You know who is a total treat this Halloween season? My grandmother, better known as Grandma. Today she turns 93, and this blog’s for her.
Imagine it’s World War II. You’re a good looking gal in your early 20s and you live on Long Island and work in the City. You’re engaged to a young guy who went away to war, and you grew up in a Catholic German family. The logical thing for you to do is meet a younger Protestant farmer at a gas station and agree to marry him, forcing you to mail your engagement ring back to the mother of the boy away at war. Then you obviously move to a South Georgia farm within months of that first encounter, and this is where your Yankee ways are observed with raised eyebrows by members of the Glass Menagerie. Then you have five children, help found the Catholic Church in your predominantly Methodist town, and develop a particular taste for Old Grand-Dad whiskey. In short, you’re a pretty tough broad and a total badass.
As a tribute to Grandma and her long and excellent life, I’m sharing some of my favorite things she says. In her 93 years of living, she’s developed some verbal tics and I think you’ll agree that most of it is worth stealing.
Jesus-Mary-and-Joseph. Any good Catholic school kid knows that it’s a sin to say the Lord’s name in vain, and you can get points off your conduct grade at school if you slip and say the most innocent little, “Oh my god!” Even typing that now as an adult, part of me immediately flinches and silently says, “Sorry, Jesus!” Years ago, Grandma informed me that if you say all three members of the Holy Family, it’s a prayer and not a curse and it’s totally fine. Seeing as my Grandma helped found a Church and says the rosary daily, I feel completely justified in using this exception to the rule. When my devout mother purses her lips at me when I say it, I can always use the Grandma defense and there’s no argument for that. This expression is best used when something unbelievable is happening, but it can also be uttered under your breath when you want to strangle some one. For example, tonight I realized that 30 Rock aired a day early but I didn’t have my DVR set up for it because I forgot about the switch, and so I snapped at my TV screen, “Son of a bitch. Jesus-Mary-and-Joseph.”
Speaking of religious swears, St Christopher! gets slung around quite a bit as well. I suppose it’s not as bad as taking the Lord’s name in vain, but I have a hunch that the nuns at my old high school would frown on this. I’m not totally sure why this particular saint gets special consideration, as he’s mostly known as the patron saint of travelers and Grandma doesn’t much care for traveling these days. Anyway, this one is most frequently used in place of other expletives when something is not going your way. Maybe this one is used when Grandma doesn’t want to call God’s attention to something but still wants some divine intervention.
The Dag Blame Thing. This is what you say when you want to say, “the Effing (insert noun here)” but you’re too much of an old school proper woman. I’ll use it in a sentence for you. “I tried to use the clicker to turn off that trashy reality singing show, but the dag blame thing wouldn’t work. So I had to sit there and listen to Miss Tutsi Frutsie sing, and lord-a-mercy was she bad.”
Big Ole’ Joker Most frequently used in the sentence, “He’s a Big ole’ joker, isn’t he?” The meaning of this expression changes with tone of voice. It can be used in disdain, with affection, with disgust, and even with delight. I’m not clear on the origin of this one. I Googled it and didn’t come up with anything, but I suspect it’s slang from years ago. It’s a good catch-all. See a darling but mischievous boy? Coo, “He’s a big ole’ joker, isn’t he?” Hear a politician tell a big whopper? Spit it out with venom. Spot an enormous roach crawling on your wall? Gasp it out and then smash the thing. I particularly like using this one in conversation and it never fails to delight.
Bless her little heart. Most Southerners equate, “bless her/his heart,” with passive aggressive behavior. It’s like saying, “Oh, I love her to death, she is completely awful.” You use, “bless her heart,” to excuse whatever horrible thing you will say next or whatever horrible thing you already said. However, when Grandma says it and adds the “little” she really means it. It’s usually what she says when she hears a story about a baby or small child being frustrated in some way. It’s accompanied by a drawn out, “awwwww…..” It goes something like this, “Awwww… the little angel was up all night screaming her head off and making her parents crazy… bless her little heart.”
Tutsi-frutsie I apologize in advance, Grandma, I have no idea how to spell this. Grandma is still pretty with it, but her memory isn’t as sharp as it once was. I have a near legion of younger male cousins with revolving doors of pretty girlfriends. My grandmother, wise woman that she is, doesn’t generally bother to learn names anymore unless someone is likely to get engaged. When face to face with said girlfriends, she sort of plays along. When they’re not around, they’re collectively known as “little tutsi frutsie.” Note to Pretty Girlfriends of Male Cousins: I promise she’s not saying something nasty when she says this. It’s just easier to remember this one expression than remember all of your names. You’re all quite charming and pretty and your hair looks great today. Also, she totally remembers YOUR name. It’s everyone else that gets the nickname.
Various terms of endearment:
Doll Baby: General address for female grandchildren. I don’t think the boys get this one, but I’m not sure because I’m not a boy. In fact, I don’t think the boys get anything special. Sorry, boys!
Shugah: Obviously, this is how “sugar” sounds in her combination Yankee/Georgia accent. You get this one when she’s happy to see you or when she is saying hello.
Huh-ney: This one is most frequently used with her children or when she’s about to lay down some knowledge. As in, “Now, huh-ney, I wouldn’t worry about your ass. Boys like it.” (Grandma, you did say this, I swear. It was years ago in your kitchen and you were re-assuring Allyn and me. It’s possible there was some Old Grand-dad involved. It was fantastic.) It’s also a dead giveaway for a forthcoming command. Once you hit 90, you can ask people to do almost anything for you and they can’t complain. Something to look forward to!
Boopsie Boodle: Exclusively used for babies and always, always said in a baby talk voice. Grandma loves babies more than basically everything and you can’t have an important conversation with her until after she has adequately greeted and fussed over the boopsie boodle.
And my favorite and perhaps the most lasting legacy in our family: Make it a good jigger full. I can’t remember any family dinner that didn’t start with cocktail hour. We’re not a bunch of lushes, but we like a good time. We get a little loose and breezy, sit down to eat, and then lean back in our chairs and talk around the table for hours. It’s one of my favorite things we do. Grandma, ever mindful of her health, knows she can have about one or two drinks, and she fully intends to get her money’s worth. While my mother pleads with my dad to make hers weak, Grandma is no shrinking violet. “Make it a good jigger full, huh-ney,” and then she hands over her flask to the evening’s mixologist. (What? Your grandmother doesn’t carry a flask of her favorite whiskey to make sure she gets to drink what she wants to drink when she gets to the party? Your grandmother doesn’t care what brand you give her? Too bad for your grandmother.) It’s a good party philosophy and delightfully old school– “make it a good jigger full” sounds much better than, “I want a good, stiff drink.”
She’s a wonderful, strong lady and I’m so glad for her sense of humor and her wilfulness I don’t ever have to wonder where my sense of humor or my love of language originated. Happy birthday, Grandma! I love you so much.