Where would we be without Mom’s sensible, tender guidance? No doubt many of us would’ve jumped off cliffs just because our friends did. We’d be combing forests in search of money growing on trees. We’d all be named Mud.
It wasn’t easy to choose a few pearls of wisdom out of all those that poured in from children and grandchildren of mothers across North America. But we persevered, and each of these readers will get to toast Dear Mom with a Family Tree Magazine coffee mug. Now, sit up straight and eat your vegetables.
My grandmother Selvia Mae had a number of memorable sayings. My favorite was when we grandchildren got too rambunctious in the house. She’d tell us, “Straighten up, or I’ll jerk a knot in yer tail!” If we complained we were hungry, she’d say, “Is your backbone scratching your belly button?” If not, we weren’t really hungry.
Lisa Cameron Babiarz, Santee, Calif.
My mother-in-law, who apparently never expected to get to age 96, would say she “wouldn’t even buy green bananas” because she didn’t know how long she’d live. She also had a saying for anyone who was having trouble fixing something by hand: “He looks like a guy varnishing a doughnut.”
Kathleen Andres, Nassau, NY
My mom came up with so many sayings that my sisters and I started a journal to record them for posterity. She died seven years ago, but we still use her sayings because it makes us smile and remember her. It’s our way of honoring her. Here’s a sample of what regularly came out of her mouth:
- I had to spit on my eyelids to stay awake.
- He was heaving Jonah. (Translation: He was throwing up.)
- And then reality hit him right between the teeth.
- I look like the wreck of the Hesperia.
- He had a fit and fell in it.
- She had not sense enough to pound sand in a rat hole.
- She’s lost her spizzerinctum. (She’s not feeling well.)
- Are you going to fold up your tent flaps? (Are you going to bed?)
- He really got his props knocked out from him. (He was disappointed.)
- I’m not too old to put a new shoe on my foot.
There’s more where those came from. We call the list our “momilies” or Francene’s Frutonisms, because she always called a futon a “fruton.” We didn’t correct her because it was so endearing. She was one gal with a lot of spizzerinctum.
Dayna Jacobs, King City, Calif.
Few American children in the 1940s and ’50s didn’t hear, “Now eat all your vegetables. Remember
the starving children in Europe.”
How it would help them if I ate my vegetables, I never figured out. My sister Pat, who was a bigger con artist than I, took care of the problem for us. One evening at dinner, she refused to eat her lima beans. My mother reiterated
her mantra, but Pat shocked her into silence when she pulled out an envelope, scooped the lima beans into it and said, “Here, send these to the children in Europe.”
That stopped Mom’s advice for all of three hours, until bedtime. Then we heard, “You can’t sleep in your underwear. Put on your pajamas. What if the house caught fire?”
Marcia Rankin, Dexter, Mich.
My mom always said, “In God we trust. All others pay cash.”
Diane Ferdie, Tucson, Ariz.
In Amsterdam we had no telephone, but we could count on our
grandmother to arrive, like clockwork, each Friday afternoon. Oma would
bicycle to our apartment from the other side of town bearing fish,
biscuits, or—gasp!—eel (which in my innocent youth I found quite
Other days, she would send postcards, often depicting images from
our own city. Or we received cards from Zandvoort, the coastal resort
an hour outside town. Oma would go there by bus or tram. Sitting in an
umbrella chair, she’d gaze at the dunes and the choppy North Sea,
savoring lemonade or an ice cream sundae daintily adorned with a wafer.
Holland is small, and Oma never ventured far.
Our odyssey, minus Oma, would be longer. Our family immigrated to
America when I was 8 years old. Brother Frank, an industrious lad at
10, had his first chance to work “full-time” aboard The Great Bear.
While we siblings were on deck getting seasick, playing shuffleboard
and heading for the cookie tray, Frank was hard at work in the gift
shop for the grand payment of two postcards per day. Little did we know
that decades later, he would become our postcard messenger.
Oma was determined to remind us of our roots. Postcards from
Holland arrived frequently, ensuring we didn’t forget the historic
country and loving Oma we’d left behind. The postcards depicted ladies
in lace hats, starched aprons and wooden shoes; country castles; and
the waterways traversing our abandoned birthplace.
The years went by and her hand grew shaky, but the postcards kept
coming, addressed to various family members (who now numbered eight). I
kept mine in a special memory box.
Oma is no longer with us, but postcards haven’t disappeared from
my life. Nowadays they arrive from Frank, often blank, inside enveloped
greeting cards. Usually there are two—a day of wages aboard The Great Bear.
As Oma remained in Amsterdam, Frank remains in the Los Angeles area.
His postcard surprises show vistas he’s grown to love: Malibu Beach,
Olvera Street, Griffith Observatory and Eaton Canyon, where we used to
hike before we dispersed to pursue our educations and careers. Like
Oma’s cards, they are reminders of the scenery of my life, the places
and people that beckon rediscovery.
Dorothea Barth, Vallejo, Calif.
From the September 2009 Family Tree Magazine