“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” That’s one of the things I remember Mama saying more than once. I can still see her one of the times, standing in front of the kitchen sink, saying it to me. It’s from the Bible. It means “Don’t borrow trouble.”
I want to share with you some of the other things I remember hearing her say multiple times. She didn’t originate all of them, but she’s where I heard them all first, and at least a few are original to her.
Mama said, “He can get glad in the same pants he got mad in.” This is one of my favorites. I think it means that 1) everything is temporary and 2) You have responsibility for managing your emotions.
She said, “Well, that’s better than a hole in your sock.” I believe this one is an encouragement to find a way to see what’s good about whatever the current situation is. Maybe it could be better than it is, but as long as it rises above hole in your sock, let’s be happy about it and move on. If it really isn’t better than a hole in your sock, you can move on to another one she said – “Well, it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”
She said, “Scat cat! Get your tail out of the butter!” And so do I. It makes my grandchildren smile. It means, “Hey, you sneezed! Let’s giggle about it.” Much more fun than “Bless you.” (I think some people say “get your tail out of the gravy,” but Mama said butter.)
She said, “Pretty is as pretty does” and also “Put on some lipstick.” She didn’t really ever say these two together like that; I just think it’s funny to combine them. But she did say both of them to me fairly often – so I tried to act right and remember to put on lipstick if I was going to be somewhere she thought called for it.
She said, “I was born at night, but not last night!” I think we all know what that one means – basically, “I’m not buying what you’re selling,” if someone was trying to put something over on her. I used this one quite often when I was a teacher of teenagers. She also said, “I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck” which means pretty much the same thing.
She said, “It’s tomorrow?” This was in response to me telling her – on my way to bed – “Oh, Mama I forgot. I need something to wear for Western Day tomorrow at school.” The next morning, on her sewing machine, was a western style, quilt-print pinafore ready for me to wear that day.
She said, “Anything that doesn’t bite me first,” when I asked her what she’d like to eat.
She said “Be still . . . Close your eyes . . . Breathe . . . Don’t talk . . . Don’t think. This was in response to my question, “Mama, how do you go to sleep?” I was seriously fascinated by her ability to do this after watching it happen several times while she read to me at night, or right after reading, as she lay beside me, her eyes closed, mine wide and wondering. This seems like the kind of question many adults might decide to ignore – especially when they were just interrupted from falling asleep – but she gave me a thoughtful, gentle answer. I appreciated her instructions and attempted to follow them. I never could get the hang of it. One of my friends once said, “Yeah Johnnie still can’t get her baby to sleep through the night.
She said, “Wiggle Worm” “Hot House Plant” and “Goofus.” These are all things she called me, and they were all endearments. Goofus is my favorite. (When I was an adult, she called me Morticia once because I liked the smell of a musty room.)
She said, “Y’all clash because you’re so much alike.” Gasp! How dare she?! This was her response to me when I complained about some trouble I was having with my brother Paul. At the time I was very young and greatly offended. But, yeah . . . she knew her kids. What she saw then is very clear now, and I don’t mind at all being very like him. He gets me.
She said, “Come on, we’ll catch him!” Then she propped me on her hip and ran out to stop my brother David just before he began backing out of the driveway, so he could kiss me good-bye first – because I was having a proper loud melt-down that he had left the house without doing so. She leaned me into the car and he kissed me good-bye. Then everything was okay.
She said, “I can’t believe I’m walking alone, with two little children, after dark in this part of town.” She said this as she walked along a sidewalk with me and Byron toward the New Isis theater in North Ft. Worth, to see a movie. I think it was The Cowboys with John Wayne. Or maybe it was that other one she took us to that I’m pretty sure she thought was a completely different type of movie – Monty Python and The Holy Grail.
She also took us to Casa Manana. We saw the musical Porgy and Bess there. We heard Roger Miller sing there. And listened to George Lindsay tell jokes. We must have seen Ruta Lee there too or else I’m not sure why I would even know there is a Ruta Lee.
Mama gave us experiences. She gave herself some too. One day, many years ago, she told me a secret she had kept for many years before that. She told me that one evening on her way home to Azle from her job in Ft. Worth, somewhere along the side of Hwy 199, she saw one of those giant slides that had been put up for people to come pay to slide down. She pulled over, paid the fee, climbed her little self up there and slid down. Then she got back in the car, drove home, and cooked us dinner. I’m so glad she did that and glad she finally told me about it. She deserved a little break and some silly fun.
Once when something happened to me that I didn’t understand, Mama said “Thank you for telling me; I’ll take care of it.” And then she did. And what I did is I just went on with my childhood starting immediately after she finished her sentence. I went with no worry about it or ill effects from it, and it never happened again – because Mama had it. She was a genius at loving and protecting us. I wish I had always been smart enough to tell her everything.
She said something with no words. One of the sweetest and most powerful things she ever said to me made no sound at all. We had climbed up together to the top of the Tree Slide at Six Flags. The climb scared me pretty badly and when we entered the almost completely dark interior at the top, I was absolutely terrified. Overcome. Paralyzed with fear. Until I felt her hand on my leg. That’s it. Just a soft touch. No words. It was some kind of powerful magic. Everything was instantly fine, my fear completely gone. With that touch she said to me, “You are perfectly safe. No harm will come anywhere near you. Because I am here.” I immediately knew this was the truth. We slid down that slide, back into the sunlight, and all was well – just like her hand told me it was.