In the henhouse of tough old birds, my grandmother was the dry, stringy chicken Scarlet and company dined on at Miss Pittypat’s house in Gone With The Wind.
Her name was Geraldine, and she was so formidable she could have beaten Flip Wilson’s alter ego Geraldine in arm wrestling or shot putting, or pulling an airplane with one’s teeth.
And she was scary.
She was tall and thin, and for most of her life wore a tight bun on her head, from which no hair ever dared escape. She’d been a school teacher but had the demeanor of the most crotchety, strictest librarian. She had five children and developed a thermonuclear mom-eye with a deadly laser component.She also had a spine-chilling collection of threats and reprimands that were as frightening as they were creative.
My father, who is the world’s sweetest, most tender-hearted man, utilizes a selection of her phrases, such as:
“You’re as full of ‘stuff’ as a Christmas turkey.”
“I know you’re sorry, now apologize.”
And our favorite, and the most colorful of all: “I’m going to rip off your arm, and beat you to death with a bloody stump.”
Please understand, my dad used these originally for shock value, but they’ve become family inside-jokes. No children were ever harmed in the usage of these epithets.I asked Dad if there were any that Granny used on him and his siblings, that he didn’t employ. He told me one, “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.”
And I’ll bet she would have, too.
We’ve all heard this phrase, and it’s always struck a discordant note in my ear. It is completely illogical; the fact that one is crying means that they already possess the catalyst for tears—nothing more is necessary. But it’s also very unsympathetic, and pretty darn cold; especially for a mother.
Like I said, Granny was a tough old bird. And because the nut doesn’t fall too far from the tree, I have come up with my own phrase that I use when feigning outrage with my own little nut, The Kid. And a couple I keep in reserve.
Again, these are one-liners and not threats. The cost of doing business when your mom is a peddler of homemade comedy.
There’s a classic line I’ve been using since I judged my offspring old enough to understand that while Mommy is kinda loony, she ain’t violent: Give me your cell phone, and show me how to use it…I’m calling the adoption bus to come make a pickup! Never having owned or operated a cell makes my threat something less than viable.
The next one has never actually been used on a real human. I developed it one night when a young man driving by let loose with a particularly hurtful catcall. And right on schedule, fifteen minutes after the event this menacing little line popped into my head: How’d you like to eat your Thanksgiving dinner through a straw?Intimidating, no?
The last one has never been used on a human either. It was the result of chasing our puppy Crowley, around the house after he absconded with some clean socks from the laundry basket. I’m afraid that as a dog, he didn’t appreciate the humor or the danger in my statement, but it made me feel a lot better:
How’d you like a shiny new near-death experience?
Growing up there was no physical punishment in our house, but my folks were expert-level verbal disciplinarians.
My mom was in charge of volume, and my dad dealt in colorful comic relief.
Thanks for your time.