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.