A lick and a prayer

I've arrived at this expression backwards or upside down.  Thanks to the thoughtful family and friends who took the time to put a card, note, or cookies in the mail to Dad for Father's Day.  This small act used to be the way far-flung family members stayed connected.  It was an act of faith to compose a letter and entrust it to the postal service to be delivered.  When our ancestors folded a handwritten letter into an envelope, addressed and applied the postage, they were holding the intended recipient in their minds, hearts, and prayers.  There would be no online Delivery Confirmation.

A Facebook post sending a shout to all the fathers out there might make one feel virtuous for a sec.  Is it a prayer?  Maybe.  A text message or voice mail to be relayed to Dad by someone with a phone?  Lick?  Prayer?  Just the thoughtful planning to get a small bit of paper or chocolate chips into the translucent fingers of a loved one across the physical country in a timely manner is nearly a lost sacrament.

The ritual of the postage stamp no longer needs the lick or even the mental calculations multiplying and carrying.  Forever I can peel and stick a Liberty Bell or a pinecone.  So rare to receive an envelope of moments and awareness and concern.  How miraculous that it arrived not carried by pigeons, but passed by hands and machines and around barking dogs to the receptionist on hold eating her Taco Bueno, and on to the double amputee who wheels around the hallways bringing your prayer to Dad's tray table for after naptime opening.

The phrase, "a lick and a prayer" usually means a quick, superficial cleaning:

...harkens back to the original meaning of “a lick and a prayer,” which was “a superficial cleaning,” specifically what the Oxford English Dictionary pegs as “a slight and hasty wash,” the “wash” being the process of washing one’s face and hands. Imagine a child, sent to wash up before supper, who skips the soap and only splashes some water on his hands, yet stoutly asserts that he is squeaky clean.

Dad's combativeness with the hospice bath lady has resulted in a twice weekly sponge bath in bed.  Dad would call it a "circus bath".  I've been struggling with that phrase on Google and in dictionaries for half an hour.  As I'm also reading Big Thirst, it's funny to find internet wiki instructions for how to "bathe when water is scarce".

The closest I came to an explanation of a "circus bath" was the December 1927 Popular Mechanics story about circus children taking sponge baths.  I'll just have to imagine my father at age four wishing he could join the circus to get out of his Saturday bath.  As for the hairstreak butterfly on the garden basil, it is performing upside-down and without a net.

Popular MechanicsDecember 1927Simple Life for Circus Children

© 2011 Nancy L. Ruder


Kathleen said...

Love this! I sent a card to my dad, who lives in the same town (ish) that I do! I thought he might be golfing on Sunday and that I wouldn't see him in church. As it turned out, it was raining on Sunday, and he was in church, but I wasn't. At any rate, I'm glad I sent it! I also sent him greetings via Facebook...and he probably hasn't seen that yet!!

I'll be visiting a circus exhibit sometime this summer and will ask any available expert about the "circus bath" expression, but what you found makes sense to me!

Kim said...

Some of my patients have taught me the phrase "whore's bath" to describe a sponge bath. One woman told me her mom changed it to "Horse bath" and that's what she called it all her life!

Collagemama said...

Kathleen--I am glad your father is spry enough for golf and sharp enough for Facebook.

Collagemama said...

Kim--"Horse bath" reminds me of the cow dip construction in "Temple Grandin".


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