Monday, January 30, 2012

Mama Said

ROSEMARY HARRIS: "Mama said there'll be days like this, there'll be days like this, my mama said!" The Shirelles
My mother, who would have been 80 this year, said lots of other useful things, too like - "If all of your friends were jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you jump too?" (This, needless to say, in response to any statement from me about something my pals were doing.) Was this just a Brooklyn thing? Did mothers in New Jersey substitute the Trenton Makes Bridge? In San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge?

She would occasionally break into the song "Sisters" from White Christmas when my sister and I got into an argument.

And she was right - I never did get another pair of eyes! (My eyeglasses in the fourth grade were particularly hideous. Think Lina Wertmuller. But powder blue.)
My all-time favorite mom-ism - she didn't know about the cucumbers, like Hank's mom - is one I think of often, and in retrospect, I should have appreciated her more for it.
"I can't put my head on your shoulders." As in, I can advise you, but you have to make up your mind. Oy! I wish she was still around to see how that turned out. Mostly wonderful, mom.
What were your mom's catch phrases?

RHYS BOWEN: My father was the one with all the catch phrases, his favorites being "Don't count your chickens..."  Before they are hatched being implied. "Eyes too big for your belly" when we left food on our plates, or sometimes "You must be twins, one couldn't be so daft." He had also been stationed in Egypt for four years during the war and frequently barked commands at us in Arabic, all of which we came to understand.
My mom has been dead for 13 years now and I'm trying to remember if she ever used catch phrases. She was a very modern woman, very trendy and would pick up the latest phrase from popular culture but no words of folk wisdom that I can think of.
Pity. I'd like to be able to hear her voice in my head, giving me the perennial warning.

HALLIE EPHRON: Lina Wertmuller's glasses?? Now that is a reference only Ro would make -- I had to Google images to find out we're talking white, not-quite cats eyes. A rather startling effect with LW's short white-white hair and black-black eyebrows. Funny thing, when my mother died, I somehow ended up with her reading glasses (black, same shape as LW's) and I couldn't throw them away.
Catch phrase. My mother went in for bits of verse. Like she'd narrow her eyes at me and say, "There was a little girl and she had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very very good, and when she was bad she was horrid."

She also told me "Don't cut of your nose to spite your face" (even now I'm not sure what that means) and "Don't throw out the baby with the bath water." Spilled salt immediately got thrown over her right (left?) shoulder.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, I got the bridge thing, big time. It was just generic bridge.  But used often.
Let's see--she also announced, when we cleaned the kitchen, that one must "wipe off all horizontal surfaces." Oh, and--"thoughtful consideration of others is the sign of a true lady."
Also--"Get off your duff and get out there. No cute boys are going to come knocking at your door asking if you're available. You have to get out here." And "if you put it away in the proper place, you'll know where ti is the next time."
And "What happens to you in high school has no bearing on the rest of your life. Get over it. Those girls are peaking too soon."
Oh, and--"Hold your stomach in." And the classic "Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?" I think that had to do with dating, but since I never had dates, it didn't matter.

Huh. Apparently I was actually listening. She would have been happy to know that.

ROSEMARY: OMG, Why buy the cow! Obviously - um - I forgot that one!

LUCY BURDETTE:  You are so right Rhys, how sad it is when their voices fade from our heads...
Hallie, definitely got the little girl with the little curl poem too. Hank, your mother was so smart about high school!
And others my mother said: "A new broom sweeps clean." "Don't lie down on a blanket with a boy." (This is after she discovered me and my older sister in the sand dunes with some boys.) And my favorite: "Some day you'll feel about a man the way you do about the cat." Obviously she was totally bonkers for animals. My husband is still waiting for that day:).

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  You all make me laugh!  And miss my mom . . . Although she's still with us, she has advanced Alzheimer's, so when I can get her to smile at me and say, "I love you," it's a good day.  Hank, your mom was so wise. 
I did get the curl thing.  And "Your face will freeze like that."  Don't remember being warned about bridges, but maybe because we don't have many in our part of Texas.  Two things I remember very well--my mom would always tell me I was beautiful, and that I could do anything I wanted with my life.  Hard to beat that.

