This entry is part of my personal series on grief, called Wish You Were There, that’s unrelated to travel.
Turns out those two phrases did not originate with my family; we’re all plagiarizers! It was a character in All Creatures Great and Small who used to say that her dog running around like crazy was a cracker dog (also used as a verb), and that, when her dog dragged her butt across the ground, she was flop botting. My family used so many silly nicknames and phrases that I assumed those were ours.
Our dog, Humphrey, rarely went cracker dog, but man did he flop bot a lot. Especially the Christmas he ate all the tinsel from the Christmas tree and walked around with silvery strips hanging from his doody shoot.
Dad called Humphrey a tar rooter, and when he was really up to something, a rootin’ tootin’ tar rooter. Humphrey used to come and go through the dog flap in the mud room, but so did our neighbor’s dachshund, Rovey (actual name: Brandy). We’d walk in the house after a day away to find Rovey on the kitchen counter helping himself to meat Mom had left out to thaw.
Dad called me Shoota, which, as far as anyone knew, was random. He called us all his brunette angels; to the delight of Mom he spelled it “angles” in a letter home. Mom sure did love word play.
Our neighbor called me, Mishelly (Michele and Shelly) and Pippy Longstockings (because I had two long braids). Grandaddy called my sister, Boo. Like, all the time.
When Grandaddy hadn’t seen you in a while, he’d call you over, push your hair out of your eyes and cradle your face in his hands so he could look right into your soul to make sure you were okay. Gramma and Grandaddy were all love (and hard work).
Gramma’s parents were named Agnes and Raleigh Wheat. They raised a kazillion family members on a small farm, in a farm house that’s still there. One time, Wheat was working out in the fields, and he stood up and smelled the air, then shouted back to the house,
Agnes! The bread’s burnin!
Everyone always tells that story and laughs. I really wish I knew someone named Agnes so I could tell her that her bread’s burning.
Mom’s side of the family seemed to always be trying to figure out the most efficient way to get a bunch of people somewhere with as few cars as possible. The joke was that, after all that complex planning, we’d all end up stranded in a field somewhere without a single car. I still say that, when someone’s planning who’ll ride with whom, “We’ll all end up in a field!” It’s a great image.
My sister’s daughter, Katherine, used to be much-quoted; heck, I still quote her and she’s been gone for ten years. She was the first baby in the family and the most beloved of all.
When Mom was surprised, she’d say, “I’ll be darned!” She’d also rub her hands together when she was excited and anticipating something, which she did a lot—she loved just about everything. Tiny little Katherine combined these mannerisms into a sweet imitation. She’d walk around, rubbing her little hands together, saying, “Hoppy darn!” I still say that. Hoppy darn!
My uncle Bob used to be called Buggs (his ears stuck out when he was a kid). We used to refer to him and his wife, Esther, as a unit—they were perpetually Buggs and Esther.
Which became Huggs n Nester, thanks to Katherine.
Katherine herself was always called Katherine.
A strong name for a stalwart girl.
My sister’s sayings were almost all in French; she thought she was hot stuff prancing around the house speaking unintelligibly. (She was.) She’d catch me eating with my mouth open and shout, “Ferme ta bouche!” I say that to myself silently. Also, “Excusez-moi!” with undertones of a French Steve Martin.
She was allergic to horses, and we had them, so after I went riding I had to strip in the laundry room before I could come in the house. Kim still sneezed her head off. Used tissues were snot rags. Bras were over the shoulder boulder holders. A sports bra gave you a uni boob.
She said, you can be naked in front of your mother, and you can be naked in front of your husband, but you can’t be naked in front of them both at the same time.” A
lso, big dogs are like furniture: they stand there silently, and you can lean on them.
When Kim or I would lose something and complain about it, Mom would say, “When I find it, I’m going to hit you with it.” Which is extra funny because Mom never hit anyone with anything.
She did invent the concept of the velvet mallet. She used to have restless legs like I do: the sleepier we get, the more wiggly we become and the less likely we’d be able to fall asleep. When her wiggles got bad at bedtime, she said she wanted someone to hit her over the head with a velvet-covered mallet.