‘Momilies’ are words to live by

Published 11:59 pm Friday, August 7, 2009

“Close that refrigerator door!”

Does that sound familiar? What about, “Don’t talk with your mouth full?” Or, “When I told you to wash your hands, I meant for you to wash the back of them, too.”

And this? “Wipe your feet.”

If those phrases didn’t bring you back to memories of your childhood, you must have been an exceptional child. Or if you are a mother, chances are you can picture a little boy or girl (or both) standing at your refrigerator with the door wide open. I wonder how many times I told my two children to close that refrigerator door.

Someone gave me a book titled Momilies & More Momilies, by Michele Slung. It was filled with “motherly” phrases. The author defines “momilies” as sermons made by mothers. Some came from the mouth of the author’s own mother, as well as those of others. If you’re a mother, you probably remember some of your own “momilies.”

On occasion, haven’t you found yourself saying, “As my mother used to say…” I certainly have. As soon as I read a few of the phrases, I identified with them. Some of my mother’s “momilies” were similar, of course, and some exclusive to her. For example, when I showed my displeasure by frowning, she’d say, “My goodness, don’t make that ugly face. Do you want your face to freeze that way?”

When my cousin Harold, who loved just about every living creature, played with frogs, I shied away. I remembered my mother’s admonition. “If you play with frogs,” she said, “you’ll get warts.”

Haven’t we all heard mothers tell a crying child, “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.” Well, maybe not these days, since you might get accused of child abuse. During my childhood and those of my children, the thinking was quite different. If children deserved punishment, parents weren’t afraid to take care of it.

Remember how we used to try to convince our mothers to let us do something because our friends were doing it? And remember her answer? She said, “Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you can.”

I said this one to my children just as it was told to me. As soon as my mother kissed me and tucked me into bed, she’d call back, “Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.” Years later I read a letter my daddy wrote her when he was working away from home in the late 1920s or early 1930s. He said the place where he roomed had bedbugs. That “momily” took on a whole new meaning for me. If I’d really known about bedbugs, I wouldn’t have snuggled down to sleep so easily.

“Clean your plate. There are starving children in Africa.” Even today I’m pretty sure this is a phrase picky eaters hear a lot. Once when it was directed to a child I know, she held up her plate and said, “Well, you can give them this.”