Com Ci Com Sa

The other day I was talking to someone about something (don’t laugh; I’m lucky if I remember where I left my car keys). In the conversation, I used the expression com ci com ca. I received a blank look from the person to whom I was speaking. Com ci com ca was something my mother used to say when she was trying to relay that she had no strong feeling one way or the other about something. She would spread her fingers out and rock them back and forth, a gesture that meant the same thing. It is a French expression, and I have no idea how my mother learned the expression. I don’t think she was the only person who said com ci com ca, but I also don’t think it was widely used. As far as I know, my mother spoke no French, although I think she might have hummed Que Sera Sera on occasion. (The famous Doris Day song title is actually Italian, which I don’t believe my mother spoke either.) I hadn’t thought about the expression for literally years, and then read it in an Inspector Gamache book from the series written by Louise Penny which take place near Quebec, Canada (where they DO speak French).

My mother and a friend. I think she was about 15 or 16 years old in the photo.

As an adult looking back on my mother, I am always impressed by her intelligence. She wasn’t highly educated. In fact, about 10 years ago, my sisters and I cornered our eldest cousin who also happened to be one of my mother’s closest friends as she grew up. My mother was the youngest of 14 children, and this cousin is the daughter of one of my mother’s older sisters. As we probed for stories about my mother, we learned something we had never before known: my mother never completed high school.

Wait, what? This is the woman who spoke and wrote using perfect grammar. She was quick with math (although this newest version of New Math would probably have thrown her as much as it does me). She could size up people in short order. Heaven forbid that one of her children tried to tell her, well, a unique version of the truth. And yet, she didn’t complete high school. More surprising, she never mentioned this fact to us.

And it wasn’t just book learning at which she excelled. I was reading one of her recipe cards recently, one that was really old and stained with food and age. In it, she says to add two tablespoons of flour to the onions you just cooked in butter. She adds, let the flour cook for a few minutes to remove the floury taste. I’m not saying that took a rocket scientist, but the card was probably written in 1965 before Food Network. At that point, only Julia Childs (and my mother, apparently) knew to cook flour a few minutes before you add the liquid.

It makes me happy when something will happen that makes me think about my mother. Even after all of these years, I think about her often.

I feel compelled to add that I’m pretty sure my mother didn’t use the phrase com ci com sa very often, because she almost always had a strong opinion about everything!