(My mom grew up on a farm and has 13 siblings. I love her.)
10. “I don’t know them people.”
This was usually stated when I asked her to sleep over at a new friend’s house. The answer was always no, but she told me that my friends could sleep over at our place any time. Her reasons for declining my request included: unkempt homes, terrible food, unsafe surroundings, and the possibility that my friend’s terrible behavior might rub off on me somehow because of his, unknown at this point, terrible parents. To this day, I've never experienced a terrible casserole made by someone's terrible casserole making parents, and I thank her for that.
9. “I can’t stand your girlfriend.”
I didn’t have many girlfriends, but one of them annoyed the hell out of my mom. Why? She was bougie. How bougie? I was her beau at her debutante ball and had to attend practice sessions on how to act and dance bougie. Mom has low tolerance for bougie people. And rehearsing, apparently.
Note: Mom is secretly farmbougie too, but you ain’t heard that from me.
8. “I don’t know what them people got.”
I heard this prior to entering someone’s home and mom was aware of this person’s lack of hygiene. I was told that I wasn’t hungry, biological processes be damned, and that I shouldn’t ask for or accept any food. I was usually hungry, but knew not to say a word. Sometimes it was comical:
Mom’s friend – (to me): You want something to eat?
Mom looks at me.
Von: No ma’am.
Mom’s friend: You sure? I just pulled these cookies out of the oven.
Mom’s eyes narrow.
Mom: Don’t worry about it, he just ate.
Von’s stomach growls and sounds like Bigfoot just burped.
Mom: He has gas.
7. “Who gone know fuh ya?”
Uttered after doing something stupid: secretly lighting fireworks that accidentally exploded in my hand, jumping from the top of the stairs to the next floor, and “running away.” She usually cornered and berated me. It always went like this:
Mom: Why did you do it?
Von – (shrugs shoulders)
Mom: That’s not an answer!
Von – (shrugs shoulders slowly): I don’t know.
Mom: Well, who gone know fuh ya? And don’t shrug your shoulders.
We both stand there for what seems like an eternity. I would then shrug my shoulders even slower, which led to her demanding a high quality belt from the belt drawer because her whipping hand was itching.
My mom's whipping hand needed lotion.
6. “You can go to work or you can go to college…You’re going to college.”
That debt though!
5. “You never know.”
I think my mom is a hoarder and she uses this phrase as a cover for it. She keeps everything! Jars, my grandmother’s cast iron pots from the ‘70s, my old baby shoes, report cards and terrible Mother’s Day gifts. She kept all of it.
But she came through whenever we were away from home. She was like Wanda from “In Living Color” on a date. I think she had most of our house in her purse. Contents included tissues, mints, gum, change, embarrassing photos, a mini first aid kit, distant memories, one of those collapsible cups for the water fountain, and Carmex (white jar, yellow cap).
4. “I ain’t never seen a child…”
This is when I knew I fucked up. This usually led to her referring to me in the third person to an imaginary friend and breaking down exactly what I did wrong and how I couldn’t possibly be her child. Quote #7 wasn’t far behind.
3. “Don’t call me if you’re arrested.”
Note to self: Mom ain’t coming.
2. “If you think you can do it, you will.”
She is my number one supporter. She would always say this, I think, because we were po’. We don’t have money, but we got buckets filled with hope, wishful thinking, and prayer. And, when it would rain, rainwater. So hope, wishful thinking, prayer, and rainwater. We had busy buckets.
1. The look.
Ok, I know I'm cheating because this isn't really a phrase, but I have to include it because of its place in the mom repertoire. It is nonverbal, but it always communicated one of three thoughts.
A) "I'm a kill him"
B) "He's gonna die"
C) "I'm gonna kill him dead."
The look itself — just the look — would make my butt throb. And since anticipatory butt throbbing is no fun, I'd act right.
I love my mom.
Vontilla Steven has a day job and many writing side hustles: wrote and performed a one-person show, co-created a sketch comedy show, and wrote a screenplay that did well in a national competition. He is based in New York and is originally from Lafayette, Louisiana. He doesn't eat meat and that poses a problem when he visits his hometown. He loves to cook, lift and drop weights, and run the Stairs of Doom in Washington Heights.