Carole Townsend

(Not So) Common Sense
Bad things come in threes, right?
By Carole Townsend

A few years ago, I wrote a book about the wisdoms of older women that are passed down to younger women. In short, it was a book about “Mama’s Advice,” titled Red Lipstick and Clean Underwear.



The experience blossomed, starting out as a humorous examination of the phenomenon of grandmothers’, mothers’ and daughters’ love and undeniable connection, to a full-blown history lesson and a poignant examination of the often difficult lives that women lead. 

Several years ago, my husband’s family grieved the loss of three close family members:  my father-in-law and two brothers-in-law. It was terrible and seemed almost freakishly close in the timing (all within about a year, each unrelated to the other). I heard from so many people during that awful time that “bad things come in threes.” The phrase actually brought a foreboding fear after the first two deaths and believe it or not, comfort after the third. 

When difficulties come along in a family, three seems to be the magic number, doesn’t it? Financial bad news – threes.  Familial stresses – threes. When I was married to my ex-husband, his parents came to visit us three times in one year, each visit lasting about 2 months each. They didn’t speak English (rather, they refused to do so), so the visits were fraught with awkward moments. 

Case in point: I took my thankfully former mother-in-law shopping for shoes. In my limited, pitifully broken Spanish, I tried to ask her whether the shoes she tried on were comfortable. Instead, I told her that the building was on fire. Flipping through the pages of my English-to-Spanish dictionary, I didn’t realize she was gone in the blink of an eye, moving pretty fast for a woman in her seventies. I couldn’t understand why she ran out of the building in such a hurry. It took me a half hour to find her. 

In another instance, I was trying to tell her that the news story we were watching was about the Pope’s visit. Instead, I told her that potatoes were visiting, and that they were riding in a new potato car. She looked at me as if I was crazy.  Three times in one year? There’s another verification that bad things come in threes.

For the purposes of doing research for that wonderful book I mentioned earlier, I interviewed four generations of women. Every generation of women has passed this tidbit about the threes along to their younger charges. When a principle survives for that many years, there’s some truth to it. 

Here’s further proof. Not to get too personal, but I had one surgery that same year I wrote the book, I and was slated for a second a few weeks later. I remember thinking to myself, “Surely not.” I was hoping that wives’ tales were just that – wives tales.  Believe it or not, I had a surprise third surgery that same year, two days after Christmas. As the surgical team rolled me into the operating room, my last thought before going under was, “Must be true…hope it’s true…this is number three….”

Since then, we’ve had another group of family bad news threes. Of our four children, three of them made choices that, at the time, my husband and I considered to be “bad,” or at least ill-advised. We did so, because each of those choices nearly gave us heart attacks. We worried and lost sleep over them, but of course that’s all we could do. Since then, those choices have turned out to be OK. Or maybe we’ve learned that adult children make their own choices, and it’s our job to make sure that they live with them, not us. Still, there were three of them that rocked our safe, suburban boat. Three in one year. Spooky, isn’t it?

Are there any tidbits of wisdom passed down through the generations in your family? We’d sure love to hear them!

Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was published April 2016. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her other three books are MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA & EXHAUST; RED LIPSTICK & CLEAN UNDERWEAR; and SOUTHERN FRIED WHITE TRASH. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national true crime radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on, Barnes &, and at When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, children and the family. For more information, visit For more information, visit