Move Over Dowager Countess, We Have Big Joan

May 2nd, 2013

Must be the 1960’s here…

Back up Maggie Smith, stand aside Shirley MacLaine, watch out Lucille Bluth, we’ve got…Big Joan.

She’s beautiful, she’s brilliant, she loves her children and grand children, and she has a collection of one, two, and three liners that rival the best of them.  She’s Joan Gaston Waitt, she’ll be 82 this week, and she’s my mother. In honor of this milestone, I thought I’d share just SOME of the zingers that have escaped from her lovely mouth over the years.  To catalog all of them would take years.  We’ve thought of saving her e-mails (those are particularly outstanding), but again…would take just too much time.  There are so many….

A short bio here- She was born in St. Louis in 1931 to Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald…(oh, I got that wrong), Mildred Emma Armstead and William Matthew Gaston, who were college sweethearts from good old Kansas families.  She landed in Sioux City, Iowa after her parents divorce and her mother’s remarriage to a wealthy businessman who owned American PopCorn Company. It was during the the Second World War, shortly after their move, when she  proceeded to attract the attention of my father.  They were both about thirteen and he never stood a chance.  He describes her walking in to their junior high school, in 1944 as having “her nose up in the air.”  She says that she was actually shy, as she’d moved many times in her childhood.  My parents kept in touch for many years, despite her boarding schools and her years at Northwestern School of Speech and Drama in Evanston, Illinois, and his service in the Air Force, and when he heard that she was engaged to someone else, he made his move.   She always said she had three choices at that point.  Trying out for the Pasadena Playhouse, teaching English at her private school, or marrying Norm Waitt.

They were married in 1953.  Norm Jr. was born in 1954, I came along in 1956, my sister Marcia in 1959, and little Teddy in 1963.  She was always a whirlwind of activity, ran our house like a domestic drill sergeant, with the help of a nanny or two, and made sure everything was just right.  One of her strengths is organization.  It had to be in dealing with four children and probably hundreds of our friends over the years, who liked to hang out at our house and observe the general chaos.  My father was a cattleman and traveled a lot.  I think in response, she developed a sharp eye for our nonsense, and an even sharper tongue.  As she’s gotten older, she has perhaps unknowingly honed that skill to practically an artless kind of art.   She doesn’t practice her barbs.  That’s the fun part.  They are actually unplanned and just roll off the tongue.  Sometimes it’s cringe worthy, but most other times, it’s just plain hilarious.

This is a work in progress, as I expect my readers, my family members, and friends who know her, will add some more.  Here’s a few…

1) T0 me in 2006 at my 50th birthday party, a lovely formal affair given by my brother.  I had friends and colleagues come in from across the country.  I had warned them that my mother would insult an article of my clothing within 15 seconds of seeing me.  They didn’t believe me, I should have put money up.  So, I walk in with a dress I’d had made.  I liked it.  She wasn’t fond of it.  “Well, you look lovely dear, but that’s the ugliest dress I’ve ever seen on you next to your first wedding dress.”  Score.  Didn’t I tell you people?

2) To my sister Marcia, I have no idea when, must have been at cocktail hour… “The trouble with you is that you don’t drink enough”.  Huh?

3) Here’s one of my favorites- mid 1990’s.  A group of my friends and my son were assembled at my house, ready to go to our yearly big music festival we call “Saturday in The Park”.  You have to know that my mother generally does the white glove test when she arrives at your house, not only with the decor, and the general condition of the home, but to who ever happens to be in that home at that time.  So, being Joan, here’s what she said, “Ben, sit up straight, you’re slouching,  Reba, get rid of that dog, Robbie, you’re too dressed up for the park, you should look more grubby today, like my daughter looks….  My son Ben said then, “Grandma you forgot Jeremy”.  She calmly told him “I’ll get to Jeremy later”.  A year or so passed, and she ran into Jeremy. The first thing out of her mouth was “Jeremy, you look awful, get rid of that beard, for God’s sake.”  Mind like a steel trap.  Never forgets anything.  I’m not making this up, ask him (Jeremy Pigg/Facebook)…go on, ask him.. 

UPDATE: Jeremy just weighed in, here’s his slight correction of the run in….

 It's Spring in Sioux City circa 1999. Joan and Norm have arrived back in Sioux after wintering in a warmer locale. She bursts into the Bell, Book,and Candle
 with a purse,a travel bag and a small dog (maybe two small dogs - memory fails me here). She drops the luggage, releases the hound(s)? and I know in my heart
 that she nailed Cindy or Robbie with a classic comment. I come downstairs from the loft office that overlooked the bookstore and greeted Joan. She "clasped"
 with a sharp smack both of my cheeks and says, "Jeremy, it's so nice to see you again... You need to shave. Only ugly people wear beards." 
 About an hour later Cindy says to me... "So my mother must think you're good-looking." Me: "What? She said I was ugly." Cindy: "NO- she said UGLY people WEAR
 beards and YOU should SHAVE."

