The Joy of Some Old Woman
A Reckoning with Inherited Words
It happens frequently. Words tumble out of me but they are not my words. They are my mother’s.
Do you use words or phrases that aren’t really yours? Do you catch yourself doing something a certain way, just like one of your elders did? Is it a comfort, or does it embarrass you? Does it bring you joy? Sorrow? Or both?
Growing up, it seemed like I was the only person with such an expressive mother. For example, none of my friends’ mothers ever swore. A Catholic friend’s mom would say “Jesus, Mary and Joseph” if she was upset but since that was biblical, it seemed like it didn’t count as cussing.
Exclamations in other homes were downright devoid of profanity. “Dangit.” “Fudge.” “Shucks.” So tame! Mrs. F would say “don’t be uncouth!” if one of her kids was being a jerk. I was intrigued by Mrs. F’s ten-dollar word but it just didn’t have the same punch as a three-letter word beginning with a, and ending with s! I was much more likely to hear that word with “hole” tagged on to the end of it in my household.
In the past week, there’ve been a number of instances where I realized I was saying something my Mom would say. This helps me remember a sometimes-challenging mother with great fondness and a big grin on my face.
A friend sent me a photo of ornate decorations in a house she was renting. I told her I couldn’t stand froufrou stuff like that. I had to look the word up because I wasn’t sure if Mom coined it, or if it was a legitimate word. (FYI, the relevant definition is showy or frilly ornamentation, and I had no idea it was spelled that way.)
Mom’s most famous phrase was “it’s your funeral.” She’d say this if she felt we were making a really dumb decision. She’d claim she wasn’t trying to influence us, but do you detect any endorsement in that phrase? When we protested her indirect disapproval, she’d sometimes modify it to “it’s your life.” Same effect. I wanted to say “it’s your funeral” or “it’s your life” to someone recently, but I held my tongue. I credit Mom for teaching me the wisdom in not blurting out what first comes to mind. In this case, her example taught me how not to behave!
Growing up, I believed Mom when she’d say, “salt water heals all wounds.” I’ve been wanting to share this prescriptive offering with a friend of mine going through an immense transition. I never rolled my eyes when Mom made that five-word declaration, but I suppose anyone who hasn’t experienced the healing powers of ocean water would!
You might say “oh, for goodness sakes” to express frustration, exasperation or annoyance . . . not my Mom! Her phrase was “oh, for the love of some old woman” and it popped out of me quite unexpectedly the other day. For all I know, she passed that phrase down to us from her mother.
And it is for the love of not just some old woman, but my mother, and my mother’s mother, that I invite you to find, recall and share the joyful words that the older women in your life have passed down to you. Yup, even the profanities (if there were any in your household)! Hope you strike gold. Happy Mother’s Day, all.
I’d love to hear about phrases that have passed down to you from “some old woman.” Feel free to share in the comments below.
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Prompts For Joy
Click here for a centenarian’s humorous logic.
Click here to see how early the imitation can start.
I’m honored to announce that a recent piece about spirit animals, “I Wanna Be Another Dr. Dolittle,” is included in the April 2021 issue of Spirited Voices: A Writing Journey into the Deep Imagination. Check out this online magazine for several stories by a delightful group of women writers. I’m proud to add that a photograph of my collage of “Marbles” (the neighbors’ cat) is one of the illustrations.
Why Assemble a Life? An Interview with Author and Artist, Martha Clark Scala
What motivated me to write Assembling a Life: Claiming the Artist in My Father (and Myself)? Check out this video to find out. Comments and feedback welcome!
Top: Two Older Women (Mama Martha and Grammy Isabel). Photo by Geoffrey Clark.
Middle: Magazine cover of Spirited Voices: A Writing Journey into the Deep Imagination, designed and edited by Darlene Frank.
Below: A sample page from Chapter 19 in my memoir, Assembling a Life: Claiming the Artist in My Father (and Myself).
Praise for Assembling a Life: Claiming the Artist in My Father (and Myself) by Martha Clark Scala
"There is a healing you offered not only to yourself but also to one reader —me — and I’m sure many others . . . in watching the unfolding of your history. Watching you so intimately tell the in-depth story is brave and inspiring."
~ Anonymous Reader
Sample page from Chapter 19. This memoir is loaded with color photos (and some black and white) on just about every page. A visual feast.
To purchase the premium softcover or e-book versions of Assembling a Life, click here.
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