This all comes together, I promise.
Something I heard my father say countless times:
“Two heads are better than one even, when one is a goat head.”
For a time in our Army life, we lived in El Paso, Texas, and when I heard this phrase, I thought my parents were talking about the thorny weed that was called “goathead” (bindii). Walking the Chihuahuan Desert one would inevitably end up with goatheads stuck to one’s flimsy shoes and I have a vivid memory of some prankster putting a goathead on my Terrace Hills Elementary School teacher’s chair. (Not me, I swear, I knew there would be serious consequences when I got home had I done such a thing.)
Said teacher, Mrs. Hook, sat down on the goathead, jumped up and moved on to the lesson of the day. Perhaps the culprit was punished. I don’t recall. But it sure wasn’t me. The thorns on those suckers were horrible!
Meanwhile, back at home, back to the frequently repeated phrase, “Two heads are better than one, even if one is a goathead.”
One might see how a little girl would conflate the phrase and the thorny weed, especially when we walked around in flip-flops and Keds in the 1960s. My father repeated this phrase over and over until his very last days. And I’ve asked his surviving ancestors about it, but they don’t remember where it came from. This got me curious, being the English major and librarian kid.
So some years ago, I looked it up in the Oxford Dictionary of American Proverbs, published by Oxford University Press in 1992. Here is the entry:
41. Two heads are better than one, even if one is a cabbage head. vars.: (a) Two heads are better than one, even if one is a goat head.
(b) Two heads are better than one, even if one is a pumpkin head.
(c) Two heads are better than one, even though one may be a sheep’s head.
Rec. dist. Miss., RI, Vt., Wis.
1st cit.: 1864 “Cornish Proverbs” in Notes & Queries; US 1968 Saxton, Plant. 20c. coll.: ODEP 851, Stevenson, 1096:I, Whiting (MP) 297.
42. Two heads are better than one if one is deceitful.
My father being from Mississippi (Miss. above) this entry in the Dictionary of American Proverbs shed light on this to me. that and his ancestors were from England.
Here is a picture of the page (below). Rec dist means recorded distribution.
Which of course, led me to the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, 1982:
TWO heads are better than one
Cf. FOUR eyes see more than two.
c 1390 GOWER Confessio Amantis I. 1021
Tuo han more wit then on. 1530 J. PALSGRAVE L ‘eclariscissement de la Langue Francaise 269 Two wyttes be farre better than one. 1546 J. HEYWOOD Dialogue of Proverbs I. ix. C2 But of these two thynges he wolde determyne none Without ayde. For two hedds are better than one. 1778 FOOTE Nabob I. 5 Here comes brother Thomas; two heads are better than one; let us take his opinion. 1817 SCOTT Rob Roy I. viii. ‘Francis…was likely to be as effectually …. supported by my presence than by yours.’ ‘Two heads are better than one, you now.’ 1979 J. RATHBONE Euro-killers xviii. Two heads are better than one I’d value your advice.
So, fast forward to the 21st century. Online, I researched the meaning of “Two Heads are Better Than One.” And the results at the time were as follows below:
Two people may be able to solve a problem that an individual cannot.
This proverb is first recorded in John Heywood’s A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, 1546: Some heades haue taken two headis better then one, but ten heads without wit, wene as good none.
Head means mind as opposed to hear or spirit. The notion of two being better than one, although not specifically, two heads was also expressed in the Bible, for example, the chapter from Ecclesiates 4:9 and in the Mile Coverdale’s Bible in 1535. Therfore two are better then one, for they maye well enjoye the profit of their laboure.
Back to me, if you are still with me, I’m in mind of a clipping my father kept in one of his albums, from a Mississippi newspaper. Regarding a friend of his from his high school, French Camp Academy, in the year before and after World War II.
Poor Joseph D. Vanetour, 24, of Jackson, Mississippi, and “a salesman for Gates Rubber Company, was instantly killed at 3 a.m. Friday morning when his car rammed a mule five miles west of Pontotoc. Boyd Mays, a farmer living near the scene of the accident, said that Valentour’s car skidded about 40 feet before hitting the animal. His body was found near the road shoulder although the car plunged 50 feet before stopping against a fence. He was a graduate of French Camp Academy, Hinds Junior College, and was scheduled to graduate from Mississippi State on May 29. During World War II he served with the U.S. Rangers and the U.S. Army. … Military rites will be conducted at the graveside.”
Damn. He survived World War II and was killed by hitting a mule with his car on a dark Mississippi highway. And was important enough to my father that he kept the clipping. A mule! Wonder if the mule lived? I doubt it but mules are tough and stubborn so it’s possible. The newspaper does not say.
So back to Attada.
To the very end of her life, my mother recounted the stories of when we lived in Okinawa. One of the frequent phrases was, as she recounted it “attada,” which Mother said the locals told her when they meant, “I don’t know now, but I may know tomorrow.” Or I may solve the problem we are causing with your water bill, another day.
She had a million stories and in her last years wondered if the stories would endure. They will.
What a brave woman my mother was. This is her in Okinawa (below)