Dec 13, 2018
“Go outside and get the stink blown off of you.”
This is the greatest piece of advice I’ve ever gotten. And it came from my mom.
There is a rich vein of ore to be mined in this one simple sentence. At the basic level it means “get out from underfoot.” Mom was constantly busy raising nine children. At any moment, she was either feeding us, washing our clothes, cleaning up after us, or having more of us. When she was fed up with the lot of us, we’d hear, “Go outside and get the stink blown off of you.”
“Go outside!” How therapeutic it is to do that! So often we wallow in our electronic fortresses thinking we are adventuring when in reality we are watching pictures of people adventuring.
“Get the stink blown off” is always good advice for active farm kids, whether actual or metaphorical.
As kids, we used to think our mom had lost her mind. Now, as she just turned 93, she really has. Thanks to dementia, she is no longer able to dish out any kind of advice, let alone the butt-whoopings we regularly received for ignoring her advice. But I asked my siblings to send me their favorite sayings from childhood. Consider, there were nine of us born over 20 years, so these gems cover about a 40-year period of “raising.’”
A lot of her jibes were directed at us when we were complaining or squabbling, which was often.
“You can get glad the same way you got mad.”
“Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
“If you’re going to wrestle go out to the barn!”
Notice she did not say, “Quit wrestling.” That would have set up a battle of wills. Instead, she was telling us it’s okay to fight things out, just do it somewhere I don’t have to hear it.
She was a lover of wordplay.
For example, while helping her bake bread–something she did until a few years ago–my sister had made a decision and said, “That’s what I’ll do.”
Mom retorted: “Spit in your shoe; take it to the teacher at half past two!”
Or this: “Today’s Thanksgivin’, be thankful you’re livin!”
If you replied to a question or started a thought with, “Well…” she immediately popped back with “A well is a hole in the ground.”
If when leaving some said, “Well we’re off,” she came back with, “Like a dirty sock.”
Perhaps followed by: “Hippity hop to the barber shop to get a stick of candy.”
Apropos of nothing: “AHA she cried as she raised her wooden leg!”
After we finished the blessing with Amen, she continued: “Amen, Brother Ben shot a rooster and killed a hen.”
While doing some menial task, my sister wryly remarked, “Well aren’t we livin’ the life of Riley?”
Mom replied, “As long as Riley doesn’t come home!”
When asked what time it was, she said “Half past kissin’ time, time to kiss again.”
When you said, “Okey dokey,” she sometimes replied, “Artichoky.”
Her rhyming affinity showed in random poems:
“Crickety crackety crow
Went to the well to wash his big toe
When he got there, the cupboard was bare
Crickety crackety crow.”
“If your feet smell and your nose runs you know you’re upside down.”
“I look like the wreck of the Hesperus!” (Referring to a bad hair day)
One of her highest compliments was “There’s no flies on her.” That meant someone was exceptionally savvy.
She was good at handing out advice that made you think about whether it was really advice: “What your head don’t do your feet gotta.”
One brother remembers taking her to a festival. As she looked around at all of the artsy knick-knacks, she said, “See anything here that you can’t live without?”
We suspect many of her quips came from her father, our Grandpa Cupp. He was a wiry Missouri farm boy who raised five daughters in southeast Iowa. He would tease us with stories about people named Peter-von-Lincoln-von-Hop-and-Go-Fetch-It, his sweetie Miss-Louisa-la-Venus-Susanna-Rigelford-Custard, and her brother Jonas Quackenbush.
He claimed these were characters in a school play he had been in, but we never tracked it down.
Grandpa Cupp also would talk about hearing something “that was enough to make a preacher cuss,” and using “‘cat’s fur to make kitten’s britches.”
As another brother offered, “What the hell did that mean?”
My most bittersweet memory of my pre-dementia mom was when she had “had it up to here” and needed a break from her writhing mass of spawn. She would jump in the station wagon and roar down the driveway, throwing gravel and being chased by a stream of crying children who were screaming, “Mom, where are you going?”
She would roll down the window and yell, “Crazy!”
Looking back, she deserved the trip.