Sunday, April 29, 2007

Owly wake-up call

Garrison Keillor was telling his weekend tale of Wobegon this morning as I was driving along Arapaho. It was a pretty good tale until one of his characters became "owly". Slam me back to 1960! Garrison rambled on without me. There I was, left on a sidetrack.

Mom used to say we were "being owly", but I haven't heard the expression since kindergarten. "Crabby" is the sort of grumpiness children develop when they need a nap. To me, "owly" is the type of grumpiness children exhibit when they have been so, so sound asleep under their special blankie that they resist adult efforts to get them awake and moving in the adult's required direction.

Hearing "owly" didn't make a letter-spelled mental word-recognition. It made a strange sound like a stylus scratching a 78 rpm record combined with the blank air just before the local radio station's test of the emergency broadcast system. This was only a test. Owly is when you are being rushed, your shoes are on the wrong feet, your fuzzy tights are riding really low in the saddle, and your room smells like the first furnace run of the chilly, wet autumn.

How is "owly" spelled? Does it have something to do with birds, or is it a more preliterate stomach growl of a child sent to fetch something from a Bohemian root cellar?

I blink my eyes, and swivel my head almost 360 degrees. My limbs are wrapped tight by a boa constrictor. Still, it's satisfying to have been plucked from throwing wooden building blocks and plunked into bed on account of crabbiness, having put up a good fight against the tyranny of naptime, but ultimately waking up more irritable than before.

Don't want to make Colorforms designs on the cold living room windows. Don't want to be zipped in a jacket for a quick trip to the Hinky Dinky, a visit to the pediatrician, or a sibling's dance lesson carpool. Just want to snuggle back down into the nest of acrid-smelling warm feathers and furless stuffed animals.

"Owly" is exactly right. I will look at the little preschoolers struggling to wake up with a wiser, softer lens.

I'm not the only word junkie out there trying to find out about "owly". Maybe Garrison Keillor will post a comment and let us all know more about this rare word--after he wakes up from naptime!

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