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7 Things My Mama Told Me

If you’re looking for eloquent words of inspiration, this may not be the post for you. My momma was a plain spoken woman – she called things as she saw them. As simple as these phrases might seem, they help keep me on track, and I’ve shared them with my kids, too. I also remember her for her sense of humor. She was a bit of a joker – like me. 🙂 (Thus the photo above.) Here are 7 things my mama told me, which I also tell to my kids.

Mom Joking Around

1. All clumsy flesh must come off.

Yep, you read that right. Mom wasn’t one to be lavish in her pity or praise. If you were clumsy or careless enough to cut or otherwise injure yourself, it was their responsibility. Losing a little flesh was a reminder to pay attention to what you were doing. Patch it up, get back to work, and skip the pity party.

Mom and my sister, Lois, catering
Mom and my sister, Lois, catering

2. If someone leaves hungry, it’s their own darn fault.

Mom always had something to eat when folks dropped in for a visit – expected or unexpected. The food was simple, but good, and always abundant. We may have lived below the poverty line, but with the farm and garden, we never went hungry, and neither did our guests. To me, it’s the worst sort of bad manners to invite folks over for supper and not have enough food. You come by my place, and I’ll treat you right, and share the bounty of our gardens and other real food.

Grandma, lil' Dunc and me
Gram Irene, lil’ Dunc and me

3. Sh*t or get off the pot.

We had six kids and one bathroom, so this one was literal as well as figurative. When stuff needed to be done, you did it. You didn’t sit there and talk about it for hours, you didn’t make excuses, you just made it happen.

Irene and her daughters
My sister, Lois, Mom, Mary and Me

4. Nobody’s going to buy the cow if they can get the milk for free.

This one was a warning to her daughters about the having sex before marriage. If you value yourself too cheaply, others will, too. I think this is worth remembering with regards anything you do. If you don’t value and respect your own efforts, no one else will, either.

Grandma and her Grandson
Gram Irene and Little Cub

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5. You made your bed, you lie in it.

Each individual is responsible for their own actions. If we screwed up, it was our responsibility to make it right.

Gingerbread house
One of the many gingerbread houses my mom made over the years with my sister, Lois

6. If someone doesn’t like the way my house looks, they can clean it for me. If they don’t like the clothes I’m wearing, they can buy me some new ones.

Mom was never big on keeping up appearances. It wasn’t that she didn’t like beautiful things – she was quite a talented artist – she just didn’t have a lot of time or money to spare to afford them, and it wasn’t a priority. I have definitely inherited her attitude. My clothes are more functional the fashionable, and my house is only cleaned when needed, not on a schedule.

Gram Irene with face rash
Mom loved all her grandkids and great grandkids. Here you can see the rash on her face.

7. It’s hell to get old.

Mama lived this. For the last ten years of her life, she battled some strange autoimmune skin problem that created a red, itchy rash on her face. My sister took her to doctors all over our state and the neighboring one – I even sent her medical records to China since we had a Chinese exchange student at the time and the student’s mom offered to help. Mom also battled myotonic muscular dystrophy, which weakened her limbs and made it hard to for her to walk, let alone do the things she loved like gardening and baking. When she finally passed, she went with a smile on her face, and I knew she wasn’t hurting any more.

Mama’s health problems are a big reason that I started researching natural health, and that I share what I find in my blog. I wish I had known then what I know now – maybe she wouldn’t have had to go through hell on earth?

I can’t change the past, but maybe I can help my friends and loved ones in the future, and maybe I can help others. If I can at least do something, anything… I wouldn’t feel so blasted helpless.

It’s been over two years since mom passed away, but I still find myself dialing her number on the phone sometimes. This time of year I think of her often, as we always worked side by side in the garden, and used to swap stories (and plants) when we couldn’t garden together. I still dream about her in the garden at times.

Do you have any phrases that your parents or grandparents have passed along? I’d love to hear them.

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  1. thought of another one mom used to say: its hell to old, thought it was supposed to be the golden years, but they’re tarnished brass!!! how true, how true……now in 70s, and see what she meant, sure wish folks were here….

