When I was at ABC Radio one of the most popular talkback subjects was the daggy things your parents said to you when you were a kid. For instance, you, (the kid) walk into a room, or out of it, leaving a formerly closed door open. Parent says, with heavy sarcasm: ‘were you born in a TENT?!?’
The logic of it doesn’t hold up in that a) the parent knows damn well where you were born and it probably wasn’t a tent and b) even if you were born in a tent chances are your family lived in a house with doors which you learnt how to open and close from an early age.
But the point was of course to remind the kids that heating and cooling cost MONEY, which DOESN’T GROW ON TREES and furthermore WE AREN’T MADE OF IT!
Dads were the worst offenders with this kind of thing. ‘Was your father a glazier?’ was my dad’s zinger if one of us kids stood in front of the television. Again, the idea that a professional glass-maker would sire a transparent child offends biological science but we soon got the point.
An ABC colleague remembered his dad saying ‘We know you’re a PAIN (pane – geddit?) but we can’t see through you!’ That’s at least a working pun and it beats my dad’s witticism hands down.
We had lots of fun inviting listeners to call in with similar stories, and it’s amazing how widespread these sayings were, at least among the parents of my baby-boomer generation. There was a favour of economic hardship about them, often inherited from parents who lived through the Depression and the war.
Take that perennial child-to-parent query ‘what’s for tea’? Mothers were most often on the receiving end of this one in the Olden Days when they did all the cooking. They had a repertoire of daggy responses to cope with such pestiferous questioning. ‘A glass of water and a look round’ was the response I often got. Another one was ‘bread and duck under the table.’
Then when my siblings and I grizzled about what was served up we were reminded there were starving children in Africa who would be grateful for such a feast. To which the shameless reply was ‘well they’re welcome to it!’
I was a fussy eater, and my dad would say ‘eat that up – it’ll put hairs on your chest.’ ‘But Daddy’, I would say, ‘girls aren’t supposed to have hairs on their chests, are they?’ Because you could never be sure, especially if you were not only young but gullible, as I was. Dad would just smile enigmatically.
As I grew older and wised up to the parental leg-pull, I would sometimes be told ‘there’s no flies on you’, sometimes followed by ‘but you can see where they’ve been’. I found it puzzling at first but gradually twigged that it was a compliment.
Remember when we pointed at the visitor and asked ‘Mum, who’s SHE?’ and were told ‘SHE’s the cat’s mother’, said with a certain stiffness of tone. It was a lesson in the need to address any person present by name, not by impolite pronoun.
Then there were the times your dad was busy in the shed, and you wandered in and pestered him by pointing to anything and everything and asking ‘what’s that, Dad?’ and he would give you one of the many variants of ‘a wigwam for a goose’s bridle’.
If my dad was busy and I asked ‘Dad, where’s Mum?’ he would reply ‘she went mad and they shot her’. I’m proud to say I never fell for that one.
I’d love to know if these have been passed down to succeeding generations. Do millennials get asked if they were born in a tent? Were Gen Y told that she’s the cat’s mother? I expect kids don’t get scolded for standing in front of the TV anymore, except maybe at their grandparents’ place where you might actually find two people watching the same screen. Otherwise the kids are likely to be in their own rooms, left to their own devices, literally.
And how do modern parents manage food fussiness? I expect that in response to the old Starving Children routine they’d get an eye-roll followed by a lecture on global warming and how it’s all their fault for not being vegan, so they probably keep their mouths shut.
This article was first published in the New Norfolk News and Derwent Valley Gazette on 27.8.21