Passing down the family one-liners


When you inherit wisdom this good, you’ve got to write it down

My maternal grandfather died before Mom started dating Dad. But though I never knew him, his wisdom still starts off my day. Mom would tell us that when she was little, her father would ask each morning, “Did you say your prayers yet?” I can hear my grandfather’s advice echoing through the decades, reminding me to say my morning offering before I jump into my day.

“All for you sweet Jesus, all for you, every move I make, every breath I breathe, no matter what I do today, I offer up to you,” was the children’s prayer my siblings and I were taught, along with the Guardian Angel prayer.

Nowadays, I need Grandpa’s reminder more than ever. It’s because of those darn devices! They lure me in too early (even if I do read the prayer apps). And then his wisdom echoes in my mind, beckoning me to put down the phone or close the screen and remember Jesus first.

Grandpa’s effect on my every morning makes me think about how powerful “one-liners” of practical and spiritual advice can be in reaching into future generations.

“Take a plate.” “Eat that in the kitchen.” “Get down.” Our childhoods are filled with practical one-liners. But there are plenty of profound ones too, like these from my mom: “Keep on fighting the good fight.” “Don’t ever move away from Jesus or you will move away from the joy.”

Another of hers was “Perfection will kill you.” She liked a nice house and order (and reminded us often of that), but with eight children and a husband who,  in addition to working full time, always had one or two extra jobs, she knew she had to let go of perfection.

The one-liners from our parents and cherished elders must live on, a fruit of the sweat of their lives flowering into an instinctive trust in the wisdom of the Catholic faith, the value of hard work, and the path to good and decent lives.

When my mom passed away and I found myself orphaned in my adult life, I had a burning desire to write down the one-liners I learned from my parents. I was afraid I would forget them all and I desperately wanted to find a way to pass on the faithful words of wisdom, even though I don’t have the blessing of children of my own. I kept thinking of the saying at the end of the movie “City of Joy” – the Indian proverb by Hasari Pal proclaims: “All that is not given is lost.”

The burning desire to document the one-liners developed into a book that I will give my nieces and nephews when they are old enough to appreciate it. (One already is and she does).

As a child, (or an adult child) I didn’t always listen too closely to those tidbits of wisdom, but now that my parents are gone, something will strike me and I will find myself thinking, “Mom would say that” or “Dad gave me that piece of advice.”

Sometimes, the one-liners our parents teach us are simple, perhaps not even spoken but transmitted by example: “Be kind.” “Forgive.” “Go out and play.” “Say thank you.”

But who doesn’t need to be reminded over and over again of the fundamental life lessons that were modeled for us?

I remember after our mother died, saying to my youngest brother: “I’m sorry that by the age of 32 you lost both of your parents.”

“But I have a piece of them in all of you,” he replied, referring to his seven older brothers and sisters.

That’s the ideal we should strive for with our loved ones—to “guard” what has been entrusted to us … and hand it on.



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