JAN BROGAN: Ro, over in New Jersey, we still used the Brooklyn Bridge as the reference.  And yes, Debs is so right, this is making me miss my mother. 

In fact, the hard thing about this question was whittling it down.  I have a saying that my mother turned out to be right about EVERYTHING.  At least, partly. The weirdest thing, though, was that she was a nurse, so she was always making medical pronouncements that seemed outlandish at the time but many years later turned out to have at least some truth in them.  She distrusted margarine long before they discovered transfats. She was certain that all her friends were having unnecessary  hysterectomies (turns out that statistically, at least, they were) and that doctors always proscribed too much medication - especially antibiotics. She even used to predict that we'd become immune to the antibiotics - I mean DECADES before the official warnings.

She always told me to "save more than you spend"  and "stop negotiating with your children," and to travel a lot.  "Travel is the world's best education." was one of her favorite expressions.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:  My mother is still very much alive and still dispensing useful information like, "Mix the flour and cold water first, THEN add it to the gravy," and "Sometimes, you'll arrive at a college and your teen won't even want to get out of the car and take the tour. Don't make him take the tour. He won't change his mind."

Growing up? I also heard about jumping off bridges, and not buying the cow when the milk was free, and "Soap's cheap," which was a hand-me-down from HER mother. "It's better to be stylish than fashionable." "Don't date a man you wouldn't be willing to marry." "Don't worry about the mess - you'll have time to clean house when your children are grown."
Probably most importantly, my mother told me I should be a writer years before I ever considered trying my hand at fiction. She saved everything I wrote, critiqued it mercilessly, praised it sparingly and urged me to follow my heart and my talents even if it meant giving up lawyering. I probably wouldn't be here today if it weren't for her. Thanks, Mom!

ROSEMARY: So tell us, what was it your mama said?
..and click on the link below to see a cute video of Dionne Bromfield's version of Mama Said.


  1. My Auntie-Mom always said -- still says -- "If you take care of things in the moment, you'll never have housework, and you'll always have time for fun."

    The other thing she says that has meant absolutely everything to me and my mental health is, "You make your own fun."

    But without her perfect belief in me, I'd probably be very unhappy with my life. Whenever she saw I was discouraged or thinking some opportunity would be closed to me, she always said, "You want to do that? Then you can do it. But you have to point your nose and go that way."

    Best of all, though, "Don't listen to my sisters about planting a statue of St. Anthony in the ground, and making him face the way you want to go. Okay? Promise?"

    Thank you, Auntie-Mom. I love you.

  2. As I was primping (with Butch Wax) for my first prom, Mom said don't worry too much what others are thinking about you. Try to remember they're wondering what you think about them.

  3. My Mom always used to say, "Never judge a person until you've walked a mile in their shoes." When I was little, all I could think about was how could I get someone's shoes and then walk a mile in them. As I got older, the real meaning finally sunk in. My Mom was a wise lady. I miss her.

  4. Hallie, you sent me back in time with that poem. My mother used to sing it to all the time. I developed an intense dislike for that little girl and her stupid curl, probably because I had and still have the world's straightest hair.

    I also heard the cow/free milk line, which was hilarious given that no one was interested in my cow let alone my milk in those days.

  5. My grandmother was the one who dispensed "there was a little girl" in my family, along with "never cry in public." My mother? "You'll understand when you have kids of your own."

  6. OH, COnnie, that is so funny. I did, too! And why would have to walk a whole mile?

  7. Hi - I think my Mom said everyone of those mentioned and more!!! I tried not to do that to my kids!!! Dee

  8. My mother had three of us (daughters, all) within a 33-month span. Now that I'm an adult, I realize how important it must have been for her to build some breaks into her days when we were swarming around her ankles.

    She was a big believer in the health benefits of fresh air. She'd shoo us out into the fenced backyard most every day, "bundled up" against the cold in the winter, clad in little rain slickers in the spring. "You won't melt," she'd say if we whined that the mist was turning to real rain.

    This turned out to be great training to live on an island, which I did for a dozen years.

    Oh, and in our town it was the Fifth Street Bridge that was used in that (apparently) universal warning against lemming-like teenage behavior.

