When I was a kid.
My mother was the boss.
If you were to ask any member of my family who ran the show in our house there would be raging and unanimous agreement it was my mother.
It was fact. She ran it well. A tight type-A mother ship. A well oiled Mom machine.
Between the two of them my parents had never had a speeding ticket, traffic violation, or bounced check. In their lives. I’m sure they each had/have a credit score that could rival the Pope.
When I was a kid my Mother had a repertoire of Mom sayings she used for different things.
Teachable moments, or sometimes she would whip them out when she was just plain pissed off.
She tossed the usual ones around like most Moms do “I’m not your maid” “I don’t mean maybe” or the punchy “stay single” when she was aggravated with my father.
One of my Mother’s very favorite things to say was “Well I’ll be John Brown.”
Late for the bus? Noisy downstairs? I’ll be John Brown.
She used that one a lot. As a kid I had no earthly idea who John Brown was or why my mother wanted to be him.
Much later I learned its a common southern phrase but I’ve never heard anyone else say it but her. Ever.
Apparently invoking the name of a famous abolitionist saves you from saying something really offensive like damn.
My personal favorite of hers was a very Zen-like phrase she would use to discourage my brother, sister, and me when we were tempted to have just one more of anything in the kitchen, pantry, or fridge. Going for Popsicle #2? Well… “when it’s gone it’s gone.” No more Hydrox no more Pop Tarts. That’s it. The end. Zip.
This phrase mainly existed because my mother went to the grocery store once a week. Once. Unless there was an emergency involving milk or medicine there was no going back.
When it’s gone it’s gone. Put. The. Cookie. Down.
In the summertime my sister and I would go to the grocery store with my mother. I guess we were there to help but mainly we just gazed longingly at the stuff we would NOT be buying. Frozen pizza, soda, sugar cereal, Silly Putty.
Going to the store was serious business. My Mom had a giant stack of coupons in a coupon file and lists and a ballpoint pen. Feeding a family of 5 in the 70’s took careful calculation. She pushed the shopping cart. It helped her think.
Grocery shopping took hours. You could run a half marathon in the time it took us to get through the entire store. We went down every single aisle. Slowly.
It was nice at first in the cool a/c. A sunburn reprieve. The potential to finally convince Mom to buy the variety pack small boxes of cereal. Never.
This lasted until about aisle 3. Cleaning supplies around aisle 5. Boring. Hopeless.
We were so cold by the time we got to the meat section any joy had completely waned.
By the time Mom was in the checkout lane we resembled orphan children from a Dicken’s novel. Barely clothed, forlorn and freezing.
Unpacking the groceries was next. Everything had a designated place. Cereal and peanut butter in the pantry. And pop tarts.
Everything in paper bags.
Mom put the frozen things in the freezer.
Set the table.
One of you get the clothes off the clothesline. You do it. No you.
Dad home from work. He carried one of those black plastic rectangle lunchboxes. Very Dad-like. If you look up “Dad lunchbox” in the dictionary it’s there. It had a space for a thermos. For soup I suppose. Or something else.
Every evening he parked it on the floor in the corner of the kitchen.
Ready for dinner.
Ready for work in the morning.
Ready for groceries.
Ready for whatever came next.