Lifestyle & Culture

Thoughts of People Past

May 23, 2019

Some of us don’t know where butterflies come from or where they go. To us they’re like the sayings of people who are gone from our lives, wisps of memory that come and go. / iStock photo.

I WAS IN the shower the other morning and recalled my late friend Walter saying something like “How can someone take a shower and not wash their feet?” I haven’t the faintest recollection of what we were talking about. I only remember several of us were sitting around his cabin in Virginia chatting when he said this.

Now, almost every time I take a shower these words pop into my head. It’s not the message I’m paying attention to, though; it’s the fact that Walter is still alive in my head.
My mother also said funny, inconsequential things from time to time, and when I think of them she’s alive as well.
Which proves something we all inherently know: People don’t die until the last person who remembers them dies.
I suspect that most of us have little catch-phrases that lodge themselves in our brains and pop up at appropriate (and sometimes inappropriate) moments. My sister, for instance, says every time she sits down to play bridge, our mother’s bridge-speak comes flooding back (“eight ever, nine never,” and no, I have no idea what it means). It’s got to the point, she tells me, where her bridge partners are also quoting our mother.
My writer friend Pat says every time she hears the Spanish saying Mi casa es su casa, she remembers her late friend Arlene, who spoke no Spanish but would say it whenever Pat, who lives in Maryland, asked permission to do something when visiting her in New York. “That phrase comes up more than you would think in everyday life,” Pat says. And, she adds, “it reminds me what a welcoming host she was.”
“What a co-inky-dinky” is one of the sayings lodged in LittleBird Mary’s head. It’s how her father always remarked on coincidences. Silly, but still, it’s there long after he isn’t.
The mother of another friend, Ann, seemed determined to put a good spin on things. “If they don’t come,” she would say of invited guests, “they won’t have to go home.” (By the way, Ann plays bridge frequently with my sister so she probably spouts Mrs. McKeon’s bridge maxims as well.)
LittieBird Janet seems to be shadowed by her late mother when she’s shopping. “My mom always used to say ‘cheap can be expensive’—which resonates with me whenever I’m thinking of buying something.”
As LittleBird Kathy was sitting in her “mere 50 degrees warm” house in the country the other May day she was reminded of how her mother said that the ‘old folks’ always referred to those chilly, often wet days that would interrupt May’s warmth as the May Bleak. “Such an apt phrase, I’ve always thought. So Wuthering Heights-ish. So darkly romantic. So indicative of a need for hot tea. So contrary. Sort of like my mother.”
My brother has a weird one. Every time his friend George would drive past our mother’s house when my brother was entering (how often could this have happened?!), George would roll down his car window and say, with a flattened affect, “Menudo.” My brother cracks up every time he thinks of it. I guess I don’t have to get it as long as my brother does.
My brother also emailed me this with regard to Walter’s foot-washing advice: “BTW, you should only rinse your feet. Washing feet disrupts the balance between gram negative and gram positive bacteria that exist on them. Together, they tend to destroy foot fungus.”
So now I’ll have two things—and people—to remember when I take a shower.
What kinds of things have friends or relatives said that stick in your brain and bring them to mind?
—Nancy McKeon

7 thoughts on “Thoughts of People Past

  1. Nancy G says:

    Really lovely column. Thanks.

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      thank you!

  2. Christine says:

    Lovely, Nancy.

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      thank you! why don’t you start writing for MyLittleBird so i don’t have to miss you so much????

      1. Janet Kelly says:

        Now, that’s a fabulous idea!

  3. Carol says:

    I will be thinking on this all day!
    My mother used to say if I didn’t wash my hands after peeing I would get polio.
    I know, gross.
    Also, if I ate a raw potato I would get worms…
    Also, thanks, little birds.

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      i think moms say those things to see if we’re paying attention. apparently you really were! the polio thing was a real fear back in the day, though i don’t remember what if anything it had to do with peeing. as for raw potatoes . . . why would she have to warn about that!?

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