  2. boy, laurie, these sayings sure bring back some of my own mom’s sayings, or grandma’s!!!! Lets have some more…….and I still use them today! My regret, and I hope if your grandparents, parents, anyone like that is still living, get as much LIFE info from them as you can, write down sayins, recipes, thoughts, and so on…..document this stuff for posterity’s sake,,mine are all gone, but some memories are still there, some are gone, and I regret not taking advantage of learning everything and writing it down while they were alive….like their depression recipes, for living and food, washing, etc.
    You sound like you have a great family, wish I still had mine, and we had a place like yours where everyone could live if needed, grow own foods, put foods by, and so on….God bless you and yours, stay well and safe and enjoy/cherish the times you have together.

  3. Don’t really remember many sayings but how she lived. Always singing while she worked, always busy taking care of ‘everyone’. Nobody was wanting anything if she knew about it. She could do anything and did. 1st to come to an event last to go…. Loads of common sense and practicable. Her hands were always busy with something and the cookie jar was never empty. When I was a teen i didn’t want to be like her now i long to be like her. A wonderful loveable lady, I spooooo miss her.

  4. Both of my parents passed away many years ago. They both had some pithy expressions, truisms & aphorisms. Some made lots of sense & some left you scratching your head. My dad’s favorites: Lay down with dogs, get up with fleas. (meaning that whomever you associate with will affect your reputation for better or worse)

    Another was: You wouldn’t p*ss in my ear & tell me it’s raining would you? (meaning he doubted your veracity, lying to him was p*ssing in his ear)

    Yet another: A fresh coat of paint covers many evils. (meaning? I think he meant that if you mess up it’s better to start from scratch & go onward from there)

    The one that we could never understand or get him to explain: Happier than a dead hog in a branch… (a branch is a creek) How can anything that’s dead be happy to be in a creek??? Non sequitur…

    My mom’s were more common & many of them have been posted in the article & in the comments. I really miss my parents deeply even decades later. I still think to myself that I would love to be able to thrash out some problem of mine with my parents’ input & advice. It’s been 24-30 years since they passed away & at odd moments the grief still feels fresh.

    1. I have never heard the dead hog quote. You got me on that one, too. I suspect there’s a missing story to go with it.

      I know what you mean about missing them. I used to call mom every Saturday without fail, just to hash over everything that happened during the week. There’s just nothing like talking things over with a parent.

    2. I just remembered a couple of my mom’s favorite expressions: Marry in haste, repent at leisure. She wasn’t really talking about a poor choice of spouses. She meant that making life changing decisions requires due diligence & sober consideration. The other one is a little more critical: “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” She was the daughter & granddaughter of Southern Baptist ministers, so she knew her way around the Bible. If she thought any of her kids were being wrong-headed or foolish she busted out with this gem of a scold… I can remember thinking that I couldn’t get that image out of my head… Ick!!! The really memorable one was a warning to her daughters about not wearing a bra… We grew up in the 1960s… Bra-less was fashionable. My mom thought that was just awful so she told us girls that if we didn’t wear a bra, by the time we were in our 40s our breasts would reassemble a golf ball in a sock… Yuck! That had us strapping on a bra whether we liked it or not.

        1. Yeah, my mom liked to use visual imagery. I guess it was a legacy of being related to ministers. She had a wonderful, descriptive way of speaking that always called up mental images. (some weren’t always so pleasant though) She always got her point across clearly. I suppose if it weren’t so memorable, I wouldn’t recall her advice so clearly after all these years. She was also always supportive of her kids. She reminded us frequently that we could accomplish anything if we worked hard enough. She was the hardest working woman I’ve ever known. I truly believe that there was nothing she couldn’t do if she set her mind to it. An example: My mom decided that she had been remiss in not teaching her girls how to knit. She herself didn’t know how to knit. So… She set out to learn how to knit so she could teach us… The only kink is that the woman who taught her to knit was English… My mom didn’t know that Europeans knit differently than Americans. So all my life I’ve had to mentally convert American knitting to English knitting. I didn’t know about the differences until a few American knitters started telling me that my knitting method was all wonky & weird. (they had never seen European knitters in action) Growing up in my family was never boring… πŸ™‚

      1. LOVE the part about the bra….well girls, regardless of whether you did, do or didnt, those boobs are gonna fall anyway, part of growing older and gravity…!

  5. Great read! I remember when I was young expressing out load a plot i had devised to get even for someone who wronged me. My mom listened and warned me “Be careful who you dig a hole for. You might fall in yourself” I found this to be very true.

  6. Every one of those expressions were heard often in my home with 4 sisters around. My mother passed away 20 years ago but hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of her. when I sew, bake bread, knit – all of these things remind me of the lady who taught me how to survive. I hope I did as well with my daughter and son.

