That’s What She Said

This doodle of mine, titled “God Knows You Farted,” is only tangentially related to the post you’re about to read. But it is also one of my favorite doodles of all time, so it stays.

Many years ago, when my niece, Lauren, was about two years old, she coughed.

Perhaps the cough was a bit louder or longer than usual. Maybe it was a tad phlegmy. Perhaps it was followed by a hiccup. I’m not sure, I didn’t notice anything unusual.

But something about that cough made it significant to my sister, Gina.

Gina proceeded to feel Lauren’s forehead; press her ear up against her chest; and look in the child’s mouth, ears, and nose.

My grandmother and I watched all of this with fascination. When Grandma and I weren’t staring at Gina, we glanced at each other, chatting telepathically:

“The kid only coughed, right? Did I miss something? Is she bleeding out her eyes? Is her skin sloughing off? Did she accidentally hack up a less essential internal organ—like a gall bladder or a meatball-size chunk of liver?”

Eventually, Gina completed her examination and declared that an appointment with the pediatrician was necessary.  

“Why?” I asked. “What’s wrong?”

“Just being safe,” Gina replied. Then she scooped up her befuddled child and strode off with motherly purpose.

At that, Grandma turned to me, shook her head and said, “That sister of yours takes those kids to the doctor when they fart crooked.”

I laughed nonstop for the next three days.

That line, in my view, is the quintessential Grandma quote, a fine example of the old gal’s crass and caustic German humor. I love it.

But the writer in me loves the line, too, because it says so much without saying much of anything. “That sister of yours takes those kids to the doctor when they fart crooked,” does a terrific job in describing who the speaker is.

First off, doesn’t that statement seem tailor made for an old person? “Fart crooked” has a do-it-yourself, old-timey energy to it. (It reminds me of a similar bon mot from an elderly work colleague who described her junky car as a “turd boiler.”) Someone who says “fart crooked” (or “turd boiler”) might also say “clicker” instead of “remote” or “ice box” instead of “refrigerator.”

“Fart crooked” suggests a working-class background to me, toothough I’m not exactly sure why I feel this way. Maybe I’m stereotyping, but “fart crooked” doesn’t sound like something The Lord of the Manor might say. It’s too earthy a phrase to be associated with Old Money.

Also, a line like that can only be uttered by a parent, I think. It suggests a certain type of parent, too—one who wakes you up early on a Saturday morning and says, “Get outta my house and don’t come back ’till supper.” Such a parent does not take a kid to the doctor because of a cough (and is more than happy to roll her eyes at a parent who would). Grandma’s line declares, “I speak from experience, and you know nothing.”

See why the writer in me loves the quote? It’s not just a fart joke. It’s a fart joke with subtext. It establishes myriad facets of Grandma’s character in ways other statements such as, “Your sister worries too much,” or “Lauren’s not sick,” or “Why is Gina taking her to the doctor?” never could.

These are the unique expressions I look for when I write characters for my stories. I love to discover lines that not only show a character’s personality, but also suggest a character’s life story.

Like most writers, I have notebooks filled with Story Ideas, which are invaluable to me and serve as a regular source of inspiration. Similarly valuable is my binder of Meaty Quotes. In it are overheard remarks that tickle my fancy.

Most of the quotes in my Meaty Quote binder have been uttered by members of my family. My wife, for one, comes out with wonderful things all the time. Sometimes I say things that surprise me so much I lunge for the binder to scribble them down. Many of these quotes find their way into my stories, which is wonderful. (My wife’s use of the term “booty bottom,” for example, ended up in my most recent picture book, Sleepy Happy Capy Cuddles.) Most of the quotes, however (like “fart crooked”), do not. But that’s okay; my Meaty Quote binder serves a second function: it transports me back to the time when the words were first said. It’s an instant time machine, a photo album without pictures—and it’s a delight to flip through when I need inspiration or just a short mental break from the writing task at hand.

My Grandma has been dead for many years now, but thanks in part to her unique and unfiltered wit, her memory (and her granddaughter’s crooked farts) will live on forever.

53 Replies to “That’s What She Said”

  1. “That sister of yours takes those kids to the doctor when they fart crooked.” <—The phone rang at work as I read that. I couldn't SPEAK!! OMG. I should KNOW better than to read you when the phones ring.

  2. I had so many thoughts while reading this. Not the least of which are: 1) yes, that’s the same sister who idolizes her Roomba. And 2) I LOVE your no-longer-with-us grandmother. And 3) How do you and your sister share the same genes?

    1. Dang. Did I write about my sister’s Roomba obsession? I’ve been blogging for so long, I no longer have any idea as to what I’ve written about!

      My sister and I are very different people that’s for sure. We don’t have any animosity between us, but we are vaguely wary and suspicious of each other.

