Clean Mouths and Dirty Words (A Cautionary Tale)


I am bound to lose a few readers over this post, so please accept my apologies in advance!

🙂 I am no one’s judge or jury… but, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Memory is a tricky thing. There are things, events, people and circumstances that are surprisingly easy to forget. It is just how our brains work. If someone or something is uninteresting, we discard it almost immediately, perhaps because there is only just so much room up there in the grey matter. We must save space for important things. Like anniversary dates and tax deadlines and shoes.

On the other hand, there are some people in life who are so outrageous, so outlandish, so extreme that even my poor laboured brain has little choice but to take a mental photograph and to store it forevermore in long-term memory. 

Such is the case with Gwennie. (Cue “Born to Be Wild”)Steppenwolf-Born-to-Be-Wild

I must have been about three or four at the time, so I am fuzzy on the particulars. However, I recall that from the day this little spitfire of a woman entered my mother’s friendship circle, she was tattooed into my brain and assumed an unarguable place in the tapestry of our family history.

Gwennie was, as I recall, a slight and darkly tanned woman with black hair and sharp eyes. She had the loud, gravelly tone of a woman who chain-smoked during her every waking moment. Gwennie yelled a lot and, though she had a lively temper, she also had a very large and soft heart beating under her brown leathery skin.

She was not unattractive. In fact, I suppose if I had been adult at the time, I would have recognized that she was probably a bit of “hot stuff” where men were concerned. She is the only woman I have ever seen riding a motorcycle clad in nothing but a hot-pink string bikini and a smile.

Images like that are not easily forgotten. 

However, her striking looks and larger-than-life, wild child personality are not what my memory laid hold of when Mummy met Gwennie. What DID make the most lasting impression on me was her language: Gwennie swore like a trooper. Perhaps she was raised in a French lumberjack camp – I am not entirely sure – but she certainly swore like one. Virtually every sentence was punctuated by something colourfully profane.


I can still taste it to this day…

I did not know much at three or four, but what I did know was that swearing was wrong. It was about the wrongest wrong you could get up to at that age, and in our household, where neither mom nor dad nor grandparents nor cousins nor aunts nor uncles swore – at least not in the presence of children – swearing was something new. It was something shocking. It was something that made people laugh uncomfortably, but hey, laughter was laughter in my book.

It was also something that got one’s mouth washed out with soap.*

Ivory soap. (Cue Chopin’s “Funeral March”…)

As difficult as I found to remember my times tables, that is how easy I found it to catalogue profanity.

Running a close second to her swearing, what also marked Gwennie indelibly on my young and impressionable mind, was the fact that she wore dentures even though she was not terribly old. Perhaps that is how things were done back in the days when the world was still in black and white and dentists seemed more inclined to pull a tooth than repair it.

Whatever the case, Gwennie took a perverse pleasure in terrifying me by flicking her bottom plate out, an action that never failed to elicit an ear-splitting squeal of terror from me, and an equally ear splitting peal of laughter from her. It was sort of a game we played, the rules of which I never fully comprehended.

One particularly memorable time, she pulled this party trick when I was sitting between her and my mother in the front seat of a car. Bear in mind, this was long before seatbelt laws were in place. Was I whinging and making a fuss? Was I unhappy? Was I crying? Was she trying to shut me up? I cannot rightly recall.

What I do recall is her bottom plate of teeth flying out of her mouth and landing squarely in my lap, to my eternal horror.

My mother reports there was never a child who moved quicker over the back of the seat than I did in that moment. I have never forgotten the terror or the sickening, coppery adrenaline at the back of my throat.

Mum and Gwennie laughed until they cried, and, from my adult perspective, I cannot say that I blame them.


Welcome to the Potty Mouth Graveyard.

Still, though she was a little scary and loud and brash, I really loved Gwennie as she did me. I eventually recovered from the legendary teeth-in-the-lap moment, and we were friends again. Actually, I felt kind of sorry for her. In my little girl mind, I knew exactly why Gwennie had false teeth.

I was convinced it was because of all her swearing. Obviously, no one had bothered to wash her mouth out with soap.**

Mother Hen


“Profanity is the effort of a feeble brain to express itself forcibly.”

― Spencer W. Kimball

“It is also a good way to lose your teeth.”

― Mother Hen

*Disclaimer: Recall these are musings from sometime in the late 1960s, back when the use of cruel and unusual punishment on kids was pretty much the norm. In no way do I endorse the use of soap, Ivory or otherwise, as a punishment for or preventative to the use of foul language.

** I also realize some people lose their teeth for perfectly valid reasons. 😮

Photo Credits:

  • Feature Photo: Shutterstock
  • Steppenwolf cover:
  • Ivory Soap:
  • Potty Mouth Graveyard: Shutterstock

© motherhendiaries 2014 all rights reserved

25 replies »

  1. When I was a kid, I put on my dad’s coat to dash outside for the milk. Put my hands in his pocket and came out with his teeth. I was never so scared and upset. I think my mom had to retrieve the milk. That was when the milk was delivered to our front door.


  2. Our great-grandfather Davis once commented on Gwennie’s language…he decided that apparently ” she was never a Sunday School teacher”….I can envison him saying that….


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