  7. Oh my Laurie….I LOVED your wonderful reminiscences of your mom!!! Made me smile….and a tear. I grew up hearing those same sayings from my mom…and naturally, my kids have too…lol.
    My grandma had one that mom always was saying…”enough is enough and too much is shi**y”. I use that one when teasing/annoying behavior is getting old or making me angry.
    Another one is: “The more you stir a turd, the more it stinks”. That was mom’s way of telling me to stop stirring up trouble and to let things go…lol
    Gosh, I miss her. She could always make me laugh and feel things would be okay.
    Thanks for sharing????

    1. The years go by so quickly. We said goodbye to a friend’s mother last weekend. Not so many of the older generation left anymore. I feel it sometimes like a hole in my heart.

  8. What a great read. My mom said many of these very factual things herself. They are so true. so love your articles.

  9. My mother was always saying, “A lil’ dab will do ya!” In our throw away world, we should take heed to use less to make whatever we have last longer.

    1. Wasn’t that saying from a hair product – maybe Dippity Do – or something similar? I swear I remember seeing it on my grandmother’s dresser many years ago as a child. How things have changed over the years. Now we have a throwaway society. I hope it swings back the other direction soon.

  10. I heard many of the same expressions from my parents and grandmother while growing up. My parents passed when I was in my teens, but the one saying I remember most was “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Those little, irritating moments in life when everything seems to go wrong (stubbed toe, dropped tool, spilled whatever…) just don’t matter in the big picture. My favorite? “Have a little faith – it’ll all come out in the wash!” And it does. It doesn’t hurt when my 37 yr old daughter calls and says that every time she opens her mouth, I come out! I tell her it’s not me, it’s Grandma.

  11. Great post!

    “Lazy people work the hardest.” Meaning that we often try to think of shortcuts, etc but in reality if we just do it the right (hard) way to begin with, then we save time and effort.

    “If you wanted to get there on time, you should have left 5 minutes earlier.” Meaning that if you had left earlier, you wouldn’t be driving like a maniac now.

  12. My grandmother grew up dirt poor. She went through the dust bowl and the Great Depression. She could make a chicken coop out of anything. My grandmother taught me how to build and repair fences, milk goats, to identify snakes, weeds, trees and how to walk really fast. We used to walk for miles to go and “visit” people. She was never impressed by “town folk” or fancy clothes. A famous saying was, “They put their step-ins (underwear) on one leg at a time just like you do.”
    My mother grew up breaking horses and driving trucks. She taught me how to drive a stick shift, pull a trailer and to have a good work ethic. “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right the first time” was a motto she lived by. My hind end would pay the price for sloppy, half-done work. Both are gone for many years now and I miss them dearly. One fine day….one fine day…I’ll see them both again.

  13. “If you don’t have time to do it right, you sure don’t have time to do it over!”
    “Will it matter in five years?” (Her way of providing perspective to the latest teenage crisis)

  14. Dear Laurie,

    Hi! I like your mom because she is the one with true wisdom.

    Best regards,

  15. It’d be alot tougher if you didn’t have it…. my Gramma would say that when someone complained about tough meat……but it can be applied to many things in life.

  16. Hell is not even half full yet, go ahead brother. & If I wanted a fool to do it I would have done it myself.

  17. I lost my mom about 12 years ago-I still miss her terribly. One thing I remember her saying when she would see someone doing something stupid was, “No sense, no feeling” which I translated to to brain, no pain. I also remember her describing a February day as colder than a witch’s t*t. I’m still trying to work that one out! πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for sharing about your mom, and I love the pictures!

  18. From my mother’s mother – “when you use what you got, you won’t need what you have not”. Any time I have a craft project, I ALWAYS say this to myself before running to the store. And it applies to so many situations…

    I also learned from stories that my mom told me – there’s one about the poor farmer whose only horse runs away. The neighbors said, “what bad luck”. The farmer said, “could be a good thing, could be a bad thing”. The the horse comes back with 4 wild mares. The neighbors said, “what good luck”. The farmer said, “could be a good thing, could be a bad thing”. Then the farmer’s son broke his leg when he fell off of one of the mares trying to break her. The neighbors said, “what bad luck”. The farmer said, “could be a good thing, could be a bad thing”. And when the army came to town to take all of the young men off to war, they didn’t take the farmer’s son because of his broken leg.

