PESHTIGO, WI—After a lifetime of assiduously avoiding the use of foul language, Helen Chernak, 59, is finally learning to swear, her delighted offspring reported Monday.
"I was at Mom's this weekend, and the cat knocked something over," said Michael Chernak, 34, Helen's eldest child. "Mom shakes her little fist and says, 'Damn it, Felix! Get down from there, you little shit.' I was like, 'Where did that come from?' It was so wild."
According to Michael, he and siblings Julie, 32, and James, 29, have been encouraging their mother to swear for years.
"When we were growing up, Mom never used any bad words at all," Julie said. "If she wanted to say shit, she'd say 'sugar' instead. We'd tell her that if she wanted to say the dirty word, she should just say it. But she'd always refuse, saying she was 'a firm believer in using sugar substitutes.'"
Julie said she first heard her mother swear during a Jan. 23 trip with her to the neighborhood IGA grocery store. The pair encountered a cashier who allegedly rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath when the elder Chernak handed her a stack of coupons.
"We got out to the car and Mom said, 'I have no idea why that checkout lady had to be such a darn bitch,'" Julie said. "Isn't that so great? God, I love it."
According to James, the major breakthrough occurred on Jan. 8, when his mother said "fuck" with only slight provocation.
"Me and Michael were going to the nursing home with her to see Grandma," James said. "Mom was already worked up because she couldn't find the right container for the ham. So we go out to the garage and a light bulb blows. She says, and I quote, 'This fucking house is falling apart.' We could not believe Mom said 'fucking.' We begged her to repeat it, but she wouldn't. She just said, 'Oh, you two be quiet.'"
Because of her inexperience at swearing, Chernak occasionally deploys the forbidden words incorrectly—gaffes which delight her children. Last week, Chernak reported that she broke the "stupid mixing-ass bowl" for her food processor and did not know how she was going to locate the "peckin' instruction manual" to order a new one.
James said he is at a loss to explain the rise in swearing.
"I really don't know," James said. "Maybe it's because she's getting older and loosening up. Or maybe she's hearing more bad words on TV or something. Then again, she'd always turn off the TV whenever she heard a dirty word. Honestly, it just doesn't make sense."
Julie theorized that the rise in swearing may be related to her father's death in March 2002.
"Dad swore once in a while, but he always gave us a look if we did it," Julie said. "We had to sort of watch it when he was around, but now we don't edit ourselves. So maybe, a year later, Mom's finally stopped editing herself, too."
Michael noted that, in addition to swearing more herself, his mother has become more lax in her policing of her children's foul language.
"Lately, as long as we don't do it around Grandma, Mom just lets it slide," James said. "She hardly even notices anymore, unless it's something severe like 'cocksucker.'"
Encouraged by her mother's swearing habit, Julie said she is eagerly awaiting the emergence of other vices.
"Mom drank a margarita the last time we were at Chi-Chi's," Julie said. "I don't want to jinx it, but I think there's a chance we might actually see her drunk one of these years."