  9. Sheila, your hair is so pefectly straight...did you EVER have a little curl in the middle of your forehead??
    These are all taking me back, particularly "you make your own fun" which I have re-written as "I bring my party with me". And I still do

  10. Ha! Thank goodness for moms, and for mom substitutes.

    My mother used the bridge thing all the time, which was good for me. I still hear it in my head often, and I'm sure I've said it to my own three girls.

    My mother's most famous--to her kids--saying was "Don't eat off the table; you'll get worms." Which was pretty funny in retrospect, given how meticulous she was about cleaning.

    I suspect my own kids would say the saying they heard most when they were growing up was "Attitude is everything." I even bought a sweatshirt that happened to have that saying embroidered on it, and said to them, "See? It MUST be true; it's on a sweatshirt!" Eye rolling commenced.

    Aw, my captcha word is "untart".

  11. I'm sure my daughter could come up with all kinds of annoying things I said. "There's never any excuse for being bored." "Go read a good book." "Too much television will rot your brain." And whenever she felt sorry for herself, "Go out in the garden and eat worms," which I, of course, got directly from my mom:-)

  12. Oh, my God, Deb, I forgot about "Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, guess I'll go eat worms..." which my mother would sing to us whenever we were swanning around in self-pity. SHE had it from her father, and I suspect it goes a lot further back than that.

    Brenda, my mother was a big believer in fresh air, too. I finally asked her about our mandatory outdoor playtime when I was an adult. "I needed a break," she confessed. "Otherwise you all would have driven me crazy."

    Oh, and my Grandmother Greuling (who was a REAL source of parental aphorisms) used to tell me, "You're not made of sugar. You won't melt," when I complained about having to go out in the rain.

  13. "It's a good thing it takes all kinds -- because there are all kinds." (Usually said when spotting a girl with a pink mohawk, but also occasionally as a reminder to be more accepting.)

    (My captcha word is plenti -- perfect, as she still has plenty to say!)

  14. "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride." That never helped me in the moment!

    "Look under things," which I remember and follow to this day.

    And my almost mother (close family friend) once asked me, when (near the end of college) I was in the throes of indecision about where to live and what to do and who to be, "what would you clean toilets to do?" And that helped me put things into perspective!

  15. Gonna have to ask my kids what aphorisms, helpful or otherwise, I dispensed... At night, I must have said "Nigh night. Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite" every for at least a decade.

    I had a friend whose mom used to threaten to "break off your arm and beat you over the head with a bloody stump." Ick and double ick. Proving once again that parents don't always know best.

  16. Hard to narrow it down! Well, here is one. She got it from HER mother,and my siblings and I always refer to this and other sayings from my grandmother as "Grandma-isms":
    "Don't worry about what other people think. You can't please everybody. Just do what you know is Right." This covered so MANY situations.

    We didn't have The Bridge was always a Lake instead...except that we didn't live near one.

    Deb Romano

  17. My favorite from Mom is "Don't just stand there with your teeth in your mouth." Where else would they be? Second favorite, often said to this nose-in-a-book kid, "Go outside and let the stink blow off you."

  18. Rosemary, Auntie-Mom, party woman extraordinaire, will love your, "I bring my party with me." I'm calling her this afternoon with that one! xxxxx

  19. Leslie, my grandmother, Auntie-Mom's mom, used to say, "The sights you see when you don't have a gun!"

    This phrase got funnier the older she got. When she was 90, she flew out from Boston to visit us in California. My little ones saved their allowance to take her out for frozen yogurt.

    We were all sitting at a cute little wrought iron table in the ice cream shop, when a woman walked in wearing pink and green tights, a madras plaid blouse, boat shoes, and a giant beach bag full of books.

    I knew it was coming but could do nothing about it. Grandmother Harrington let forth with, "The sights you see when you don't have a gun!" The kids howled and laughed until they peed their pants. I tried to pretend I didn't know any of them. Painful silence. Everyone in the place looked at us. She just shrugged her shoulders and said, "Hey. I left Nantucket for a reason."

  20. My mom was always saying "Get that hair out of your eyes before you go cross-eyed." My sister and I agree that we were well into adulthood before we realized that our vision was never actually in any danger.

