Families develop their own shorthand. A single phrase from an old story can communicate volumes of anger, joy or pride. We don’t have to keep telling – and hearing – the same story over and over.
Here are some of my family phrases:
Even the water tastes better: Grandma Vierling was our storybook grandma. Barely five feet tall, Grandma was funny and loving. She was plump, with a generous lap and an equally big heart. We kids called her "the good Grandma" and we loved to visit her. Grandma was a masterful Southern cook who made biscuits like warm clouds, fried chicken and baked mouth-watering fruit pies. I divided the summer by her homemade pies. We should be nearing blackberry pie season soon.
My little brother said, "Even the water tastes better at Grandma’s house."
That became our family code for anything impossibly good.
We never had that in our family: Grandmother Viets was a tall, stern German who cleaned for recreation. Her waxed floors were slippery as a skating rink. She disapproved of my father’s "mixed" marriage. My mother was one-quarter Irish, an inferior race in Grandmother Viets’ eyes. Grandmother was proud to be all German.
She blamed her grandchildren’s physical flaws on my mother’s "inferior" blood. When I needed glasses in grade school, Grandmother Viets said, "We never had that in my family." When I had flat feet and needed special shoes, Grandmother unlaced her Enna Jettick to show me her superior arched foot. "Look at that arch," she said. "We never had flat feet in our family."
Grandma’s phrase became a family joke, though I didn’t see the humor at age nine.
When I did something right, it was, "Our daughter got an A in English."
Don and I don’t have children, but we use a version of that. When Mystery claws the sofa, I tell him, "Your cat ripped up the couch cushion." But when visitors praise her beauty, she’s "our cat."
What Clydesdale? Don and I were walking through a St. Louis supermarket when I saw a life-size plastic replica of a mascot for the Anheuser-Busch brewery in a beer display. "Look at that Clydesdale," I said.
Don, lost in thought, asked, "What Clydesdale?"
What did Larry say? I overlook things, too. Don told me a joke he heard in a bar, where the bartender was named Larry. The joke sailed over my head. "What did Larry say?" I asked.
That’s our family phrase when I miss something obvious.
What are your family phrases, Femmes?