Family Aphorisms: A Memoir Legacy of Advice
Did you cotton to the advice of Ma and Pa in your youth?
Or did you roll your eyes?
One source of memoir in almost every life consists of the aphorisms — the boiled down wisdom or witticism — passed on by previous generations.
The pattern of youth is to disdain these. The pattern of age is to remember.
Often the sayings are appreciated in a new way in older age, but sometimes they are spoken sadly, either out of regret for the smallness of the vision or for the loss of the wise one whose words remain.
I was a young mother in my thirties when my husband and I bought a copy of the Rhodes family cookbook pictured here. That’s a little beyond the eye-rolling stage but before real appreciation for the buried treasure in the legacy of wise or funny words passed down.
One of the features my husband and I enjoyed most about the cookbook, however, were the sayings and poems listed in the front. “Grandpap” Rhodes, the patriarch of a huge clan of Rhodeses, was still living when we got married in 1969 but died a few years later in 1972. I enjoyed visiting with him and recognized the twinkle in his eye. My Grandpa Hess had a twinkle like that.
So we laughed when we read Grandpap Rhodes’ sayings recorded in the cookbook: “Babies are a sure crop — regardless of the weather.”
Sometimes Grandpap talked to himself. When asked why, he said, “I like to talk to a smart man now and then.”
Most of the other sayings in the Rhodes book are about kindness. For example:
“Do all the good you can,
In all the ways you can,
To all the people you can,
Just as long as you can.”
As I make final revisions on my memoir, I am asking the question of how my family, church, and community shaped me. I am remembering aphorisms.
Recently I asked my Facebook friends what they remembered and I got fifty-seven responses. I’ve assembled these in a Word Document, which I will share in a few days, but first I thought I would ask you to reflect on the aphorisms of your life.
What sayings did you hear that have stuck with you? And have you passed these on to your children, if you have them? I believe I might have valued individuality too much and tried to avoid teaching cliches. I think I’ll have to ask my children what if any sayings they remember from home. How about you?
Grandpa Hess said this to his 6 sons: What’s a pretty dish with nothing on it? Remember that beauty is only skin deep.
From Joanne Hess Siegrist – While I keep a word file of favorite slogans. I created this one which is always seeing in my kitchen:
What can I do… in spite of unfairness and troubles? Brainstorming… always looking for new, positive options!
Thanks for another good one, Joanne. And good for you — you created your own! I’m sure your children will remember your determination to be positive no matter what.
As the ninth of ten kids, on a forty acre farm, I used to hear a lot of old sayings. My mother used to say:
“Idle Hands are the Devil’s workshop”!— When I was still single at thirty she would say: “Don’t worry, there’s a lid for every pot”! —-When my grades were too low at school, she would say: “Well you can’t tell how far a frog is going to hop, just by looking at the size of it’s warts”!
She had many others, but I would have to think about it awhile for them to come to mind!
TOG, (the Old Geezer from Geezerville)
Ray, these are Gems indeed. Never heard the one about the frog and its warts before.
Thanks for sharing these sayings from Geezerville. You have added to the stock of wisdom here today.
My mother often said, “Get an education. No one can ever take it away from you.”
And she was a big advocate for reading: “Every time you read a book, you learn something new.”
This isn’t really an aphorism, but it’s something she told all three of her children multiple times: “Learn to type, and you’ll never be without a job.” All three of us did learn to type, and it did help us land jobs through the years. Nowadays, of course, things are different, but back then it was a skill that not everyone had.
These are very interesting, Tina.One of the interesting things about aphorisms is that what some families exalt, others avoid. I didn’t grow up hearing accolades for education. So I enjoyed these.
Also, your last one reminds me of a piece of advice I heard from one of my professors in grad school, Elspeth Rostow. Her mother told her (in the 1930’s probably) NOT to learn to type because if she did some smart man would just use her as a stepping stone. Or it would just be too easy to fit in to the few roles available to women back then.
Fascinating, don’t you think?
Dad often said, “You are the master of the unspoken word. Once it is out of your mouth, you are its slave.” I have passed this on to my children — and I have personally experienced the painful truth of this aphorism, when I have said something without thinking and wished I could take it back. We’ve seen this again and again, especially with politicians who blurt out something ridiculous and it haunts them literally for years. They have become the slave of their words, controlled by them, at their mercy.
What a powerful image, Linda! One of the purposes of aphorisms is to help others avoid the mistakes we have made. Or to recognize the true dynamics of a mistake if they haven’t avoided it. “Oh, NOW I know why Dad said this. I’ll be careful to be the master and not the slave the rest of my life.”
Profound, Linda. Thanks for sharing.
I shudder when I hear the profanity used by mostly the young generation, it’s bad enough when it’s oral, but they put it in writing! On facebook and everywhere else!
My education is very limited, no matter, I see folks who have Master and PHD degrees that are unable to put two sentences together without using the crudest profanity!
Sure, it may come back to haunt them but I think they will deserve it, there is simply no excuse for folks in the media and those who are educated for the practice!
Profanity was once the practice of the unwashed masses,(me too) but not anymore! If I could put it behind me anyone can!
TOG, (the Old Geezer from Geezerville)
Ray, I agree with you. I especially regret the way the F-bomb has invaded nearly every space in our culture and tossed off without thinking.
Now, do you know an aphorism that could challenge this practice?
No Shirley, I really can’t think of an aphorism that challenges the practice of using profanity. I can make one up though! How about this? ——- “How did that really taste when it came out of your mouth”?????—-
I can think of others, one of my mother’s favorites, “Waste not, Want not”!— Another one that my folks used a lot was, “The borrower is always a slave to the lender”, I think this one is from the Bible)!—– Here’s another, “As ye sew, so shall ye rip”!
TOG, (The Old Geezer from Geezerville)
My mother didn’t have an aphorism for it but she saw slang/profanity as indicating that the person lacked a wide enough vocabulary.
More good ones, Ray!
Mama used to tell me, “A watched pot never boils,” and “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
I never knew my grandparents, so I called my mom to ask her for more, and she said, “Mother only barked orders.”
Which meant she couldn’t remember.
One I made up and told my children: “Life is a noun, but to live is a verb.”
I love your own aphorism, Darrelyn. I think that’s what this post has challenged me to do. Make up some good aphorisms and repeat them enough to make their eyes roll again. Even if they are in their thirties. 🙂
Your mom’s response sounds like she’s got a feisty voice. Good for her. Here’s a Grandpap Rhodes aphorism that relates: When he gave strict orders, he would sometimes say, “Those are words with bark on them!”
Thanks for adding to our stock of wisdom.
and in the height of the temperance movement this is what my great-great-great grandfather Jacob Nissley Martin of Elizabethtown, PA quoted.
” Water for washing,
Water for drinking,
Nothing but water,
Pure water I’m thinking.
Put nothing but water
In cup or in pitcher,
And then merry maid,
You’ll be wiser and richer.”
Still looking for those PA German sayings.
Thanks for this delightful poem. GGGGrandpa probably wouldn’t approve of the biblical injunction to drink wine rather than water because it is good for the stomach. Nor the saying “A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou.”
You might enjoy this blog post:http://voices.yahoo.com/pennsylvania-dutch-words-phrases-4999796.html
[…] I intimated in my last post, the response to my Facebook query asking for examples of sayings from parents was amazing. […]