It was one of Mama's favorite sayings. For example, "If you don't quit playing and come in and get ready for church, it'll be katie bar the door." One of my earliest memories is of trying to figure out exactly what a "katie bar the door" was. Once I set my brilliant little infantile mind to it, I was able to conclude that a "katie bar the door" was, in fact, one of these:
As I said, the first in a long line of misunderstood concepts. What this is, actually, is a sheepsfoot compactor, used in road construction. I suppose that my efforts to understand the concept of "katie bar the door" happened along about the time the dirt streets of Waldron were first being paved, so there was lots of wonderful heavy equipment parked at various locations around our neighborhood for a while. So maybe, I was playing around this curious machine, and Mama told me to get away or it would be katie bar the door for me, and so I somehow made the connection between the two. I don't know.
Soon, my sophisticated mind realized that this concept was just plain stupid. Katie bar the door. I knew one of those words. I knew door. So, it must have something to do with a door. And then I had it. Every night, we would slip a butter knife into the side of the door facing on our back door, thus blocking any intruders who might try to enter the house for purposes of no good. The butter knife, securely preventing the door from being opened, must be serving the purpose of katie barring the door. So, when one katie bared a door, they surely stuck a butter knife into the wooden door facing to provide security.
I was happy with this explanation for a number of years, but then, somewhere in my late elementary days, it occurred to me that katie bar the door was actually a snippet of conversation between an unnamed individual and someone named Katie. It was in fact a command. "Katie! Get up off the couch and bar the door!" Whereupon, young Katherine would dutifully rise and, perhaps picking up a butter knife, proceed to "bar" the door against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.
A website called thefreedictionary.com explains the phrase this way:
Prepare immediately for an advancing threat. Katie bar the door, the grandchildren are here and they all look hungry.
And that's how Mama used it. If I was doing something wrong, I'd better prepare, because there was an advancing threat, and it was called Mama with a switch from the hedge in our back yard. But in spite of my inability to fully grasp the definition, I was at least smart enough to take advantage of the warning, and stop what I was doing before any barring of doors was necessary.
Well, most of the time anyway.