My grandson graduated from high school this June and after the ceremony we went to celebrate at a Japanese restaurant. While we were there my grandson dropped a bit of soup on his tie and was anxious that he would not be able to clean it off. My son, attempted to reassure him by quoting my mom, “oh, a man on horseback won’t see it.” It was surprising to me to hear him say something so like his grandmother and I marvel at how strong her influence still is in our family.
My mother, Elizabeth, was born and grew up in St. John’s Newfoundland. When I was small I didn’t notice that she had a different accent than my friend’s mothers. I didn’t realize that the vivid expressions she used were unusual. She was Mom and she could make delicious snow pudding and Spanish cream and could whip up a gown for a bride doll overnight. Mom loved company and had friends over for tea or dinner parties without hesitation. She had married a naval officer and was ready to pack up our household to move every two years across Canada if necessary. Mom was always making new friends and found something to love about each province. However, most of all she loved Newfoundland and when my sister and I toured that beautiful province many years ago we realized how much she must have loved my dad to have moved away from that “smiling land”.
Mom’s expressions were a mix of Newfie and Nova Scotian, as her parents came from there. Many times I heard her say as she looked in a mirror on a hectic day, “Oh, I look like Frightened Isaac’s wife!” When I asked her what it meant, she laughed and told me in the town where her mother grew up there was a man who had hair that always looked like he’d put his finger in an electric socket. The family had nick-named him privately Frightened Isaac. Whenever they were having a bad-hair day they said that they looked the way they imagined his wife must look.
Mom’s expressions owed a great deal to the Irish population in Newfoundland. Her parents had an old friend Mrs. Bently who dropped in to visit and help around the house. One day, “Bent” was ironing some handkerchiefs and she picked up one particularly dainty one and said, ” One puff and it’s out the narrows.”
If someone was standing in Mom’s way she would say “my goodness, you make a better door than a window.” If we were walking on either side of a pillar or other obstruction, she would say, “bread and butter” as it was supposed to be bad luck if you didn’t. If I asked my mother’s opinion of two outfits or two of anything, she would reply, “it’s six to one and half a dozen to the other.” In other words both were just fine.
When Mom took us out to a restaurant her favourite saying was “don’t spare the horses” which meant don’t worry about the price, just order what we wanted. A large, generous proportion of any kind of food merited her declaring it to be “flaithiulach” (pronounced flahoolic) which in Irish means ” a princely amount”. On our way home she would say “Home, Jeeves” to whoever was driving.
A shopping spree or a week of social engagements meant we had been “gallivanting” all over the town. If Mom was worried about something or excited she would declare that she was “on tenterhooks” which I only now found out referred to the hooks that cloth manufactures would use to stretch out material.
My favourite trip with my mother was crossing Canada on the Silver and Blue passenger train. We had a wonderful, nostalgic trip out to British Columbia with the purpose of visiting my sister and her husband. Mom was worried about staying longer than three days as she said “guests and fish begin to smell after three days”. Well, I soon changed her mind about crossing Canada just to spend three days with my sister who hadn’t seen us for three years.
Mom had so many favourite words and phrases that there isn’t room for all of them or time, but I will leave you with this funny little verse she would often quote.
“We are all like ships at sea. We all have holes in our bottoms and are likely to sink.” Now what do you think that meant?