Salty Mouth, Loving Heart

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Wonderful, Wacky Family

Jack Byron

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Why use profanity in real life and writing? Because sometimes “darn it” just doesn’t cut it.
~Jacqueline Patricks

Most of the members of my father’s family were people to shy away from, and we didn’t have much contact with them when I was young, except for my father’s younger brother, Donny. Donny was a big guy with an easygoing, friendly nature, and everyone’s favorite out of my father’s family. But my heart was won over by his rough-around-the-edges wife, Margot.

Margot had a good heart to match her husband’s, but people felt uneasy around her because of her incredibly filthy mouth. In all my life, I have never known anyone to so casually use profanity as Margot. She dropped swear words with a nonchalance that was simply amazing. On others, such a demeanor would have been unacceptable; but I thought that, with Margot, it fit.

Margot was rail-thin, with dirty-blond hair that “looked” dirty. Her usual attire was a pair of faded blue jeans and a wrinkled T-shirt, not to mention the ever-present cigarette that hung from her lips. Margot was a hard worker, unafraid to tackle the roughest jobs, and her calloused hands showed it — no manicured nails and polish for her!

Margot was fluent in all the various dialects of profanity, but her favorite swear word, by far, was the “F word.” Margot seemed to find it such a suitable word because it was extremely versatile. That one word could express anger, astonishment, amusement, sadness, or even, amazingly, tenderness. One memory I will never forget is Margot hugging her daughter, the two of them crying over the daughter’s broken heart, while Margot repeated over and over, in a surprisingly comforting voice, “I am so f****** sorry, baby.”

That was just how Margot was, a woman with a loving heart behind a salty mouth.

As enchanted as I was with Margot’s ways, and as lovingly eccentric as I found her, plenty of other people were exasperated with the constant profanity. During one of the occasional visits that my brother and I undertook to see our father and the family he had with his second wife, Janie, this exasperation gave rise to a family legend. I do not have much in the way of good memories, as far as my father’s side of the family goes, but this visit provided golden fodder for reminiscence.

My stepmother, Janie, had had enough of Margot’s mouth and was complaining loudly about it to me and my brother: “Margot can’t say three words without saying f***, and I am just sick of it! I swear, the next time that I hear her use that word, I am just going to haul off and tell her to f*** off!” And, if anyone doubts that God has a sense of humor, let me provide what happened next as evidence to the contrary.

As if on cue, the phone rang, cutting into Janie’s tirade. And, of course, who should be on the line but Margot. We plainly heard Margot’s cheerful greeting to our stepmother: “Well, Jane, how the f*** are you?” And our stepmother, as she promised, answered right back, “F*** you, Margot!” Such a response might have offended some people, perhaps prompt someone to slam down the phone in anger. But Margot, being Margot, and clearly having no problem with a liberal use of profanity, took it all in stride: “I know how you feel, Jane.”

And thus, a golden memory, a family legend, was born. But the story didn’t end there, because Margot came over and accompanied all of us to the supermarket. No sooner had we gone in and gotten a shopping cart than a rather fastidious woman approached and engaged Margot in conversation. “I really hope to see you tomorrow, Margot. The church could really use an extra pair of hands.” Now this was quite a surprise to us. We never imagined Margot to be the church-going type.

But Margot answered enthusiastically that she would be there, adding that she hoped it wouldn’t be so f****** hot and that she sure hoped there would be more f****** people to help than last time. My stepmother and brother had stricken looks of horror on their faces, and I could not help but wonder if they were more shocked over Margot’s swearing in the middle of the grocery store or over the image of Margot in a church setting.

But the fastidious lady handled it all graciously, with a bright smile lighting up her face, although she did add, “Margot, please try to watch the cussing tomorrow. You know how people get sometimes.” Returning the bright smile, Margot answered, “Yeah, I’ll try, but no promises. I ask the good Lord for help with my dirty mouth, but I guess he has more important things on his mind.” With a conspiratorial wink, the woman gave Margot a squeeze on the shoulder and wished all of us a good day, calling back as she left the store, “Thank you for your help, Margot. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

As soon as the woman was gone, Janie turned on Margot, the irritation evident in her voice. “How could you talk like that to a church woman, Margot? It’s bad enough that we all have to put up with it, but a woman from the church…” Janie’s voice trailed off, at a loss for words over the outrageous situation, but Margot was as unaffected as usual. “Oh, that’s Sister Daniel, you know, the pastor’s wife. She says I’m probably the only person whose cussin’ God always tunes in for.”

And with that, the matter was clearly over, at least as far as Margot was concerned.

But I like to think about that day and our ideas of what counts as holy and dignified behavior. In a world where so many people like Aunt Margot are judged for their coarse speech, I have to wonder if, after all is said and done, the only thing that really matters is not so much what a person says but what that person actually does. Perhaps that is the truest measure of a person.

And that is how I like to think of Aunt Margot — a woman with a salty mouth but a loving heart.

— Jack Byron —

Reprinted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC 2023. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.

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