4) I was married in 2011 to Eric Blumberg.  Eric is a former radio talk show host and teaches community college, neither of which made him a wealthy man.  She actually likes Eric, because being a New Yorker, he occasionally tells her to “pipe down”.  Yes, he says that.  So, when I let her know we’d be getting married, she said, “Leave it to you to marry the only Jewish man I know with no money”.  Bam. He thought that one was pretty good.

5) We’ll start on my brother Ted here, a frequent target.  She didn’t care that her two sons achieved considerable fortune and a little bit of fame.  They were just Normie and Teddy to her.  We were sitting in the waiting room of one of her doctors, absolutely full of people, who knew who we were.  There was a rumor in our local newspaper that Ted might purchase some big sports franchise, I think it was the Minnesota Vikings.  She looked at it in disgust and said, quite clearly, “If your brother doesn’t quit spending his money, he won’t be able to buy the Sioux City Bandits”.  Heads turn, I shrink down in my seat.

6) It gets better.  Ted again.  I think it was 2003, and he was about to travel to South Africa with the Clintons.  She looked at him sternly and said, “You tell that Bill Clinton you have four children and a company to run, and you don’t have time to run around the damn world with him”.  I then said to her, “Mom, maybe if we see President Clinton, you can tell him that”.  “Oh, I will” she added.  We are still waiting breathlessly for that meeting.  I will keep you posted.

7) My siblings and I have had a few weddings between us.  11, actually.  There were three that have taken place since my father passed in 2003.  A woman who was married 50 years to the same man, she has flatly stated that she will attend no more weddings.  “Your father is rolling over in his grave at all these weddings.  I’m rolling over in my grave and I’m not even dead yet”

8)  This one was fun.  Do remember this.  Her lines are generally a bit public, sometimes said in a stage whisper.   I can’t even remember the incident, but Ted had done something that annoyed her.  Most likely to keep his head from getting too darned big, she has to keep him in line and she said (stage whisper here), more than once, “I must have dropped him on his head”.

9) One more Ted line.  My brother was well known for his somewhat dodgy adventures in his youth.  He’d done something a bit more “adventurous” than usual when he was about 19 and she said, “Your brother will either end up the president of General Motors or in prison”.  Whew….glad that didn’t happen.

10) But wait there’s more…..I just can’t think of all of them right now.  When I just asked my son to remember some of grandma’s best, he said to me, “oh, mom, there’s too many”….

We always remind ourselves that in truth, that woman would take a bullet for any one of us, and any one of our children.  Mercifully, my mother not rolling over in her grave and is still gloriously with us, and hopefully will be entertaining our ever expanding troops for years to come.  This is just a starter list.  If you know her, feel free to add some more.  But don’t tell her or she will get you…and your little dog too.  🙂

Love you, mom, and happy birthday!

8 Comments on “Move Over Dowager Countess, We Have Big Joan”

  1. Kimberly said at 5:56 am on May 2nd, 2013:

    You said that so eloquently!

  2. cindy said at 6:40 am on May 2nd, 2013:

    Hi Kimberley. She is an absolute original.. Lovely, smart and a bit cranky….:)

  3. Amy Hillgren Peterson said at 7:46 am on May 2nd, 2013:

    I can’t wait to be old! I’m sure your mother, being gifted, started while she was younger, but I hope I can have my offspring and their tribes laughing this hard a generation and two from now.

  4. Jeremy said at 9:09 am on May 2nd, 2013:

    OK… Here’s the clarification of the “Jeremy zinger” – It’s Spring in Sioux City circa 1999(something that apparently no longer exists as I write this on May 1, 2013 and it is snowing outside). Joan and Norm have arrived back in Sioux after wintering in a warmer locale. She bursts into the Bell, Book and Candle with a purse, a travel bag and a small dog (maybe two small dogs – memory fails me here). She drops the luggage, releases the hound(s)? and I know in my heart that she nailed Cindy or Robby with a classic comment. I come downstairs from the loft office that overlooked the bookstore and greeted Joan.

    She “clasped” with a sharp smack both of my cheeks and says, “Jeremy, it’s so nice to see you again… You need to shave. Only ugly people wear beards.”

    About an hour later Cindy says to me… “So my mother must think you’re good-looking.”

    Me: “What? She said I was ugly.”

    Cindy: “NO – she said UGLY people WEAR beards and YOU should SHAVE.”

    Clear as mud. So she got me but I think I’m still owed another or ten quips. And I have no doubt I’ll get them. Happy Birthday Dowager Countess Joan.

  5. cindy said at 8:59 pm on May 2nd, 2013:

    Hi Amy,
    I’m sure you will entertain your troops as well!! 🙂

  6. cindy said at 9:01 pm on May 2nd, 2013:

    Jeremy, good clarification! I will add…:)

  7. Kathy Smith said at 8:39 pm on April 27th, 2016:

    Hi Cindy. I was looking for something about your mothers 85th birthday and came across this. Hilarious!!! I’m glad you wrote some of these down because they’re priceless. We are looking forward to her 85th.

  8. cindy said at 9:18 pm on April 27th, 2016:

    Thanks Kathy, we look forward to having you!

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