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Things my mama said

Country Roads

While I was never a “mama’s boy” I had a good relationship with my mother and miss her daily. Mom passed away in November 2018 at the age of 91.

Some of my favorite memories of Mom are the words and phrases she used and in my mind I still hear them often.

Mom grew up one of 12 children in an impoverished home of immigrant parents during the Great Depression. Her waste-not-want-not upbringing was still alive when I was a kid. Mom was an excellent cook but her menu choices were “Take it or leave it.” I always took it.

Mom had no time for finnicky eaters who she called “hibbles,” a Low German word I have not found in any dictionaries or word books. Though I don’t know the precise spelling or definition of a hibble, none of her kids wanted to be known as one.

Mom warned whiny kids not to whine. Except Mom pronounced it “wind” (rhymes with kind.) “Quit your winding!” she would scold. Though we may have snickered under our breath, Mom demanded respect and I don’t know that anyone ever corrected her.

“Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,” was also heard with regularity.

Our mother was big on consequences. “If you poop in your nest you’ll have to sleep in it,” was one of her bits of wisdom. She sometimes said it in Low German but I can’t remember how to say it. I must have pooped in my nest too many times.

Our mother was raised in a very humble home. She was a survivor who had no time for pretentiousness. “We’re no better than anyone else,” she told us often. That is true, of course, but there were times later in life when I pointed out to her that she was better than some folks. She didn’t want to hear about it.

Mom was not one to use profanity. On rare occasions and in great anger or frustration, Mom let slip with the “s-word,” except in most cases she said it in Low German. With six kids Mom knew anger and frustration.

Mom sometimes said, “Luutje pot hebbt groot ohren.” That was her Low German way of reminding us to be careful what we say around small children. “Little pots have big ears.” This no-longer-little pot has been able to tame his tongue to some degree but my most recurrent expletive is the “s-word”… in Low German, of course.

Our mother knew about injustice. Her parents hired her out as a “hired girl” to area farm families during the summer when she was a young girl and after eighth grade her parents hired her out full time. When one of her children complained about something being unfair, Mom simply said, “Life isn’t fair.” And we knew what she meant.

“Close the door. We don’t live in a barn!” is a statement that must be taught in Mom School. It seems to be a universal admonition and the Huisman kids heard it often.

There are Momisms that are best understood when you have your own children. “Go play outside. It’s a beautiful day,” is one of them. Six kids all in the house at the same time had to be maddening. Though my mother was as honest as they come, she sometimes told us to go play outside on days when it wasn’t all that beautiful outside.

Mothers don’t come with unlimited patience. “I’m not going to ask you again,” was a fair warning my mother gave when her patience was about to run out. We had been warned.

Our mother was an excellent housekeeper. Even with six kids to mess it up again the house got a good cleaning every Saturday. As the oldest I was her “hired girl” and learned how to mop and wax the linoleum floors; even the worn spots. Mom’s philosophy outranked economics. Her oft cited motto: “Soap is cheap!”

When I was very young and we still lived on a farm my parents regularly spoke Low German. There are three little words Mom used to say that always brought a smile to my face: “Eten ist kloor.” (Literally: eating is ready.) It was how Mom announced that dinner or supper was on the table. Though I wasn’t always a good listener, those three little words had this chubby child on a chair and prepared to eat in nothing flat.

A mother’s words… how they linger.

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