  3. I love this! It brings back memories of things my mom used to say, which I’m sure she got from her mom. I was only about 12 when Grandma died and probably wasn’t paying much attention to what she said unless it was, “The cookies are ready.”

  4. Fun post. I remember being embarrassed by things my grandparents (born in 1896) and parents would say. I can still hear my grandmother telling my grandfather to put the grip in the machine (suitcase in the car), going uptown (downtown), and of course icebox, pie-ano, warsh etc. My mother use to say, “make sure you go winky-dink.”

      1. Hmmm. Well your mom and her mom are different people. Grandma sounds like she wouldn’t mind. But, of course, how would I know? And given the stories you write about your mom, I can’t blame her. But they sure are entertaining. 😛

      2. I printed the post out for her (she avoids online anything if possible) and she did get a big kick out of that story. What’s amusing is that Mom’s best friend, Elaine (my Godmother) is a devoted reader of this blog. So whenever I mention Mom, Elaine happily blabs about the post. Then Mom gives me one of her looks.

  5. Let’s face it. Farts are funny. The name itself is a snicker.
    Before I forget, a friend sent me this yesterday, it is people telling their best/worst fart stories. Many are dumb, but some will make you belly laugh.

    Now, on to your grandmother. She sounds like my kind of gal! Says what she thinks and doesn’t worry about what anyone else thinks.
    How do you fart crooked??? LOL
    But it was the perfect line for the situation. I’ll bet she was the kind of person who didn’t take any crap!
    Thanks for the laugh, Mike! Have a good day (what’s left of it). And I’m going to have to find a way to use your grandma’s line.

  6. That sounds like something my grandmother would have said also. We didn’t have anyone in our family who would run to the dr with the kids every time THEY fasted crooked until my brother had children 🤣🤣 Now my SIL is paranoid to the point of being ridiculous. I won’t give examples. But suffice it to say, the story about your sister could have easily been one about my SIL. My grandmother did not live to see my brother’s kids but I can see the eye rolls now!

      1. 100% agree with that. I am Gen X. My brother is 11 yrs younger than me. Our daughter is 35 and that is how I raised her. “Are you bleeding? Are you conscious? NO? Then you will be fine!” 😂😂

    1. We rarely saw the doctor growing up. My parents had lived through the Depression years. You re-used, re-purposed, and re-read everything.
      Doctors were for emergencies. I remember one night my friend and I were outside and it was already dark, but I think our porch light was on, and were were doing cartwheels on the grass. It’s always fun until someone rams a stalk or stick in their hand. It hurt and was gushing blood (to my 11-year-old mind), so I did what any kid would do. I ran in the house and yelled for a parent. I don’t know which one came first, but they both ended up there, and my mom mentioned getting stitches. My dad said, if we put a band aid on and pulled the skin together to meet, it would heal just fine. So that’s what they did.
      And it worked. So, wallah! No doctor needed. lol

      1. Yet another time I was very appreciative of my dad. Years prior to that, all of my dad’s siblings and their children were at my grandparents home and we were all outside, which is what you did with kids then. lol
        One of my older cousins fell and cut her knee open. She went crying into the house, and not too much later came back outside, screaming hysterically, “Noooo! Not stitches! I don’t want to get stitches!” Really impressing my young mind that stitches must be really horrible. That stayed with me. lol
        The back story is, she went into the house and her mother was taking care of it and calming her down, when her dad entered the picture and as dads like to do, stirred her up again by saying, “Looks like you’re going to need stitches.”
        Her mom was none too pleased by her dad at that time. And I have no idea if she even got stitches. None of my other cousins or siblings reacted that way when they got hurt. We were usually not supposed to be doing what we did, so we kept injuries on the downlow. lol
        And I’ve just written a very lengthy answer. Our kids got us a gift last year to Storyworth. I’ve been supposed to be writing stories all year long and have slacked off on that. But it is a cool gift for parents or other relatives while they can still remember and then you get to read all of their stories, bound into a book.

      2. Sounds like your cousin’s dad likes to stir up the pot a bit! 🙂

        And, if I may say so, your kids have the right idea giving you Storyworth. You, my friend, are a heckuva storyteller. So get writing, you!

  7. Nice blog post and I am glad that you have a notebook where you take note of words that are inspiring and you can always revisit the book to get inspired to write again as I was reading this blog I noticed that this is a story of your grandma who passed away but still you recall what she said, I laughed at this phrase ‘Fart-crooked” 😂😂😂😂

  8. Thanks for the wonderful opportunity to laugh, Mike.
    We have lots of funny words and phrases in my family (most of them immortalized by our kids and grandkids when they were preschoolers). They’ve become part of our vocabulary to the extent that the “real” words are no longer used. I’m not surprised that you have a binder!

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