My grandmother used to say…


Anna Hasdal at work. Circa 1910. She appears to tower over the sink. In reality, she was standing on a wooden crate.

I missed out on the potentially helpful nuggets of wisdom which three of my grandparents might have shared with me. Unfortunately, they all left this world by the time I was three. I sincerely hope the jump they got toward the next great adventure made it worthwhile for them. They are sorely missed still.

Happily, one of my grandparents lived a long and bountiful life, and I have a number of very fond memories of her. Standing 4 foot 10 in her sensible, sturdy little shoes, Anna Hasdal left Norway at 18 and sailed to America. She shuffled through Ellis Island at the beginning of the 20th century and made her way to Chicago where she sought her fortune as a housekeeper. She met and married yet another ex-pat Norwegian, and they had four children, one of whom was my late mother.

So, what does this have to do with sayings? Plenty. Hang with me. Gramma was a no-nonsense gal, and I dearly wish she were in one of my writing classes now. I’ve no doubt she could teach me every bit as much as I could teach her. The big difference is that she learned everything she knew in a world which no longer exists. What she learned about that world, however, still applies to this one.

Gramma02One phrase in particular used to annoy me greatly as a child. I tell myself it’s because I heard it so often. The truth is that I hated it because it was true, and it applied to me so often. God, how I hated that!

I have since enjoyed punishing sharing it with my own children — and grandchildren. The little ones haven’t heard it enough to really despise it the way I did as a child, but my kids might feel differently. I dunno. The line?

“What you don’t have in your head, you have in your feet.”


How many, many times have I been reminded of that as I reach the car without my car keys, or get to the mailbox only to realize I left the stuff to be mailed sitting on the kitchen counter, or… well, I’m sure you get the idea. I use the walking time to contemplate Gramma’s sage, albeit repetitive, observation.

Lately, I wondered what other gems have filtered through my brain, whether or not dear sweet Anna channeled them. There’s an abundance of them on the internet, but few have the puzzling yet prophetic truth of the “empty head/busy feet” line. Most lack charm as well, capitalizing on pronouncements that dawn with all the subtlety of a clogged toilet.

“The easiest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your pocket.”

Not bad, and often true, but hardly something that requires much thought either. It scores a solid 7 on a 10-point scale. Here’s one I’d give a 9:

“Chickens don’t praise their own soup.”

Anna Mpls 59

Blazing needles.

I seriously doubt my grandmother ever said this, but I can easily visualize her doing it, and I can almost hear that faint Scandinavian lilt in her voice, which was every bit as small and charming as she was. Best of all, this one takes a moment or two to absorb. And, seriously, shouldn’t advice be something one has to think about to appreciate? Otherwise it’s not much more than, “Be careful, or you’ll shoot yer eye out!” Okay, got it. Moving on now, sans BB gun. And self respect. Here’s another my great dame would surely have endorsed:

“Don’t talk unless you can improve the silence.”

Y’know? That’s probably a good one to end on. And who could ask for more than a grandmother’s seal of approval?



About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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6 Responses to My grandmother used to say…

  1. Karen Boyce says:

    Nice job – delightful to hear her words again! And one more phrase she used that I recall and use a lot myself – “I have more time than money” Somehow it makes more sense to me now! Love your blog! Kj

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Amanda Rillema says:

    Lovely post! And, yes, I do find myself often wishing I’d consulted my head before using my feet…

  3. Lloyder says:

    Josh great job and terrific pictures of a truly great lady and Bestamor to so many. Seems her phrases have far more meaning today, and can be applied far more often than many of us would like. Keep up the great work……………………….

  4. annslangston says:

    Great job – always fun to be reminded of your grandmother! Annie

  5. J R Langston says:

    Really nice Josh! It’s great to spend some time thinking about our own treasure of a grandmother. And, remember her saying; Wish in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up first. I never actually tried it though. 🙂

    • joshlangston says:

      Oh, man! I do remember her saying that! Wish I’d thought of it when I put this thing together. May need to do a second round. Tom and Sandy both came up with things I could add.

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