  21. What I remember from my mother and use often still is: "You can learn something from everyone - even if it is only patience."

  22. The sights you see...? - what a great first line for a book or story. I'm starting it today and will credit you and Auntie-Mom's mom if it ever gets published!!

  23. Oh Rosemary, you are so dear . . . best on that book! xoxo

  24. Hah, Leslie . . . so pleased to be a part of your laughter! And so very much looking forward to publication of your Food Lovers' Village Mysteries series. xo

  25. My mom was a funny one because she was a bit passive-aggressive--or maybe she was trying to teach by example, so she'd say things like: "Soda is just empty calories----I don't know why people drink it." Or, "Oh I just love salad. I'll skip dessert and have more salad."

    From a tot, I've absorbed this one: "Black is slenderizing." Did she know I was going to grow up to have the "Alber hips?"

  26. Lisa, that's hilarious. Did you buy into it?

  27. Susan, you mean that's not true?
    And I ate a lot of carrots so I would have good vision.

    And eating worms! Yes! I heard that all the time.. And lucky I didn't melt. I got threatened with it enough.

    Aw, Karen in O--untart. Sigh. Hope you get "inreds" or something soon...

    And I got taguit. So tag, you're it.

  28. Mom always said "what goes around comes around" "Your face will freeze" "Make your bed and your life will not be a mess" She also gave me the bridge thing guess it's a truism. My mom lived to 105 and always kept giving me advice.

  29. I got "It's just as easy to marry a rich man as it is a poor one" "Every party has a pooper that's why we invited you, party pooper." No feeling sorry for yourself in her household.

    Mom also had a friend for everything, "I had a friend who stuck her arm out the window, it got hit by another car, and now she has one of those stunted arms" " I had a friend who once kept crossing her eyes, and they got stuck like that and she had to go to the eye doctor for a year before they could get unstuck."

    I used to feel sorry for her because all her friends had such problems.

  30. Lora, so funny. Yes, all of our moms had very convenient friends, I bet...


  32. Not sure where I am supposed to post this comment...
    "I want to curl up with Deborah Crombie's No Mark Upon Her"

  33. My mother worked and my grandmothert took care of my sister and me, but that grandmother had all sorts of advice for me when I started dating. "You eat before you leave; don't make that boy feed you." "You come home with the boy who took you; if another boy wants to get with you, he can ask you out next time." My grandmother had no use for self-centered people. She would say, "I wish I could buy him for what he's worth and sell him for what he thinks he's worth."

  34. hell my mom told me when i went to the prom better make sure that every thing was payed for whidh i did form his tux and gas and then my hair dress shoe but a teacher felt sorry for me and bought me a corsage

  35. My mother used to tell me I'd have to powder four cheeks if my skirts got any shorter. I don't think she meant the same thing as Southern mamas who say, "don't show your butt in public". She had a line for everything - including the one about bridges, and most of them in German.

  36. I want to curl up with Deborah Crombie's "No Mark Upon Her"!

  37. I want to curl up with Deborah Crombie's No Mark Upon Her.

  38. case anyone is wondering about the Deb Crombie're in the right place! I just sent out my newsletter and Deb has been kind enough to offer some free signed copies of No Mark Upon Her to some of the people on my mailing list. You're a little early but that's okay. Newsletter asked that you post a comment on Friday. We'll be taking names until the end of the day on Friday and will announce winners on Saturday. Thanks for visiting Jungle Red and do come back!

  39. I want to curl up with Deborah Crombie's No Mark Upon Her

  40. I love reading all the sayings everyone's mother had. "Going out to eat worms" was one of my mother's. "If it'd been a snake, it'd've bit you." The "buy the cow" one for sure. "I hope you one day have children just like you!" was the ultimate.

  41. My mom always reminded me to wear clean underwear in case I was in an accident. Of course, I always thought if you were in an accident there would be blood and how would your underwear stay clean?
    And of course, eat eveything on your plate-there are starving kids all over the world. I never figured that one out for awhile.

  42. "I want to curl up with Deborah Crombie's No Mark Upon Her"

  43. I want to curl up with Deborah Crombie's No Mark Upon Her

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