Do you speak “Peterson?”


‘Every family has its own language.’

Well, I guess I owe you all an apology again. I played hooky last week, and I don’t even have a fun reason. Last time I blog-skipped it was because I was out West playing with my Mom. Not this time.

Me, out West having a high old time speaking “Peterson” with Mom and Sis

Nope. This week I blame my goofoffedness on the fact that I had to travel unexpectedly into the City to deal with a sudden onset of flashing lights in my left eye. Those of you who are equally ancient will recognize the danger of a detached retina here. One would think, being married to an ophthalmologist and all, that I could just hop up on the kitchen table and have Dr. Dude sort it out. But no. One needs special gear to peer into the depths of an eyeball. Also, he’s not a retina specialist. So there’s that.

Non-retina specialist Dr. Dude admiring the view from the Great Lawn earlier this week when I convinced him to go with me on my morning walk

I’ll spare you the sturm und drang and back and forth, but suffice it to say that my eye is fine. Or as fine as a 72-year-old eye can be. I swear, once I turned 70 (See “Skirting the Issue” for a breathless account of my fab birthday bash), everything started to fall apart. I’ve started to identify with our ’98 4Runner or even our ’91 Honda — ’cause I’m always in the shop.

There I was, happily ensconced with Whitmore Family members in Amagansett when my eye started flashing

But back to the subject of the week, the Language of Families. My theory being that every family has words or catchphrases that they use with each other — sometimes to communicate, but more often just to crack each other up — that Outsiders simply don’t get.

Like, my Aunt Shirley used to call the soft tissue holding your teeth in your mouth your “gooms” (rhymes with “goons”) because she thought a medicalesque part of your anatomy simply couldn’t be just “gums.” My Mom and her sister Marilyn (both nurses) thought this was hilarious, and started calling the darned things “gooms” every chance they got, even when Aunt Shirley wasn’t around. Especially when Aunt Shirley wasn’t around.

That’s Aunt Shirley on the far left (also on the far left in the photo at the top of this post), hanging out with the Henry Family for a change. Maybe because they didn’t make fun of her for saying “gooms”

So “gooms” entered the Peterson Family Lexicon, along with “grocerots,” which was what my Aunt M. called “groceries.” Not sure why, but she always did. And then the rest of us of the Peterson Persuasion did, too. (Cousin Marcia, I bet you say “grocerots,” yes?)

The Petersons were Swedish (duh), like practically everybody else in their neck of the Northern Illinois woods (er, farmland). Once, when my Great-Aunt Florence had been chatting away to a neighbor for a while, her Swedish must have gotten “stuck,” because she remarked to someone that she was very tired and needed to go get “rosted ooop.” (Go on, say this out loud. Which we Peterson descendants do. A lot.)

I don’t have a photo of Aunt Florence, darn it. But this is my half-Peterson family hanging out at her house with her sister, Aunt Net*

Aunt Florence is the source of another bit of lingo that became a family catchphrase. Want to get a Peterson to snort milk out their nose? Just go “baw baw baw” in a really harsh, strident tone. That was how one of Aunt Flo’s neighbors used to rock her baby to sleep. I wonder if it was the same baby who, when asked its name, its mother replied, “Oh, for now we’re just calling him Squacky.” This is true. I swear on a stack of gooms.

Another shot of Aunt Annette (Net), this time with my Gramma, her other sister besides Florence. *We kids thought she was called Aunt “Net” because she wore a hairnet

How about your family? Do you speak your own language? Even if you don’t, I sure hope you take time out every day to crack each other up. Then you can go get “rosted ooop.”

Amagansett, New York. June 2023


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6 thoughts on “Do you speak “Peterson?”

  1. roy edroso

    This one’s a great pleasure and stirred some memories. I had a girlfriend years ago who had her own, utterly unselfconscious malapropism (I know that’s not what you’re doing here, quite, but it has a similar effect) for what other people would say as “the truth of the matter” or “the fact of the matter” — she said “the truth of the fact.” Still slays me.

    • I may just have to use that, Roy! Thank you! I do love a good malapropism. Like, I knew this lady, one of my mom’s friends, who spoke of “barking up the wrong alley.” But she wasn’t as funny as Mom’s bowling team buddy who admired another team member’s living-room wall “muriel.”

  2. Madeleine Szabo

    As always, love your blog. Hurtles me down Memory Lane. Couple of my own examples come to mind.

    In order to get my children to brush their teeth vigorously, I coined the phrase “make some fizzles”. That stuck with them all their lives. To this day, they have never had a cavity.

    While growing up, Cousin Jack Whitmore and I were always in a hurry to impishly play in Amagansett. We would constantly howl in our own secretive jargon getcha getcha getcha to get us out the door for more fun and games (sprinkled with mischief, of course).

    Good luck with the eye, Alice! Being 70 is an eye opener, for sure, but, hey, a longer life to look back on with more memories!

    • Hey Madeleine! It pleases me no end to see that my blog sparked memories of your own. If there is any “purpose” in my writing, it’s that: to get readers to recognize themselves or their own childhoods. I can just hear you and Jack going “getcha getcha getcha” and I just love make some fizzles.” I may use that with my grandchildren — assuming I ever get any (!) Thanks so much for chiming in; I always look forward to hearing from you

  3. Kary Peterson

    Very good Alice! I also remember Grandpa Pete’s comments, which was rare, as he was pretty quiet! One was whenever grandma Alice said something he didn’t like it “darn ole women”, or if he was really mad “your going to make me lose my religion” (hint of swearing).

    Another Peterson or swedish thing to do was put cheese on pie. My dad loved to say “pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze!

    • Hilarious, Kary! I’d (almost) forgotten about the cheese-on-pie thing. Grampa P was indeed incredibly quiet — and incredibly funny. I remember him talking about “the darned Pink Ladies” at the hospital.

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