Grandparents are often the storytellers of the family. I didn’t have the privilege to know my grandfathers and one grandmother personally, but my mother’s mom, Esther Dolan, lived with us until the day she died, when I was 21. When I was growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, political correctness wasn’t born yet… or it hadn’t reached Northeastern Pennsylvania because people my grandmother’s age didn’t use a filter when they spoke. My gram, born in 1905, grew up in a time when Catholics of different nationalities didn’t even pray together. You had a church for Italians on one corner and a church for the Irish on another. And if an Irish woman “tied up” with an Italian guy, that was considered scandalous. Mary Catherine Flannery to wed Anthony Dominick Scartelli? GASP! What will the neighbors think?
Despite some of the inappropriate things that my grandmother said on occasion, she had wicked Irish wit and a way with words that I found to be quite entertaining and vivid. Some of her words were more inspirational than I think she intended them to be. When my brother or I would say that we were going to do something but didn’t follow through, like, “Oh, I would have taken my laundry upstairs, but I figured I would take it the next time I go to my room,” she would respond, “Oh yeah, well if the dog didn’t stop to s—t, he would have caught the rabbit.”
That expression popped into my head on more than one of my training runs last summer when I was preparing for Steamtown, my first marathon. If I didn’t stop, then I would cross the finish line and get that medal. And I did. What was meant as a phrase to chastise when I was a kid has become a motivational mantra for me to keep moving and get my rabbit or whatever goal I have in sight. I think of my grandmother and smile while moving forward.
These are a few more “Grandma Dolan-isms” that make me grin:
• My mom took me to dance class when I was 5 years old and I stood with my back pressed against the door the entire time because I was very shy and did not assimilate well into group activities. I should mention that I was also not very graceful; to this day I’m rather clumsy. Whenever I would trip into the coffee table or knock a glass over, my grandma would say, “You’re like a bull in a china shop.”
• Growing up with an older brother, I became somewhat of a tomboy. We would wrestle and pretend to be George “The Animal” Steele and Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. We were pretty active. Whenever we would do something that took my gram by surprise or dismay – like the time we sheared my baby doll’s curls, giving her a crew cut – she would say, “Well, jumping Jesus on a bicycle!” I don’t know what that was supposed to mean, but jumping and biking are both healthy activities that I believe Jesus and Michelle Obama approve of, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
• When someone in the neighborhood or at school would brag about being the first on the block to get the latest, expensive something or other and I would tell my grandmother, she would say, “Are you kidding me? They don’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out.” As a kid who took things literally, I wanted to point out to her that I did indeed see a toilet in said family’s house, a set of pots, and even more than one window, but I didn’t want to argue with her.
I know that my Grandma Dolan probably didn’t originate most of her sayings, but they will always be Grandma Dolan’s sayings to me. While it’s good that people are encouraged these days to be mindful of the words we use, the brash honesty that our grandparents used to speak with had value too. We’re not fragile items in a china shop that will shatter when a bull enters in the form of honesty. Sometimes we need to hear things straight, without window dressing.
Now it’s time for me to print up some T-shirts to sell to runners in time for Steamtown Marathon 2014 that read: “Don’t be like the dog that stops to s—t; catch that rabbit.”
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