Capturing the true character of a person can be difficult with simple descriptive words. Describing their physical features and mentioning where they are from, may paint a visual picture of a person but the individual remains one dimensional. If I reference phrases they often repeat, the person has more depth.
Anyone could report the news every night, but when Walter Cronkite closed his broadcasts with “And that’s the way it is,” you knew that was the summation of the daily news. When Jeff Probst ended the Survivor tribal councils with “The tribe has spoken,” you knew he was the man who ended the journey for adventures competing for fame and fortune in a remote location.
Hearing these phrases, in others settings, paints a picture of the person who originally used it and the emotions associated with words. When someone else spouts off the phrase, you understand what the second person values and is trying to convey.
My father was not on television but he had his own ‘-ism’ when I was growing up. And that was: “get your PhD before your Mrs.”
Actually, he also included an abbreviation for a specific university to this slogan. He said “Don’t go to ABC U, go get your PhD before your Mrs.”
Where did he get this motto? Was he just against the university that was originally a part of the phrase? Or did he have a strong value of the importance of gaining an education?
To understand my father, you have to know that his grandfather was a physics professor at Ohio State University from 1928 – 1968. My father loved his grandpa Victor and enjoyed talking to him about his work at OSU. Dad knew that Grandpa Zumstein placed a high value on education and tried to impress this upon his daughters during the 1940s when education was restricted for women. Although they chose marriage over education in the 40s, Grandpa Zumstein still influenced the my father’s view on the subject.
Dad wanted me to go to college in order to have more opportunities than I could possibly imagine. Dad wanted me to not follow in the footsteps of so many young women around my age who went to “ABC University” (named changed to protect it’s identity) and were married within one year of attending.
They would never finish their degrees and life’s tragedies happened. Their lack of college certification limited their ability to face those challenges. For dad, getting an advanced degree was a way to protect his daughter’s future.
Why should you care about my father, his view on education, and how this view formed? Truth be told, you don’t need to care. It’s okay that you don’t care.
The point of my exposing this story is that you, your parents, and your grandparents have maxims, mottoes, and philosophies that you have heard over and over in your home. The sayings could relate to education, like my father’s. It could relate to service to God and country. It could relate to how you should treat others. It could relate to work ethic and money.
Do a search for “Daddyisms” and you are bound to stumble upon a few similar to these:
“If it doesn’t open, it’s not your door.”
“A little hard work never hurt anyone.”
“We were grateful to have an orange for Christmas”
“You can’t have a champagne budget with a beer income.”
“Measure once, cut twice. Measure twice, cut once. “
“Don’t wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it better. “
“No matter what happens, you can always come home. “
Now these sayings and other like them are all well and good. They inspire a chuckle or a approving head nod from those whose father’s didn’t say them but are relevant. However, if you heard lines like these, they inevitably invoke a specific memory or better describe a character quality.
Perhaps your dad said, “a little hard work never hurt anyone” and then forced you into slave wages by having you iron shirts for a nickel a piece. You can remember the resentment as a youngster and the process of ironing all of his shirts rather than playing with your friends.
Or perhaps a mother said, “a little hard work never hurt anyone,” and then showed you how to weed a garden, shine your shoes, or disinfect a bathroom. One little phrase, and it’s application, can evoke a host of emotions.
Take time to record the “-isms” and the memories and feelings associated with those sentiments.
If you find you have a large collection of ‘-isms’ associated with a particular person, collect them and their stories and print them in a book. You can put them into a little photo book or black and white printed flip book like the quote a day books sold in December. Your book of mottoes can be a source of fun for years to come rather than tossed in the trash like those generic novelties.
Whatever you do, don’t let the words of wisdom from your beloved relative be forgotten because they were never recorded. Take action today to preserve one ‘-sim’ and you’ll be surprised how many more rise to the surface of your memory.
In case you’re wondering, I actually did not go to ABC U and I did get married before I got my PhD. However, I did graduate from college and dad was quite proud.
Family historian, author, and home schooling mother of five, Devon Noel Lee has 20 years of genealogy and memory keeping. Her purpose to is help others capture and preserve their family history before the stories are lost forever. You can learn more about Devon’s passion for family history on Amazon.com and on her blog at A Patient Genealogist.