Verboten (in a manner of speaking)

It started because we all wanted a seat on the couch.

As is often the case in large families, there weren’t always enough places to sit.  The living room in our house had enough space for two large arm chairs and a couch.  My parents got the arm chairs, we kids had to fight for a piece of the sofa.  We could squeeze four of us without touching — a key element to relatively peaceful TV watching.  That left three kids on the floor.

Like all good families we had rules.  Number one rule on TV night:  if you were lucky enough to get a seat on the sofa (first come, first served), you were good.  But, if you got up for anything you HAD to say, “I get this seat when I get back.”  And say it loud enough to be clearly heard.  Otherwise, you lost that prime spot to the quickest kid on the floor.

We were a scrappy, contentious lot, but we were honorable.  As long as you played by the rule, your place would be waiting after you went to the bathroom or got your drink.  If you forgot to say the phrase, though, all bets were off.

Surprisingly, there were plenty of times that one of us would forget, and we would try to wheedle our way back into that still-warm spot, hoping that everyone else had missed the fact that we hadn’t said anything.  But there was always someone who knew you hadn’t and an argument would ensue.

One night my father put his foot down.  He forbade us to say “I get this seat when I get back”.  Never again, he said.  My father always meant what he said.

This was a problem.  We would no longer have a modicum of control over where we sat and for how long.  Without our rule there would be constant seat stealing and chaos.  What were we to do?

. . . . and yet a true creator is necessity, which is the mother of our invention Plato wrote in The Republic.  Plato was a pretty smart guy.

In our case, necessity led to the invention of mongwa.  My brother Jaime its creator.

We slipped that word into the matrix of our family life so smoothly my father didn’t notice at first.  One word is so much shorter, ergo, less noticeable than eight.  By the time he did notice, I think he actually thought it was pretty clever, so the word stayed.  It moved beyond the living room and into the kitchen, the dining room, the porch steps — any situation where there were more people than places to sit.

Decades have rolled by since mongwa entered our lexicon.  Now it’s as much a part of our family as our DNA.  We all still use it, though its necessity is seldom the point.  It’s a secret handshake, a wink, a nod.  An acknowledgement.  We were kids once in a fractious family and we lived to tell the tale.  Most of us.  Two brothers are no longer here.  Still, they were part of it and saying mongwa brings it all back and we are kids again.  We remember.

But every once in awhile it still means the same thing.  I get this seat when I get back.

It’s the rule.

Six of us standing (no need to say mongwa). One sister missing - she's probably taking the photo. This was taken about the time mongwa was invented.  Only six of us posing. Our word creator is the last one on the right with blonde wavy hair.  One sister is missing – she’s probably taking the photo.

Filed in: Weekly Writing Challenge: A Manner of Speaking



44 thoughts on “Verboten (in a manner of speaking)

  1. Absolutely wonderful, My Dear. I love, love, *love*, these family stories (in which you are ALL so breathtakingly alive!). Such a wild-and-crazy bunch, you Pierces! And creative. And devoted. And, most of all — *loving* (despite all the bumps and bruises).
    PS: What I want to know is when do we get to read the story about the brother who trampolined off the bedstead only to crash through the floor?


    • Thank you so much, Harula. I have just started reading your beautiful blog, too. I am on my way to a writer’s conference for the weekend. When I return I will spend more time reading about your words that serve! And Scotland. I so want to travel there one day.

      Oh, and Mongwa is a made-up word! πŸ™‚


  2. Mary, you are a very talented writer. I am enjoying your stories of your large family, as you know I can relate to that! (and I have lost 2 brothers also.) Thank you for these memories.


    • Wow. Thank you, Gail. I appreciate the complement. Seems like there were many large families around the Star Lake area back then. I imagine we all have similar stories to tell.


    • Thanks, Cathy. Several people have asked about the word. It’s not an acronym, it’s completely made up. I think it just sounds great and is fun to say. Mongwa. Try it! πŸ˜‰


  3. Cute! As an only child, the only one I had to fight for the sofa was the dog. But man, was she quick!
    Have a great weekend, Mary!


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  5. Wow, that sounds like fun! I have only one sibling, and we had more or less prearranged (by my father) seating arrangements, both at home and in the car.

    And nobody got to sit in daddy’s armchair but daddy, so later in life I went out and got myself a big leather recliner that was much nicer than his. Retribution, I suppose. πŸ™‚


  6. Hey Mary,

    I absolutely love how you tell stories, more especially stories about your family. It’s interesting the way mongwa was created and used intelligently among you.

    Thanks for sharing.


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  8. When Peter, Jaime and I talked about coming up with a word, we thought it needed to sound like a word in Mohawk. Dad didn’t talk Mohawk of course!


  9. I love this story. I always wish I had a bigger family, because gatherings sound so much fun, but then I imagine that there was also all kinds of drama like the couch, and clothes borrowing. πŸ™‚ Pretty funny stuff, though.


    • Ha! Yah, gatherings were fun, but pretty damn fractious as well. Still are. But we do have fun, and we laugh a lot. On the other hand, I have an only child and he’s pretty happy that way. We make the most of what we have.


  10. Sounds like my house – kids jockeying for position to watch the tube. Darned thing! Oh what memories. I got to see my family a couple of weeks ago – it was great. We don’t live close and it is rare web we get together, but it brings back memories.


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