to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”.

Immediately my adolescent mind weighed, measured, analyzed and concluded. The answer was simple, on the top of my Grandparents’ piano were three monkeys; see, hear and speak no evil. It was easy to enlarge a single one of these monkeys and see him so cold that his private parts fell off and rolled away, much to the monkey’s dismay.

And so, for years I used this little gem to describe in a risque manner, to people of all stations, my cleverness in allusion.

My communication method of illustrating by example was flawless; I could use just the right tone of voice, exactly the proper degree of raised eyebrow and the politically correct amount of meaningful glance. You could practically hear a tune as the brass balls struck the piano keys. For many years I was blissful in my ignorance, content in my expression of that which I knew to be true.

Then I learned something.

In those days of wooden ships and iron men, they had cannons onboard and these cannons used projectiles. These iron projectiles were stacked within triangles affixed to the deck called monkeys.

Because of rusting caused by saltwater the triangles were made of brass.

Sometimes, in the cold waters of the North Atlantic, the brass would contract to the extent that the iron balls piled inside would be literally squeezed out, thereby freezing the balls off a brass monkey.

The lesson I learned is that while we all think we know things and we believe that our explaining of things is accepted by others with their nods, agreements and attaboys… who knows what nonsense they translated what we said into?