Recently, I watched a stand-up comedian named Kevin Meany, who had a very funny routine about his childhood and the things that his mom always said to him. His parents "were the crazy ones," he said, as evidenced by their continuing concerns for his welfare.
They constantly reminded him of wearing a hat - because so much heat is lost through the top of the head. They were afraid often that Kevin would make some dastardly mistake that would cause them to "lose the house." "If you take the car out tonight, you'll just get in a wreck, the other guy will sue us and we'll lose the house!"His mother also worried a lot about putting someone's eye out - with something. "Look out with that thing - you're going to put someone's eye out!" She was also convinced that his pants were too tight. "Go upstairs and put on your BIG pants! You're not going out of this house with those tight pants on!"
Finally, he said, his parents sometimes said something he couldn't even understand. One example: "Where are you going with that big puss on your face? Don't you go out with that big puss on!"
I laughed until I thought I would rupture my spleen. Then I started thinking about my own parents and decided that there were many sayings like that in my house. My mother was constantly worried that whatever I was doing would result in a broken neck. "Don't do that - you'll fall and break your neck!" "Get off that chair! Do you want to BREAK YOUR NECK?"
Of course, I never wanted to break my neck, and at first it startled me. But after awhile I got used to thinking my neck might break, and the expression became essentially meaningless.
The one I remember most was my mother's statement following an argument - or a fist fight - between my brother Tom and me. We had some very big disagreements when we were young and we often hit each other. Except Tom got all the heat for it, because he was bigger and older. My mother would stare menacingly into his eyes and say in a loud voice: "Do you want to RUIN YOUR BROTHER? You're going to RUIN YOUR BROTHER!" A couple of times Tom hit me on the back and my mother said, "You're going to RUIN HIS BACK!"
This scared me also initially, but then I started to recognize that my back was OK and I had miraculously survived another frightening encounter with my dangerous brother. If you want the truth - I must have deserved at least some of those tongue lashings. At any rate, I seemed to survive childhood without being ruined. Tom must feel relieved!
There was another phrase that my mother often said: "Don't pick that up off the street - you don't know WHERE that's been!" In the years since, I have heard Jonathan Winters say it in exactly that tone, meaning that there must be literally thousands of households all over America where mothers intone similarly.
My dad had his share of memorable sayings. When there was any disruption in the family, he would try to settle everything down by saying, "If you don't stop it, I'm going outside and get a willow!" It took an inordinately short period of time for me to figure out that my dad would NEVER get a willow, and so I let that threat just float over my head. My older sister Mary assures me that in her day the willow actually entered the house on occasion.
Most of the time when I would wash my face in the bathroom, my dad would walk by and say, "That looks like a Harry Ketchum wash!" I assured him it wasn't, but it was not until I was grown that I actually asked him to explain the meaning of the term. For some reason I got the message that I wasn't washing effectively enough even without understanding the term. It seems that Dad washed up after leaving work at the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad every day with a man named Harry Ketchum. You can guess how hurridly Harry washed his faceto the disgust of my father.
Dad had at least 100 additional sayings, many of which came from his own childhood in Wyoming. When we would sit up for dinner, Dad would say, "Sit up and have a CLEAN bite. Oughta be clean - we've been pickin' the dirt out of it all day!" During the course of the meal, he would offer another bit of advice: "Better eat while you've got a chance - you might not get another chance!" If someone asked to pass an item more than once, my dad would always say, "I wish you would just EAT YOUR DINNER!"
And whose family life would ever be complete without the mother of the home complaining that "the good scissors" are gone? This must happen in everyone's home. Except my own, of course. For the life of me, I can't remember ANYTHING I say more than once!