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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Family Jewels

When my mom and her sisters were little, they lived in a sleepy little west Texas town. There was a family in that town that walked everywhere they went. They didn’t walk side by side, holding hands, chatting happily, rather they strung out like a parade winding its way down the block. It was an interesting sight to behold--growing up in that close-knit community---and it left an impression on my mother. I know because when my siblings and I would go shopping with her, she’d gather and herd us through the aisles. It was a constant battle, keeping an eye on all three of us. I know I heard her admonish us many times to not “string out like the Smiths.” (Not their real names.) In fact, I said it hundreds of times to my own little brood as we navigated the grocery aisles or the clothing racks at Wal-Mart.

Ray Stevens is a very funny comedian. We used to listen to his records and laugh until we cried. I can’t remember which it was now, but one of them involved a man trying to win the attentions of Margaret. The whole “It’s me again, Margaret” line became a source of giggling fits for our family. Over time it transformed into, “Is that you, Margaret?” and we say it again and again. A few years ago, my mom and aunts were sitting in a restaurant with my grandfather, when mom made a trip to the ladies room. In a minute or two, one of her sisters followed her. She entered the stall next to my mother’s, leaned over toward the wall, and inquired “Is that you, Margaret?” Silence ensued. My aunt giggled to herself and repeated the question. After a moment of hesitation the soft voice of a stranger echoed from behind the divider, “Um, no.” Since then, Margaret is liable to speak to you from anywhere you can imagine.

Through the years, our family has passed down these little phrases. We all know the stories, but instead of re-telling them, we just sprinkle the catch phrases through our conversations. Things like “Your turn is OVER”, and “Comb your pig-sty hair!”---it’s our way of making sure the memories are treasured, enjoyed, celebrated. From my grandmother, who slipped on an icy road: “Just let me lay here a minute,” has become a phrasal heirloom, and from my sister, when she realized she was outside, alone in the dark comes “I got excited and thought I was scared.” Just the other day, my aunt and mom were shopping for clothes. Mom remarked on a very silky shirt, and my baby brother’s “soft this” took her back to his childhood.

So, my question is, do other families fixate on silly sayings, and repeat them again and again, passing them from generation to generation, along with their background stories? Are all families as entertained by these catch phrases as we are? And if it’s true that other families do this, and we’re really not candidates for the fellows in white coats, how do you describe this phenomenon, this passing of memories through just a few key words--this “phrasal heirloom” thing? What would you call it?


Kathleen aka Coffee Mom said...

We have those too, but ours don't have such great family memories attached. My husband and I know the Seinfeld shows so well that that is where all of ours have come from. Sad when you think about it.
Should I ever hear someone ask, "Is that you Margaret?" I'm going to look for you!

carrie said...

ROFL! I love it! We have lots of these too, only mine don't come from my "family" but rather my husband and I take movie quotes or book sayings and use them...Especially kids' movies because well, the kids watch them over and over and over and over and well, you get the point ;)

Kari said...

Glad to hear someone else's family is "afflicted" this way as well! lol
From our granddaughter when she was just a toddler: I hold you! (that's what she'd say when she wanted you to pick her up)

From my husband's family: You're such a Horner! (this was what they'd say to each other as a "put down". It had to do with the family they lived next door to while growing up...this family had something like 20 kids. The irony is that my husband is 1 or TEN kids so it's funny to hear them making fun of what they considered to be a HUGE family. lol)

From my family: But it was too late...(from Ray Stevens The Streak - think. We LOVED Ray Stevens stuff, too!)

From our family: Shut it Monkey (from Randey. He thought he was actually quoting from Shrek, but of course, that was "Shut it DONKEY". Randey STILL doesn't really get why we laugh when he says that).

From our family: I don't think so, Scooter (really have no idea where that came from, probably a movie)

From me to my kids: I'm not your buddy, I'm not your friend, I'm not your pal...now go do what I said before I beat you (yeah, I know...not exactly words that make you feel warm and fuzzy, huh? lol)

And the all time worst saying...and it's from me to my kids: Boy...I oughta beat you 'til you bleed (violence is a central theme to my child rearing technique. Of course, I don't actually BEAT my children. That would probably cause me to sweat and them to cry and geez, it'd just be a big ol' mess so I settle for threats. And throwing things at them. I kid, I kid. I don't throw things, either. My aim makes that impractical. lol)

childlife said...

Too funny! No you are not the only family who passes on phrases - we have ones that will have us pealing with laughter at the drop of a hat.

Spouses added to our family - I think at first found this odd... and perhaps a little uncomfortable. Like being on the outside of a lifetime's worth of inside jokes. All to soon though, they would be drawn into the hilarity with new phrases - for it is a library that is constantly being added to.

A couple of memorable ones... Once my Dad when reading aloud from a book to us as children misread a phrase 'shaking limbs' as 'shaking lambs'. To this day if someone in our family mentions it is chilly, someone else will invariably begin frantically wiggling arms and legs while letting out a pathetic "Baaaa!!" while the rest of us laugh until we can no longer breathe.

Another that frequently comes up is something my brother once uttered as little more than a baby... He was asked how one goes to heaven. He answered "Well... we can't fwap our wings 'cause we hab hands..." Even as adults, we still roll with laughter while mulling over logistics of getting from point 'A' to point 'B' and someone says the inevitable... : )

We have zillions of them and each one is precious because of the moment it represents spent with people we charish. Thanks for puting into words something so elusively lovely, like only you can TaunaLen : )

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