My mom has been gone almost four years but this classic column from years ago reminds me fondly of her. The peonies are from my childhood home–lovingly gathered by my sister Mary to welcome me to Tennessee last month. Happy Mother’s Day, one and all!
I grew up in the South thinking everyone’s mother said, “Katie, bar the door” in times of trouble and “I’ll swan” when something truly amazing happened. On a really busy day, there would be “no flies on us,” and when something was perfectly ready it was “all saucered and blowed” (like you do to hot coffee before you drink it). Someone who talked all the time was described as having been “vaccinated with a phonograph needle” and a braggart was “too big for his britches.”
I call such phrases momilies: like homilies but a lot less preachy. They are the gentle bits of advice passed from moms to children and repeated with a frequency that insures their remembrance.
“Rise above it” my mom would say when she was encouraging me not to stoop to someone else’s level. Whether applied to junior high gossip or office politics, this simple three-word phrase always has helped me keep my focus.
“It’ll never show on a galloping horse” was my mom’s version of “don’t sweat the small stuff.” A pimple on the end of your nose the night before the prom? A greasy stain on one of the linen napkins you need for a dinner party? Not to worry. “It’ll never show on a galloping horse.”
In fact, horses were the subject of a lot of her wisdom. “Don’t put your cart before your horse” was trotted out whenever I impatiently scrambled the logical order of events, and “no sense closing the barn door after the horse gets out” reminded me to think about the consequences of what I was doing before it was too late.
There must have been chickens in the same barn, because I was frequently reminded not to count them before they hatched. (They may have been the same chickens who later ran around with their heads chopped off.)
Young girls coming to terms with their physical appearance need all the support they can get. My sisters and I remember our mom telling us “beauty knows no pain” as we squeezed into patent leather shoes a size too small or, later, girdles with garters. But since she was a lot more concerned about our behavior than our beauty, we also daily heard “pretty is as pretty does” and “beauty comes from the inside out.” Little did we know it was her subtle way of teaching us the truth of 1 Peter 3:4 which describes beauty as a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
Whenever we said we wanted something we didn’t need or couldn’t have, Mom would remind us that “people in jail want out.” It was years before I saw the connection between those people in jail and me. I just knew that whenever they came up, I wasn’t going to get what I wanted.
When it came to wanting all the food I saw in a cafeteria line, Mom would say, “don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach”—meaning take only what you can really eat.
That particular momily is one I passed on to my own kids. My son said it was years before he knew what it meant, but he sure thought about the possibility of having eyes that big! Since I also warned him not to “cut his nose off to spite his face,” he worried about his facial features a lot.
Although it was always strange to hear the same momilies my mom used coming out of my mouth, I’m glad I passed them on. After all, she wasn’t “just whistlin’ Dixie.”