Every now and then I will come upon phrases that sound just like something my folks used to say. I bet you do that, too. I don’t know why some things we heard we use easily, some things we never say again, and some things we say, but with the words, “As Mom used to say …” I remember Gram doing the same – “As Dad always said …” Maybe something seems really out of date. Or maybe it is so like a particular person, it’s almost like plagiarism to claim it for our own.

Families have their own traditions and sayings, and sometimes I have no idea if other people around say them, too. A few years back I tried to trace the origin of “had the radish,” getting practically nowhere. Dad said he didn’t hear it when he was a kid nor in the army. Most people knew what it meant, but no one remembered where they first heard it or used it. And unlike “Hold your horses” or “Bought the farm,” it didn’t appear to have any allusion to a real-life usage. Anyway, here are a few things I remember that no one seems to say any more, but were useful at the time.

“Bless your/his/her little pink ears.” That was my mother – I have never heard anyone else use this phrase. It’s a little hard to describe – it meant roughly the same as “She means well, but…” But not quite. It meant she had doubts as to your/his/her actions, but not enough to call you/him/her on it. It reminded my of bunny rabbits with pink ears, and had totally faded from memory until it popped up in my head the other day as the totally appropriate response to something. I can’t remember what the something was because I became bemused and amused at how the phrase just came tumbling out at the right time with all its attachments to Mom and the past. I said it, but with the words, “As my mother used to say” accompanying it.

“Heavens to Betsy!” my Gram said, along with “Gracious!” One of my girls transposed these to “Gracious to Heavens,” and we all knew where she got it. I don’t know what I say in the circumstances of surprise and fun when in mixed age company– “Oh my goodness,” maybe, but never “Heavens to Betsy.” Mom didn’t say that either – totally a Grammy exclamation. (As to mixed age company, one of my kids was ejected from a room at a party while the adult guys were telling off-color jokes. “I don’t know why,” she lamented. “I know all the words.” Okay, then).

“Let’s not and say we did,” Mom would say when faced with a plan she thought iffy. I wondered if that meant she advocated lying, but never asked. “Oh, dear, bread and beer, If I were home, I wouldn’t be here,” Gram said (although usually at home) when tired of whatever was going on. She may or may not have attributed that to her father. She adored her father, but I suspect his language was not exactly refined. She kept most of his utterances to herself, but would quote him on such things as being “Slipperier than snot on a brass doorknob.” Mom, when she wanted us to get a move on, would say, “Rustle your bustle!” We rustled.

Last week while attempting a tune, I suddenly recalled Gram saying, “Whistling girls and crowing hens Will always come to some bad ends,” with a laugh. “That’s what my mother used to say!” I’m guessing she hadn’t thought of that in years – then I started whistling, and snap! There it was, fully feathered, probably with an image of the exact time her mother said it.

I wonder what I say that will come down to the kids with, “As my mother used to say …” Maybe I should ask …