Inklings: Little Johnny Malaprop
Little Johnny's mother was a rectory housekeeper in a small parish. One day, she told Little Johnny that the bishop was coming and that he would be staying at the rectory. Little Johnny became very excited and asked his mother if he would get to meet him. She thought about this and decided that she would let little Johnny bring the bishop tea in the morning and wake him up. Little Johnny agreed to do this and was very excited. His mother gave him instructions: first, knock on the door of the bishop’s room and then say to him "It's the boy, my Lord; it's time to get up."
Little Johnny rehearsed his lines repeating them over and over. Finally the day came and Little Johnny had learned all his lines. He went to the door and knocked. He was so excited and nervous that his words got mixed up and he said, "It's the Lord, my boy, and your time is up!"
Deacon Jim Walter, in a recent homily at St. John’s, used this tale of a younger generation malaprop to illustrate biblical readings about the end of the world and the final coming of Christ, with a counterpoint that the current season of Advent, observed by many faiths, is the season preparing for the initial coming of Christ – Christmas. For billions, this season underscores love. The deacon pointed out that the better prepared we are for Christmas, the better we will enjoy it in all ways.
Little Johnny pointed out that the excitement of preparing for a momentous occasion, paired with the stress of trying to get everything right, can lead to chaos of the tongue as well as to preparations. Mrs. Malaprop became famous in Sheridan’s 1775 comedy, The Rivals, as a character who spoke with great conviction, but realigned her words humorously.
Nowadays I blend traditions – religious, familial and commercial – to get the most out of each. I start decorating the day after Thanksgiving and everything stays up until the Wise Men come on January 6. The counter which separates our kitchen from the family room illustrates my efforts.
In the center is a music box featuring a manger scene. It plays Little Town of Bethlehem and I start my day with this as I prepare breakfast. On the left side is a line of Advent candles, which are burned in sequence during the four weeks before Christmas. On the right hand side are two of my favorite modern figures: a Santa Clause holding a present behind his back and a sprig of mistletoe up in front to entice the figure of an English cook. She comes complete with frilly cap and apron and looks up shyly, holding out a plum pudding. This tableau trio helps me keep the season in balance preparing for all the good things to come.
I admit to getting frustrated with the holiday swirl of shopping, cooking and decorating -- and may possibly even mumble some not-for-publication malapropisms. But maybe Little Johnny ‘s twist of the tongue wasn’t so very wrong. Maybe I need to keep my eye on my real reason for celebrating love all year long.
Then maybe when the Lord says, “My girl, your time is up,” I’ll be prepared.