Word Smith: Thank You
“Toggum.” Toggum? Yes, that’s right: T-O-G-G-U-M.
Running along the beach in Gearhart, Oregon, the other day I thought of the word TOGGUM. Was it a real or a made-up word?
My family has a long history of mysterious words. For example, Granddad Hooper would run his fingers through his thinning hair and shout “Spinach…Spinach” which was the punch-line to a shaggy dog tale about some men fishing near a sandbar. No one knows the real story or the spinach reference, but, like Red Skelton, he would laugh uproariously at the punch line and we would chuckle to ourselves with uncertainty. Or he would exclaim, “Oigetty, Vigetty, Peeskita, Visk!” At least that is how I would spell it phonetically. Again, we had no idea what he meant by this strange sounding chant.
And Dad would use the expression, “Larrows to catch meddlers,” which sounded like a trap for unwary adolescents. From time to time he would start a sentence with “Twas brillig,” which are the first two nonsense words from “The Jabberwocky,” by Lewis Carroll. Us kids felt that Dad meant it to mean “It’s cold, dark and dank!” or something like that.
It “t’was brillig” during this early morning jog along the Pacific coast, but I had the unusual family word TOGGUM running through my mind, despite the cold.
When I got back to our cottage in Gearhart I did some searches on the internet, trying to decipher any other meanings for the word in my head. TOGGUM, it turns out, is not a real word. That said, if the O were replaced with an A (taggum), then it is a real word. Wikipedia lists it as an island of fascinating life forms that has been around since the times of Pangaea, before the Pleistocene era when the world had one large land mass. As the internet site explained the studies of pre-ice age paleontologists in great detail. … Where was this all going? I hesitated in my search for a moment.
Stop, stop, STOP!
Sometimes things are not as they seem. Sometimes straight forward, sometimes not.
The new word had come to my mind while I was thinking of small blessings in my life, like my health and my dear wife, Tracy, and our three children, Margaret, Eleanor, and Kathleen…The word had not sprung forth from some paleontological archives. I was looking for “Toggum.” The word origin was from some other place; a place far back in my memory bank.
I tried to remember the last time I had heard the word used by our family and was drawing a blank. Then, as I dug deeper into my memory, I slowly began to remember. I could hear my Dad saying the word TOGGUM. What was the setting?
It started to come to me….We were on a family camping trip. It was the summer of 1960 or 1961 or so…
It was early in the morning around the 4th of July (Mom’s birthday, when we always went camping) and Dad was driving the car. Three of us kids were scrunched into the middle bench seats, one was assigned to lie on some rolled up sleeping bags in the back section, and I was sitting between my parents in the front bench of seats (no bucket seats back then). That made seven in all — five of us kids and two parents. Nancy, about 3 years old at the time, was at home with a babysitter. We had to be a bit older for the summer camping trips. I liked lying on the sleeping bags in the back, even in this pre-seatbelt era. This particular day, however, I was assigned to the middle-front-row seat in the kids’ rotation.
Just as the clouds broke and the sun got squintingly bright, Dad asked Mom for his dark glasses. She dutifully took his prescription dark glasses from their case and handed them to me. At times like this Dad would deftly put the ear piece of the regular glasses in his mouth, the “middle child” would hand him the sunglasses, he would quickly place the dark glasses on his nose and hand us his regular glasses. The middle child would in turn hand them to Mom, who would put them back in her purse and on the floor for safe keeping and the next glasses exchange.
Then Dad would say that strange incantation, “TOGGUM.” He was saying the word to Mom. Hearing it in my mind, Dad was communicating in a different language and I happened to be the witness sitting in the middle. Dad’s timing with the word and the tone of his voice sounded to me as if it meant “great” or “thanks.” At the same time the word was more gentle and tender than that. It sounded like a simple word of endearment. It was a gratitude. Gratitude for safe travels and for clear vision. For sunny days and smooth camping. Gratitude for his young family and for our health. For vacations and time on the road headed to beautiful parts West. It was all of those things rolled up into one word.
Dad is 89 years old now, going on 90 this year and I called and asked him what that word Toggum meant and where it came from. “Your sister, Eleanor, used to say it,” he said. “She was about 2 years old and she trying to say ‘thank you’ to Mom. It came out as TOGGUM. Don’t ask me how to spell it, but for a year or so El’s thank you’s were always TOGGUM. Mom and I adopted it as our word for ‘Thank You’ between ourselves from then on.”
Dad & Ned Kelly & Dicky
Dad, for your reminder to be grateful and to give thanks every day for the smallest of gifts, no matter how we spell it, TOGGUM…thank you.
Toggum from Gearhart, Oregon