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My mother's wise (and weird) words live on...through my kids

Kate Langbroek, Sunday Style

IT IS funny what conjures up your mother to be with you. Often, it’s food.

On special occasions in our family, we celebrate with a classic passionfruit sponge or two. They are made following the instructions of Old Nanna Lil — my husband’s beloved late nan — and just by making those delicious cakes according to her recipe, Lil is still with us. She is disapproving as we add the egg yolks — not individually, but with a tip of the jug — and hovering at our elbow as we fold (“never stir”) the mixture. And she is positively beaming as her great-grandchildren learn to make the cake she mastered 90 years ago. They taste of happiness, these passionfruit sponges. And love. Mother love.

On Wednesday I found myself, as I frequently am, in the kitchen. I’d shuffled out of bed, found a child in the kitchen, sleepily had a hug and begun cooking, so when my husband emerged, I was already laying French toast in a pan in the early morning gloom. I didn’t notice how dim it was until Petie turned on the lights.

Lewis, our 12-year-old, smiled and, in a deep American accent, said: “Why don’t you shed a little light on the subject?”

And, boom, there she was with us, in the kitchen. My mum.

See, whenever someone is doing something in semi-darkness, my mum can be relied upon to say that. Just as, when my father is driving and is tardy at the traffic lights, she will impatiently demand: “What colour are you waiting for — purple?!” My children now say that to us. Or they will employ mum’s other back seat driving favourite: “Go, go, go, go, GO!”

In fact, barely a day goes by without me using one of my mother’s sayings. I don’t know if it’s because of her bitzer (Jamaican/American/Dutch-speaking/Australian) pedigree that they are always so lyrical. But my mother’s favoured utterances are unforgettable. They are, of course, delivered in her declamatory American accent. Everything she says seems to require an exclamation mark.

When mum is hungry, she is not just “peckish” or “starving” or “famished”. She will say, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse and chase the rider!” 

When she disagrees with something, it is “a load of baloney!” and when presented with a feeble argument, she counters with, “Oh, just because your cat has its kittens in the oven, you don’t pull ’em out and call them muffins!” (That one is guaranteed to win you any disagreement. Then you will be “as pleased as a cat with two tails!”)

If someone isn’t committed to something, Mum will suggest they, “Pee, or get off the pot!” This is probably her most oft-relayed relationship advice. However, she also has a warning for the impatient: “Marry in haste; repent at leisure!”

When someone has disappointed another with their actions, she’ll comfort those who have been let down with a philosophical: “Oh well, you can’t slice bacon from a dog!”

Ask an obvious question? My mother will cut you down with a swift: “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?!” (That one, by the way, took me years to figure out.)

And my mum’s classic, go-to, hold-all, one-size-fits-all life edict? “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!”

I love you, mum. And I love your kooky sayings.

But I would, wouldn’t I? As you’ve so often told me: “The apple never falls far from the tree!”

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