Word count 2,018
Thanks to Doc and Alice Marie for help with the beta.
Scott glanced over his shoulder and smiled. There was even a slight spring in his step as he left the Mercantile in Green River. He’d helped the Widow Hargis put a few things on the shelves too tall for her to reach. When he was done, she’d patted his cheek and, with a warm smile, said, “Why Scott Lancer, bless your heart for helping an old woman.”
It had made him feel good to help the Widow and her comment, although unexpected, kept the smile on his face. All he could think was, ‘what a nice thing for her to say.’
Furrowing his brow, Scott thought about the three simple words.
‘Bless your heart.’
Of course, he’d heard the expression before, but it had never been directed at him. Thinking on it, he’d never given the phrase much thought. Whenever he’d heard ‘bless your heart’ before, he’d thought it had a different meaning. Shrugging, he went about his business.
As Scott made his along the boardwalk to the Green River Café, he passed a few women standing outside the dressmaker’s shop. He slowed his step, not wanting to eavesdrop, but… well, he’d heard the phrase again.
Sally Jessup and Molly Gordon were looking at a dress on display in the window. Sally shook her head and sighed, “Judy Lawrence said that was the latest fashion back east.”
Molly cocked her head and sighed. “Well, if that’s the latest fashion….” She hesitated before continuing, changing the tone of her voice. “I suppose it would look good on the right woman, but bless her heart. I know I wouldn’t set foot out in public wearing it.”
The two women giggled before moving along the boardwalk.
Reaching the café, Scott opened the door and stepped aside as Mrs. Higgs, the Mayor’s wife, walked out.
“Thank you, Mr. Lancer. That was kind of you.”
Scott smiled and tipped his hat. “My pleasure, ma’am.”
“Aren’t you the gentleman.” Then turning up her nose, she continued, “It’s too bad that brother of yours can’t learn some manners. I suppose it’s just the way he was raised, bless his heart.”
Taken aback by the bitter tone of her voice, all Scott could think to do was nod and reply, “Yes, ma’am.”
After taking his seat, Scott looked around to see Beth Simpson walking towards the table.
“How are you, Mrs. Simpson?”
“I’m well. I heard what Mrs. Higgs said. You’d think the poor woman would mind her own business but bless her heart, she just can’t help it. How’s your daddy doing?”
Scott smiled. Beth Simpson always inquired about Murdoch.
“Murdoch’s well. He wanted to come to town today, but …”
“I heard his back was bothering him.”
“Yes, ma’am, it acts up when the weather changes.”
“Well, bless his heart. I hope he gets to feeling better soon. You tell him I was asking about him.”
“I’ll do that.”
“Are you ready to order?”
“Yes, ma’am, I’ll have the special.”
“Chicken and dumplings coming right up.”
As Mrs. Simpson turned away to get his order, Scott noticed a man and woman at the next table. Their heads were close together and they were talking in whispers. They kept glancing his way. He heard a few words…Lancer…Madrid…and, the phrase of the day, ‘bless their hearts.’
By the time Scott got home he was more than a little confused. He’d heard the term bless your heart or variations on it several times. Each time he was sure the meaning was different. Definitely a different meaning than he’d heard while serving in the army in Virginia.
Knowing who to talk to, he stepped into the house and went looking for Teresa.
“Scott, you’re home early.”
“I finished my business and decided to come straight back.”
“Are you hungry?”
“No, I ate in town.” Hesitating a moment, Scott started to let the matter drop.
“Did you need something?”
“Scott, look at what you’ve tracked in.” Teresa stood with her hands on her hips and her right foot tapping.
Scott stared down at his muddy boots. “I’m sorry, I….”
“I know you had people to clean up after you in Boston, bless their hearts, but they aren’t here now. Maria and I clean all day long and then you stomp in here with mud all over your feet.”
Scott cocked his head.
“Teresa, that phrase you used…”
“You said, ‘bless their hearts’.”
“So?” Teresa replied, looking confused.
“What does it mean?”
The girl laughed. “Scott Lancer, sometimes I just don’t understand you. It’s a simple enough expression. You went to college. Surely you know what ‘bless your heart’ means.”
“Well, I thought I did, but sometimes…”
Throwing up her hands, she waved him toward the door. “Why don’t you go outside and find something to do and take those muddy boots with you. Johnny’s in the barn. He probably needs help.”
“Alright, I’m going.”
As he turned to leave, he noticed Teresa staring at the dirty floor and shaking her head. She mumbled the words, “…bless his heart; he just doesn’t know any better.”
Walking into the barn, Scott stopped giving his eyes time to adjust to the lower light. Near the back of the building he heard a rustling noise. Heading in the direction of the sound, he found Johnny busy cleaning out stalls.
Stopping a few feet away, Scott watched a shirtless Johnny repeatedly rake, scoop and pitch soiled straw and manure into a wheelbarrow.
Johnny stopped, leaning on the pitchfork, asked, “You gonna stand there or give me a hand?”
“I was just admiring your technique and proficiency.”
Wiping sweat from his forehead with his gloved hand, Johnny frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you seem to have a knack for cleaning stalls. You may have found your calling.”
Johnny laughed. He started to go back to shoveling, then stopped to offer the pitchfork to Scott.
Scott raised both hands in protest. “No, thanks. You’re doing just fine without my assistance.”
With Scott still watching, Johnny threw two more forks full into the wheelbarrow.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” Johnny answered while starting on the next stall.
