I Left About That Time

My Dad once told me a long, fascinating story from his youth that kept building and building, every twist and turn made the story more fantastic. Just when I thought the tale couldn’t get any wilder it surged above and beyond my grasp, building toward a final payoff that I knew must certainly be the most wonderful thing I would ever hear. Finally, unable to contain myself any longer, I asked him what happened next. He replied, “Well, I left about that time.”

The rug being pulled out from under me sounded exactly like a slide whistle in a cartoon.

This was my introduction to the notorious phrase “I left about that time”, a punchline that my Mom’s father would occasionally slip in on his kids as he entertained them on their farm in rural 1930’s South Georgia. I always assumed that this phrase was unique to my Grandfather’s personal sense of comedy but have started to suspect that it may in fact have had a wider cultural usage; perhaps a popular catchphrase belonging to the generation of Americans born around the beginning of the 20th century.

There’s so much to ponder.

For instance: Did the phrase originate with a radio program? A popular phonograph? A play? A comic strip? A politician’s speaking gaffe? Was it from the 19th or 20th century? Could it pre-date the Civil War? Is it unique to the Southeastern United States?

In the last year or so I recall hearing someone else refer to the phrase and I intended to ask where they’d heard it used before but, you know, I left about that time.

One thought on “I Left About That Time”

  1. I can recall hearing this phrase used a few times when I was a child. As I recall, it was when my Aunt Jackie was telling a joke or a funny story and had reached the joke’s punch line or had delevered the point of the story. Being very young and not realizing the narration was over, I would ask “And then what happened?” and she would smile and utter the phrase in question.

    Aunt Jackie, quite a colorful member of my family, was born in January of 1902 in the state of Washington, and grew up, at least from the age of 12, in the South…more specifically, Brooksville, Florida. These characteristics place her in a time period and geographic region somewhat in common with your grandfather. She was a unique individual with a great sense of humor, lived a long and eventful life, and had many funny and entertaining stories to tell. A lot of her stories recounted her actual experiences, and some were probably fabrications based on experiences or observations, and usually provided the opportunity to reply “I left about that time” to the “what happened then?” question from a wholly-engaged young listener.

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