The Salt Minds

Everyone re-lives the missed opportunities of childhood. My dad re-lived the Morton Salt Campaign.

My dad, a business major in college, was presented with a challenge by his marketing professor: come up with a new slogan for Morton Salt. You know the old one: “When it rains, it pours,” designed to get the message across that Morton Salt doesn’t clog up around moisture. Plus, it was reliable, dependable, there when you need it – that sort of thing. The same concept as “salt of the earth.”

Anyway, my dad’s team worked on a new slogan, I don’t remember what he came up with. And that’s the point: he thought he shouldn’t have come up with something new at all. “If I were given that assignment today,” he said, a good fifty years after the fact, “I’d refuse to develop a new slogan. I’d tell the professor, it can’t be done. They already have the perfect slogan.” He wouldn’t, he said, waste his time messing around with something that couldn’t be improved upon. 

Me, I have two missed opportunities. One is, what part of the body is the least often washed in the shower? The answer: the feet. Seems terribly obvious, but my third grade class was guessing all over the place. When the answer eluded us, we became desperate and began turning to parts of the body that shouldn’t be mentioned in public. The teacher had to step in and tell us the right answer before things got too embarrassing. But in my re-lived third grade, I am the one who knows. I raise my hand. I say confidently, “The feet.” I am the smartest.

My other re-do is the word “beginning.” We were in the midst of a heated spelling bee. Not a big deal spelling bee, just our small fifth grade class, but no one could spell “beginning.” The teacher had moved inexorably down the line with failure after failure until she got to me. I gave it a wild shot: “b-e-g-g-i-n-i-n-g.” When all was said and done, the teacher commented, “Someone even doubled the g’s.” That was me. So in my mind’s eye, I clear my throat and double the n’s instead.

Why these incidents? What do they say about my peculiarly human desires, about my dad’s, about mine? My dad, I think, didn’t like being put through the paces like a monkey when he could see the whole thing was stupid. He didn’t want to be taken for a fool. As for me, I want no less than to be recognized as the smartest one, getting the answer right when no one else can. In the process, I sure don’t want to make a dumb mistake that opens me up to ridicule.

It’s something to think about. Because the things we carry around in our heads, salted away for all those years, need to be respected. These desired “do-overs” tell us a great deal about what motivates us today. Sometimes, that motivation is embarrassing in its childishness, but at least we know it for what it is. And if we can recognize the truth of that, we can handle it. For example, if anyone ever again asks me to re-do the Morton Salt campaign, I’ll be ready with an answer: that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. 

And you? What is the moment you’d use your DeLorean to go back and change?

The family, making the thumbs up sign my dad always made.

(This essay was originally a commentary on WKNO-Memphis)

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