“Can you stop for a minute?”
Taking a deep breath, Johnny looked up to see the expression on his brother’s face. “Alright, what do you want to know?”
“I was in town today and heard a phrase I’m confused about.”
“Must have been one hell of phrase to get you in a pucker.”
When Scott didn’t say anything, Johnny put the pitchfork aside and sat on a bale of hay, patting the spot beside him.
“Alright, tell me.”
Scott sat beside his brother, took a breath, and then started to explain, “While I was in town, I went to the mercantile. The Widow Hargis needed help putting some canned goods away. When I was done, she said, ‘Bless your heart for helping an old woman’.”
Johnny cocked his head. “So?”
“ ‘Bless your heart’. Of course, I’ve heard it before today, but I suppose I don’t really know what it means.”
Johnny laughed. “Boston, sometimes I have to wonder about you.”
“You’ve heard the term?”
“Yeah, down in Texas they say it all the time. Mind you, it’s tricky ‘cause it don’t mean what you think it does all the time.”
“That’s just it. I heard it multiple times today and I swear each time it meant something different. When I’d heard it used before it…”
“It what? Where’d you hear it before?”
Scott sighed. “During the war when I was in Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley. I heard people use the term but it was never directed toward me or any of my men. There was never anything kind said to us. On occasion I heard women saying to other women who’d lost someone in the war, but it was always in a hushed tone as if they didn’t want anyone else to hear. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah, it does. I can imagine what the folks there had to say and I can bet you ‘bless your heart’ wasn’t one of them.”
“No, it wasn’t. Today however I heard it and for the first time realized it could mean more than one thing.”
“Well, now you see, that’s the thing. From what I understand it has a hundred different meanings. It’s all the tone of voice of the person saying it.”
Scott sighed. “So how do you know what it means?”
“Tell me the ways you heard it.”
“The Widow Hargis patted my cheek and said, ‘Bless your heart for helping an old woman’.”
“That one’s easy. The Widow meant it as a compliment. A genuine thanks for helping her.”
“That’s the way I took it.”
“You said you heard it again.”
“Yes. Some ladies were looking in the dressmaker’s window. One of them said,
‘Well, if that’s the latest fashion….I suppose it would look good on the right woman, but bless her heart.”
Johnny laughed. “What they meant was the dress was ugly as sin, no matter what anyone says and whoever wore it might make it look better, but they doubted it.”
“Then, I meet Mrs. Higgs coming out of the café. She said…”
Scott paused, not wanting to repeat the words Mrs. Higgs used.
“She was talking about you and said, ‘It’s too bad that brother of yours can’t learn some manners. I suppose it’s just the way he was raised, bless his heart’.”
Johnny dipped his head. “I suppose her tone wasn’t one where you’d think she had my best interest at heart?”
“No. Definitely not. The woman was condescending, if anything.”
“Condescending. It means …”
“I know what it means. She’s a snob. It sounds like her. I don’t think I have to tell you the way she meant it. It was her way of poking at me polite like, but and at the same time wishing she could say what she was really thinking. Anyone else?”
“It’s funny for a figure of speech I’ve never paid much attention to, I seem to have come across it several times today. Even Beth Simpson used it a couple of times. The first time she was talking about Mrs. Higgs. She’d heard what Mrs. Higgs said about you and Mrs. Simpson said, ‘You’d think the poor woman would mind her own business, but bless her heart she just can’t help it’.”
“That was her way of telling you Mrs. Higgs is an old biddy and busybody, but in a nice way.”
“Mrs. Simpson asked about Murdoch. I told her his back was hurting and she said, ‘Well, bless his heart. I hope he gets to feeling better soon.’ I’ve determined it was genuine sympathy and concern.”
“You’d be right. So, is that all? I need to get back to work.”
“No, Teresa used it earlier when I tried to get her to tell me about the phrase. She said, ‘bless his heart, just doesn’t know any better.’ I’m not sure what she meant.”
Johnny frowned. “That one I don’t understand. There had to be more to the conversation.”
“I asked her what ‘bless your heart’ meant and she said, ‘Scott Lancer, sometimes I just don’t understand you. It’s a simple enough expression. You went to college, surely you know what bless your heart means’.”
Johnny laughed. “Now, I understand. That one is tricky, but I think it means you don’t have sense enough to pour piss out of a boot with the instructions printed on the heel.”
Scott started laughing. “So, ‘bless your heart’ means everything.”
“Yep. You just have to listen to the tone of the voice of whoever’s saying it.”
“I think I understand.”
“Now, can I go back to work?”
“Certainly. Don’t let me stand in your way.” Scott gave him a wave of the hand. “So, will you be done shortly?”
“Yeah, if you go away and leave me alone.” Then in a soft Texas drawl, “And if the good Lord’s willing and the crick don’t rise.”
Scott stared at his brother and sighed. “Now what in thunder does that mean??”
“Bless your heart” is a phrase that is common in the Southern United States, particularly near the Gulf of Mexico. The phrase has multiple meanings. It can be used as a sincere expression of sympathy or genuine concern. It can be used as a precursor to an insult to soften the blow. It is also sometimes used to mean “you are dumb or otherwise impaired, but you can’t help it” by individuals who wish to “be sweet” and do not wish to “act ugly” and ….
Yes, I’ve used crick in the last saying. You may have also heard it as ‘If the good Lord’s willing and creek don’t rise.’ That one depends on what part of the country you live in.
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