Thirty in Thirty Day 6 

 startup-photos project

I signed up for the Story A Day challenge ( for September as a way to rekindle a daily writing habit after a long hiatus. The Story A Day challenge provides 5 prompts each week that should be used in some way.  I have used the five prompts this week to learn more about the characters in one of my writing projects.


For the other two days each week I am on my own and can choose to write in any direction I wish.  Today I am using a prompt I gave to my writing students last spring in a class I was teaching called Writing Family Stories.


The prompt: Write about the origin of a unique family expression. The idea is that every family has their own idiosyncratic phrases that are like code. Family members understand the oblique references, but outsiders are clueless. It is a fun and interesting way to approach family stories.

My family has a funny and odd admonition we pronounce to one another when one of us is leaving the house, especially for an extended period of time. The person who is departing will utter the lines as a caution to the one(s) left behind.

My mother started using the expression when my brother and I were old enough to be left alone at home, but young enough to need precautions. It was a lighthearted warning that meant  “stay out of mischief.” As my mom has aged and needed more prompts regarding safety, I have begun using the expression when I leave her.

This saying is used after all other warnings, prompts, and cautions have been issued. Here it is “ Don’t get on the roof and cut your hair.”


Now for the story behind it. This tale was told to me by my mother and my grandmother when I was a child. Knowing the flair of each of those women for inventiveness and elaboration, this story may be somewhat apocryphal, but I’m sticking with it.

Family Farm

My maternal grandmother, Jessie Collins, grew up in North Georgia in a little town called Flowery Branch in the early 1900s.  She and her siblings, three sisters and one brother, were evidently drawn to high-jinx and mischief. One day, their parents decided to take a shopping trip to Atlanta in the horse-drawn wagon and leave the  children at home.   Early that morning they gave the children stern warnings about not roaming from the yard, to staying away from the well and their father’s forge, and so on.

When my great- grandparents returned late that afternoon, they found the five children sitting on the roof of the house and each sporting new, ragged haircuts.

When questioned why they had done such a thing, the only boy, Brother, replied, “Well, we thought about all of the things you warned us about and we didn’t do any of those. We  thought and thought about what we could do and figured out you didn’t tell us not to get on the roof or cut our hair so that’s what we did.”

So now in my family, when we leave we give the usual safety reminders to one another about door locks and stoves and so on and then finish our farewell with “Don’t get on the roof and cut your hair.” It means do don’t anything else foolish or dangerous that I may have forgotten to mention. It is just another way of saying “I love you.”

( As a side note: two of my grandmother’s sisters turned out to be hairdressers)

Does your family have a special and unique expression? If so I would love to hear it and the story behind it.