In fact, for my maternal ancestors, the simple interjection "shit," sometimes prefaced by "oh," was an almost indispensable reaction to nearly all unanticipated or aggravating situations.
Not surprisingly, then, "defecatory" similes and metaphors (albeit not very original) also abounded in the diction of my progenitresses: "I feel like shit; ha,ha, that gander sure scared the shit out of me; uffda, isn't that minister a dumb shit?"
But now both Grandma and Mom are gone--and I find myself regretting that they departed before I ever had the chance to ask them what they meant by one of their absolute favorite excremental ejaculations: "Shit Maria in the Hen Coop." BTW, they always pronounced "Maria" with an affected British accent--as "Mar-eye-ah."
What in the world was the origin of that curious exclamation?
I used to think that the name "Maria" could have referred to a kind of dimwitted poultry tender (not to be confused with a "chicken tender" of the McDonald's variety)--a peasant girl of Chardinesque mien who needed advice about where it would be appropriate for a person of her lowly status to defecate (answer: in the hen coop).
But if this expression were some kind of Dr. Phil-type admonition, why would Mom and Grandma have emitted it most typically immediately after slicing a thumb with a paring knife or dropping a freshly-baked tuna hotdish on the floor?
My grandmother's hen coop was definitely--and literally--full of shit. Because I adored my grandparents, I used to spend entire summers living with them on their rather bleak and terribly primitive farm in northern Iowa (though for me, this dreary farm--lacking telephones and indoor plumbing--was perfectly idyllic and in every way hors pair). To the north of the house, between the garage and the privy, lay the dilapidated chicken house--or hen coop, if you will. Since I suffered from hay fever and, I must confess, genuine fear of pigs, my doting grandparents generally exempted me from chores in the allergen-filled barn or the roiling pig pens. But I WAS expected to gather eggs in the chicken house.
God, what a stinky and intimidating dump! Don't tell ME that "free-range" chickens and "organic eggs" are any more healthy than the agri-business-industrial variety. Uffda! Every day, sweatily clutching my basket, I ventured into that shitty hen coop to do battle with vicious hens for possession of their daily eggs--as if, somehow, those egg belonged to THEM. Mean, violent creatures--they pecked me and scolded me and shit on me. Because I hated and feared them so, I never felt the least bit bad when, upon occasion, Grandma decided to seize one of them and summarily chop off her head in order to have something to serve the dumb shit minister who had unexpectedly shown up for dinner.
So what is my point? Well, I guess it's just that NO HUMAN BEING, not even Maria-the-chicken-tender, should, under any circumstances, be obliged to shit in a hen coop. Shitting is unpleasant enough as it is (especially on a January morning in an unheated privy)--but in a hen coop? How perfectly inhuman. Ergo, I conclude that "Shit Maria in the hen coop" must have been my foremothers' expression of utter misery, humiliation and pain. A fate that should happen to no-one.
Much like dropping a freshly-baked tuna hotdish on the floor just as the dumb shit minister appears at the door. Shit Maria in the Hen Coop!