“They can kill you, but they can’t eat you…”
I have heard the above quote all my life. My father said it regularly, so did my grandfather. I will even say it myself from time to time. These types of quotes are in the ether, we inherit them from our forefathers, friends, family, acquaintances, and society at large. This one has something to do with living through tough times. It always sounded incomplete to me. Obviously, if they can kill you, what is stopping them from eating you? Manners? If they were impolite enough to kill you, I am sure that manners would not stop them from eating you if they were so inclined. There was obviously a second part of the quote, a rejoinder that would make the first part make sense. Something lost, something forgotten, something that when I asked around nobody knew.
I was listening to Rob Long on a podcast a while back when he used the quote. He used its most common rejoinder. “They can kill you, but they can’t eat you … that would be illegal.” Still doesn’t sound right. If they killed you, I doubt that the legalities of eating you would pose much of a problem to them. Can’t really fault Rob, as I said this is its most common rejoinder I have found so far.
A few times I went to the source of all knowledge (the internet) and searched for the quote. Found that there are a book and a movie about the first part of the quote. Seems to have to do with hard times and mental illness. Still can’t seem to find the rejoinder. The thing still nagged at me.
I am a Mason and a Shriner. We are one of the oldest fraternal organizations in the world. On a visit to the Shrine one day I came by an older brother Mason at the bar. This is not unusual, there are usually a few older guys hanging around the bar telling stories. Most don’t drink. I think they might keep the alcohol there to lure us younger guys by to listen to them. You got to watch these old guys; they can be crafty.
I sat down to get to know my brother, this is a Mason thing, there are millions of Masons in the world, I know very few, but they all are my brother. This one was in pain. You see decades ago in WWII his unit was wiped out. He was the only one that survived. He was there to raise a glass to them, it was his yearly ritual. So, he came to the Shrine to be among brothers while he remembered others. I had a drink with him to honor men I will never meet but still means something to a brother I just met.
Afterward, we sat around and chewed the fat. He told me a bit about his life. That he lost his unit WWII, got back to the states afterward to find even more family dead in the war. Lost a son in Korea and a grandson in another US military action. Lost his daughter in a car wreck and a wife to cancer. Said he had a full life but that he was all that was left of his family. He outlived them all. There is not a whole lot you can say to all of that. Off the top of my head I said, “They can kill you, but they can’t eat you…” and he replied with a whisper “because you’re too damn tough.”
That was the end of my quest. I had found the rejoinder to an old WWII quote that is in the process of being lost into history. Told to me by a man that lived it, at the time it was used, that was not only to tough to eat but too tough to die.