Granddaddy coined the phrase. His voice solemn, his eyes twinkling, he’d say, “Anyone I catch sitting in my chair, I’ll mash flatter ‘n a flitter.”
We grandchildren didn’t know how flat a flitter was, nor indeed what a flitter was. If guessing, I’d have said a flitter resembles a cartoon character smashed paper thin by a suddenly opened door or large dropped object.
According to Dictionary.com, I had the right idea. In the Southern vernacular, the noun flitter can mean “a fritter or pancake.” Ages ago, the prophet Hosea described a flitter when he wrote, “Ephraim is a flat cake not turned over” (Hos. 7:8 NIV).
Regardless, we grandchildren sat in granddaddy’s chair, alternately giggling and screaming, as he hurried across the room and pretended to flatten us.
I hadn’t thought about the phrase in years. Then, two recent incidents brought Granddaddy’s words to mind. Traveling Highway 78 across Mississippi with our daughter Amanda one night, I hit a short, thin piece of wood. Not seeing the board until just before my front drivers’ side tire ran over it, I had no opportunity to swerve.
Immediately, I began checking the tire pressure indicator on my car’s dash. Thankfully, all tires showed equal pressure for the remaining hour of my trip.
The next morning, Amanda and I got into my car, intending to head out shopping. Immediately, a warning light and insistent ding alerted us that the front drivers’ side tire was low. Getting out to look, we confirmed the report. Ultimately, we went shopping in my husband’s car while he took the deflated tire to be fixed.
Three weeks later, my sister Karen was driving across Mississippi, taking primarily four-lane highways. On the one 50-mile stretch of two-lane road, she had a flat tire.
Thankfully, the tire didn’t blow. Instead, deflating, it made a noise like a helicopter. Hearing the noise, Karen saw flashing lights in her rearview mirror. A young man in a white truck behind her was signaling a warning. Then, she felt the rear drivers’ side tire go flat.
As she pulled off the road, the young man passed her, turned into a driveway and walked back. Before she could say, “Flatter ‘n a flitter,” he changed her tire. She tried to pay him. He refused. She asked his name. He wouldn’t say. “Just count this as my good deed for the day,” he said.
“Oh, I think this counts for the next week or two,” Karen quipped.
Flat tires, flat cakes and flattened people have this in common: The air has gone out of them. Rescuing angels – including young men in white trucks and husbands – revive what has deflated or, that failing, replace it.
Alas, my sister’s tire could not be revived. We’re planning an appropriate funeral.
Interestingly, in the Old and New Testaments, the words translated spirit also mean air or breath. Thus, a person “crushed in spirit” has, in the Southern vernacular, been “mashed flatter ‘n a flitter.”
Even the most helpful of people cannot always revive those who’ve been crushed and deflated, yet scripture insists there is someone who can.
If you’ve had the wind knocked out of you, if you’re feeling about as worthless as a half-cooked pancake, I have a message for you “from the high and towering God, who lives in Eternity, whose name is Holy.” He wants you to know: “I live in the high and holy places, but also with the low-spirited, the spirit-crushed, And what I do is put new spirit in them, get them up and on their feet again” (Isa. 57:15 MSG).
© 2008 Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved.