My mother's life, which began on a farm in Texas, shaped the advice she gave us. She led a hardscrabble life early on. She and her brother shared a room with my grandmother in the farm house owned by my great-grandparents. She picked cotton on the farm in Wichita County, Texas.
In spite of her humble beginnings, My mother was a combination of Auntie Mame and Lucille Ball, with a Wichita Falls, Texas twist. She was more like Debbie Reynolds, whom she adored, and who was also a Texan.
My mother's humor wasn’t always intentional. It was mostly in the form of phrases that were uttered in certain situations, or even apropos of nothing in particular. I find myself blurting out her sayings on a regular basis. They come unbidden to my tongue in many situations, even if some of them seem to make no sense.
When we were at an intersection waiting for a light to turn green, she always said, “Come on! It’s time for the protestants to go.” This was confusing on many levels.
While we were protestant, so was everyone else in our tiny town. Plus we only had one traffic light. Since I remember hearing it so often, we must have been driving in the adjacent “big city,” Wichita Falls, Texas, which did indeed have a Catholic church. I never heard her say anything derogatory about it or any religion.
“You’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’” has a more obvious derivation. The Dictionary of American Slang and Green’s Dictionary of Slang, state its beginnings were in the 1940’s when Mom was a teen. It meant strolling or driving looking for trouble. Cruising means “dragging the square” or the main street. Wichita Falls, and our hometown, Iowa Park, had very small squares. They took all of five minutes to cruise.
By the 1950’s, parents used it to threaten misbehaving children. In other words, “You’re headed for trouble.” That’s how my mother and my friends’ mothers used it.
She created her own slang words and phrases based on the times. She called us “kidniks” during the Cold War with Russia. Later, the worst thing she could think of to say to us was, “Stop being so blasé.”
Since the word means world weary, it’s highly unlikely we as kids in our small Texas town of Iowa Park, Texas, ten miles from Wichita Falls, were actually blasé. I believe she connected it with the cool indifference of the Beatnik generation. You’ll also notice, many of her sayings had to do with enjoying life with a child-like wonder, and that’s what she wanted to give us. Being blasé was the opposite of that, so she hated it.
One of her most memorable sayings was also invoked while driving.“They’re taking their half out of the middle,” she’d say of road hogs. I’m sure she applied it to anyone who got in her way anywhere, because there was very little actual traffic in and around Wichital Falls, Texas.
When she was in a good mood, and told us to do something which we didn’t do, she’d reverse it. As in, “Take the trash out. Okay, don’t take the trash out. I will have you do what I tell you to do.” We made sure to pay attention to when she meant it and when she was playing around. Usually, the trash got taken out either way, since she could be just as scary when angry as she was funny when not.
She became a feminist, and regretted the one we teased her about the most after we grew up. Whenever we complained that our pony tails were so tight we couldn’t see, that fabric from a frilly dress was scratchy, or that a home perm was burning our scalp, she’d say, “You have to suffer for beauty.” We did and do, to this day. She never gave up the pursuit of beauty either. Some things stick with you even when you become enlightened.
Another in that vein is the answer she had for nearly every complaint. She’d look at us with a glint of steel and say, “You’ll survive.” We always did. We still do. Texas grows tough women.
She wasn’t a patient woman, as you might have guessed by her impatience with complaining. If she was waiting on anyone, including us, to do something and we were hesitating, she’d say, “Do something, even if it’s wrong.” Not bad advice. She could have inspired the Nike phrase, “Just do it.”
My all time favorite, though not when I was a child, was "You'll have fun wheter you like it or not!" She trotted this one out whenever we were on vacation, or on any outing she planned.
If we complained of the heat, our feet hurting, being tired, or any of the other multitude of whining moans kids come up with, she would immediately say it to us. And you know what? We did. Every time. Betty Joy Chastain Cole Ayers, who grew up on a farm in Wichita Falls County, had learned how to have a good time wherever she was.