    Then there’s the one about the young boy, the old man, and the donkey. The old man was walking along with a donkey being ridden by the young boy. They overhear two people say, “why doesn’t the old man ride and the young boy walk?” So they switch. Then they overhear, “why don’t they both ride?” So they do. Then they overhear, “poor donkey… he’s carring such a heavy load!” So they get down and decide to carry the donkey. Then they come to an unstable bridge, lose their grip on the donkey, and he falls into the river. Moral of the story – when you try to please everyone, YOU LOSE YOUR ASS! So true on so many levels!!!!

  19. What a wonderful tribute to such a wonderful person. Love some of these things, especially the first one. My grandmother was a cook and fed 6 kids in the 50s and 60s. No time for messing up, and when you did, you just cleaned it up and kept moving on.

    One of the things she always said was “Buck up when you F*** up.” Brash, yes, but she was right. And being a no nonsense Catholic woman who raised 6 kids, drank tequila, played rummy and cribbage with the best, ran a restaurant, a motel in Arizona, and did the books when my grandpa ran guns? She earned her right to be brash.

    My mom ended up picking up the phrase, but as she got older and more conservative, she ended up just saying “Buck up when you mess up.” Not quite the same ring, but definitely the same sentiment.

  20. One of the funniest sayings my mother had for my siblings and I was “If you fall and break your leg, don’t come running to me!” Mom was always patching up one of us or the neighborhood kids. She was full of knowledge and common sense, and with 8 kids she had to keep a sense of humor.

  21. That was perfect. My mother is in a facility with Alzheimers and I miss the woman she was so very much. She was from the South so I was raised on “sayings” so I had heard all of these growing up. There is of course …”A bird in the hand is worth two in bush” … “don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today” Thanks to you and all the others for sharing!

  22. When a task is once begun never leave it til its done–Do the labor great or small–Do it well or not at all. This was my mothers favorite saying to me as i was growing up.

  23. My Mom’s Favorite was “Don’t be so dramatic!” She had no tolerance for BS.
    I think my Mom and yours would have gotten along very well together!
    I just discovered your page today Thanks to Raising Auggy….
    I will be back, often! Thanks!

  24. Another great post honoring your mother! She clearly was an amazing woman based on the one daughter of hers that I’m privileged to know. :^)

  25. Great post! My mother is still living, but suffered a massive stroke in 1990, has been paralyzed and speech affected ever since. However, I certainly remember a few of her “one-liners” –
    “Don’t assume or you’ll make an ass out of u and me.” Ass/U/Me for those who’ve never heard that one.
    “Two wrongs don’t make a right”. I find myself saying that to my own daughters on occasion when one says “But SHE started it!!” or something to try to explain why they just had to pull the other one’s hair or take their teddy bear or what have you.
    My mom said some of the same little ditties that your lovely mama said too – “Sh*t or get off the pot”, “You make your bed, you lay in it” and such.
    I think I”m going to use the “why buy the cow when you can get the milk free” one with my own daughters…hmmm. πŸ˜‰
    Thanks for posting and sharing. πŸ™‚

  26. What a wonderful tribute to your mother! Mine is still living but I still find myself telling my kids the same advice she always said. One thing that stands out is “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Meaning, just because he hit you, hitting back doesn’t make it ok. Also, “As long as he’s picking on you, he’s leaving everybody else alone.” Meaning quit whining and be thankful it’s not worse.
    Thanks for sharing.

  27. What a lovely post; my granny used to say ‘shit or get off the pot’ too. Another of hers was “Now you’re cooking with gas”…. a hint I think of her younger days when many folks in New Mexico territory still cooked on wood stoves. Meant now you were fine and fancy. I especially love #6, that is sooo my attitude!

    1. Mom used to say “Now you’re cooking with gas” once in a while, too. Her mom cooked on a wood stove, so gas was a step up. She also used to say sometimes that someone needed something like “Carters need liver pills”. When I was younger, I thought this was some strange reference to Jimmy Carter, but later I found out there was a company named Carters that manufactured some sort of liver tonic pills.

  28. Wow, Laurie, this stuff is great! Some of it is very similar to my own memories of my mom & her mom, tho the beautiful gingerbread houses were swapped for amazing quilts, some of which we still have & my sister, MaryJo, has been rebuilding for the family. She did save one for me to do…it will be my first ever quilt. Yikes! Did your mom sew too? That seems to be the country woman’s trifecta… cooking, gardening, sewing.

