Funny how phrases can bind us

When my mom passed away in 2016, her legacy included some prime Missouri farmland and a household inventory that ranged from English collectibles, coffee-table books on Great Britain and more plastic storage containers than one could use in a lifetime.

Even one that stretched for 93 years.

But as I blow through milestone birthdays at an impressive clip, I'm also channeling my London-born mom when it comes to assessing fashion choices.

Do these ruffles look silly? Is this dress too short? What if I pair it with tights and boots?

Or to quote Mom in her later years: "Do I look like mutton dressed up like lamb?"

The answer from her adult daughters was always an honest "You look great!" (Our brother has no recall of this question, so I'm guessing he was never asked and is not surprised by that.)

Now I'm smiling as I ask myself the mutton vs. lamb question in random fitting rooms. Mom and I are having a moment.

I'm sure there's research out there that confirms what common sense tells me: Much like family rituals, our inside jokes, catchphrases and favorite sayings that sometimes make sense only to those in the know can create a sense of belonging.

For me, some of that special family language has faded as the realities of modern life mean less time together.

But still memorable is the time one of my sisters enthusiastically sang out the words of a hymn, oblivious to a typo on the printed song sheet. To this day, I will sing "Holy, Holy, Holy" out loud, but in my head it's always "Holy, Holy, Moly" thanks to that typo. (And thank you, sister-who-shall-remain-nameless but knows there were witnesses.)

Then there was a long-ago road trip to visit my older sister Sharon. My two younger sisters and I piled into cousin Jo's 1970s lime green Mercury Comet in Forrest City, Arkansas, and made our way to Pensacola, where we overwhelmed Sharon in her not-nearly-big-enough apartment.

The word of the week became a plaintive, drawn-out "Whaaaat?" that issued from the toilet in the wake of each flush.

Trust me - it was totally hilarious every time and we repeated it even without a prompt from the plumbing.

More recently, I've adopted a saying for when ordinary events go awry. Let's say, hypothetically, that you're making dinner and as you start to open a box of pasta, you're surprised by angel hair noodles spilling all over the top of the stove and not into the pot of boiling water.

Then you see that the other end of the box was already open.

My counterintuitive response: "That's exactly what I hoped would happen."

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. "Whaaaat?"

- Denise Joyce of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].