Sayings My Grandmother Taught Me

July 18, 2011 § 5 Comments

My maternal grandmother Mary Ollie Hayes Hilger, was born in northern Arkansas in 1882; came to Texas in a covered wagon before 1900; and married my grandfather in 1901 at the age of 19.

Jester B. Hilger, HS Graduation Dress made by her mother (my grandmother)

An excellent cook, she possessed a solid work ethic, was an expert seamstress, and otherwise  talented with her hands and willing to tackle any project. In fact, while my grandfather pastored a series of country Baptist churches throughout their married life, Grandmother Hilger was the partner who farmed their three-acre place just on the outskirts of Greenville, TX; sewed for the “gentry”; and raised chickens for eggs and eating. And if Granddad brought home a squirrel or two (he always took his shotgun when driving to his church of a Sunday) she knew exactly what to do.

No, she didn’t go with Granddad to church, although a faithful Christian woman. You see, Grandmother Hilger dipped snuff—a self-admitted bad habit, but none the less …

Even today I know the smell of her snuff, Joy. A musty rose bouquet smell. Glade® has a room deodorant with the same fragrance. If Tom brings that one home from the store, it goes in the guest bath!

MLS at 6 - My Favorite dress. Grandmother H. made the lace, too!

I have many fond memories of Grandmother H. She made most of the dresses I wore to church and school while growing up. And when I graduated from high school, her gift to me was a beautiful patchwork quilt—made from scraps saved from those dresses!

I can still taste her chocolate pie and sugar cookies. Her fried chicken has never been equaled—except perhaps by that of Grandmother Summers! And for a little woman—I was taller than she before I reached my 12th birthday—Grandmother H. had the strongest wrists. She could ring a fryer’s neck with only three quick twists … honest.

But my strongest legacy from Grandmother H. are her sayings. They have a properly elevated place in my own personal “thesaurus”.

“I could ring his neck.” She never had to explain to me where this one came from! And I never doubted that she could do it, either.

“Got a good scald on that one.” If you’ve ever made biscuits from scratch, or chocolate pudding pie, you will appreciate the importance of getting a good scald on the milk before adding the dry ingredients. The milk must not boil, but it has to be hot enough to coat the saucepan or it won’t make good … whatever. I am proud to say I mastered this art as a teen. However, for me and my sister, the phrase came to mean “You did that well.” We use it often.

“It squatted to rise and baked on the squat.” Another baking reference. Yeast dough for dinner rolls or bread must be beaten down in order to rise or it won’t bake light and fluffy. If the yeast is not good, or the baking soda in biscuits is flat, the dough will “bake on the squat”, so to speak. In other words, something didn’t quite work out the way it was supposed to.

My mother clearly followed in her mother’s footsteps with a few colorful phrases of her own.

“My stars and garters.” You got me! Mother, Jester Buena Hilger Summers, used to say this all the time, but then Baptist preachers’ kids and wives never said “my lord” or “gosh” or … well … all those other “swear” words!

“I fell off the roof.” In my mother’s day no one spoke the name of “you know what,” therefore, a code was needed to inform female family and friends that you were “in your monthly”. Today that’s not so much a “curse” as it use to be, but somehow “Falling off the roof” seemed appropriate!

“Someone didn’t think that through.” Another Jesterism, good for any occasion in which a project or idea falls short of the intended result. I use this one A LOT.

I was once sorely tempted to use this last in my dissertation document The Soprano Solo Cantatas of J. S. Bach when analyzing a particularly uninspired opus. I probably should have done. The professors all criticized this part of the dissertation requirement as being “too reliant on other writers’ ideas” and not my own. Who knew?

My motto is “think it through”, i.e., plan for every outcome that I can think of, then get busy. Works for me!

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§ 5 Responses to Sayings My Grandmother Taught Me

  • Those family sayings can be the best souvenirs. My personal family favorite, from Grandma Fairbanks: “Remember, nothing good happens after midnight.” Her daughters, sons, grand-daughers, and grandsons got the message that curfew times were set for very good reasons.
    And curfews were expected to be honored!

  • Donna Beard says:

    Mary Lois,
    You have no idea how much I appreciate your humor. I laughed out loud because I heard those same sayings while growing up. My grandma used to say ‘I’ll paddle your canoe if you don’t stop it’. How about ‘you know the lightning aways sours the milk’, referring to a combative relative who has been invited to a get together.
    My dad had a few sayings, but I can’t put them in writing. The sensors might get me. But guess what, we went to church every Sunday. Go figure!

  • My mother’s declaration of disapproval was, “I’d trade you in for a slide trombone.” She didn’t think much of slide trombones either…

  • David says:

    My grandmother, a few years younger than yours, used to say “my stars and garters.” Do you know where this expression comes from and what it means? I could never get an explaination from her.

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