    PS. We had 1 bathroom for 7 people, 5 of which were girls. Fortunately there was a shower in the basement, but not surprising, no curling irons or makeup in the bathroom…is why we always did and still look so plain! πŸ™‚

    1. Brenda – your story reminds me of one of my close friends, Julie. 12 kids, one bathroom, and a shower in the basement. She was the youngest so she always had the worst times to use the bathroom. πŸ™‚

  29. Im still young and just starting off on my own. My mother is my best friend, I call her with all my problems, from “how to I make the boxed macaroni and cheese sauce stretch” to advice on very serious matters. I honestly cant imagine a day where I cant call my mom. Her best advice for me when going through any ordeal is ” if its not okay, its not the end” I love that woman dearly.

  30. Wow, what a lovely tribute to your mother, she sounds like she was a lovely person. I’m so sorry for your loss. I, too, lost my mom last year (August) and I miss her immensely. I try not to think too much about her, it just really hurts to think I won’t see her again until heaven (at least I’ve got that :).

    Anyway—love your mom’s sayings. The one my mom used to say to me is, “This is only a temporary situation.” It really helps me through things when I’m able to think that next week things will be different, or whatever.

  31. Beautiful post…and I was laughing so hard, but also shaking my head in agreement, because your mom’s advice so GOOD and full of common sense πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ I’m sorry that she’s no longer with you, but it looks like you are honoring her by sharing the things you loved best about her πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ It’s certainly made my day/encouraged me today πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather πŸ˜‰

  32. I grew up with all those truths and more. One of the things my mother would say, when she would hear of an upcoming marriage, was, “Nothing new but the nightclothes!” She had four daughters, and on date night, she’d remind us, “Keep your feet on the floor”. But my favorite came from HER mother, who was a real treasure: “It’s an ill wind that blows no good”. Meaning, almost everything that happens, no matter how bad, has something good that comes out of it. Hard to see when you’re living it, but when it’s past and you can look back on it, you can say, “You know, if that hadn’t happened, ……”

    I was once told that when you dream of someone, it’s because they are trying to communicate with you from the other side. Lots of people say that’s idiocy. But does anyone really know for sure?

  33. That’s a beautiful article, Laurie. Your mother sounds like she was an amazing woman! How blessed you are.

  34. Beautiful post Laurie:)
    ” Your age makes you wrong”. It was dad’s way of telling us, that while we were allowed to voice our opinion sometimes, we had darn well do it with respect. And ultimately, my parents had final say.

  35. Aww. The last paragraph brought tears to my eyes. You can tell you love your mom a lot. I’m the ‘baby’ of five children and I’m now 50. I find myself calling my mom up for just about any advice I need and I’ll miss her terribly when I can no longer do that.

    My favorite things she says which she claims her grandma said to her are:
    “It’ll all come out in the wash,” and “You’re going to dry up and blow away if you don’t eat some more!” πŸ™‚

    1. WOW.
      We must be sister from unutha mister!
      But…with a TWIST!
      It wasn’t my mom who taught me how to “wash” myself, it was my Dad. Is it strange that he taught me how to shave my bikini line?
      Probably not! I mean…it’s my DAD! Dad’s are not creepy…
      My mom alway kept on me about eating too!
      She used to say, “Heddy” (my nickname), stop eating like a bird! Open your mouth wide and shove that sh*t down your throat like a MAN”!
      I love you, mom…
      Where ever you are. .
      My Guardian Angel!

  36. When I messed up sewing or trying to cook, my Granny would always say, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” As a child, I hated to hear her say that…it meant I couldn’t get mad…lol….wish I could hear Granny’s words of wisdom now! Grandpa would say I was “as independent as a hog on ice” meaning I didn’t know when to ask for help and was too proud. Both told me “pretty is as pretty does” plus a dozen other sayings to remind me to always be considerate of others feelings. Such wise people, my Grandparents. Now that I’m a Grandma, my grandsons hear their sayings….lol

  37. So sweet to read Laurie- I can hear and feel the love bond you shared with your special and talented mother.
    My Dad died in an auto accident on icy roads at age 31. I recall riding horse with him- very fast while feeling very safe and thrilled. Anytime I see or smell a horse, I smile! Even at age 7 I was sure of his love and I miss him often even these 31 years later!