Yesterday afternoon, I returned a message from a lovely local lady named Bev who was calling to tell me about a clipping that she’d found among some papers. It was from 1989 — 20 years ago — a featured a “darling photo” of me. That alone probably would have made my day, except I hate to think that 20 years has passed since I wrote the referenced column.
Bev started out the conversation by saying, “I shouldn’t bother you. I know you’re probably busier than a cranberry merchant …”
And that unique turn of phrase transported me back in time. My Grandma Alice often used that expression, and I don’t think I’d heard it since she died — let’s see, if I have my dates right — more than 13 years ago. I’m sure that Grandma usually used it in reference to herself, as she was indeed very busy at times, working down at the photography studio, baking up wonderful cookies and knitting and crocheting and other sorts of handiwork. Grandma was not one to sit idle.
The “cranberry merchant” reference prompted some fond memories of Grandma A., so I’m very grateful to Bev for that phone call. It did, indeed, make my day. (Bev told me that her grandmother and mother used it, which is where she picked it up.)
If anyone else out there is wondering about the origin of “busier than a cranberry merchant,” I tried to do a little sleuthing on the Internet, and it did turn up a few hits. Here’s what someone posted on The Phrase Finder, which appears to be a Web site based in Britain.
Just an observation and guess:
I have seen the phrase used in the New England area. There is usually a few more words tacked onto the end of the phrase —“busier than a cranberry merchant in November” -— the reference to cranberry being used for a traditional Thanksgiving feast.
I think Grandma, if she completed the phrase, said, “Busier than a cranberry merchant at Christmas,” which seems apropos at this point in time. I think I’ll try to use it myself in coming weeks. No doubt it will be met with some puzzled looks, but I’ll be remembering Grandma.