Some of the events that took place during my mother’s formative years included the repeal of Prohibition, the Great Depression, the Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1933 and World War II. She never discussed these things, probably because she was too preoccupied with more pressing affairs.
Such as why Nancy Drew was in our bathroom. Or, more specifically, why the family when helping themselves to clean towels and sheets were often beaned with “The Secret in The Old Attic” or “The Message in the Hollow Oak.” Naturally, all signs pointed to me. Boys were loyal to Fenton Hardy, Aunt Gertrude and Frank and Joe.
And my older sister had an iron-clad alibi: She never did anything wrong. Her children today may doubt this, but it’s true. My sister always had a keen sense of duty and responsibility. She always hung up her clothes. Her schoolwork was always done without any nagging. She never forgot to flush the toilet. And she certainly was never party to “The Mystery of the Falling Books in the Bathroom Linen Closet.”
Left to my own devices, I would spend all my time reading. My father, a voracious reader, was sympathetic. My mother, with her master’s degree, was the mostly highly educated person in our house and no doubt the smartest. She was also the hardest worker and she expected everyone to share this drive. “So afraid of a little extra work!” she would scold if one of my brothers or I complained about doing the dishes or taking out the garbage. The bathroom was a quiet refuge, a secular reading room.
One of my great joys upon coming home from school was to read the newspaper. I was very thorough–like a whale gorging on plankton I inhaled every section. My mother, ever mindful of chores and homework, didn’t understand my enthusiasm and correctly guessed I was procrastinating . “There’s more to life than reading the paper,” she would say. “Go on and study for that spelling test. You’d better know it backwards, forwards and mixed up in chop suey.”
Here are some other life lessons my mother taught me:
Frank Loesser’s lyrics can be employed across a wide range of situations. While cooking or otherwise engaged in the kitchen, my mother would sing part of Adelaide’s song from “Guys and Dolls”: I love you a bushel and peck and a hug around the neck. It was her song of contentment: all was right with the world. If, on the other hand, if someone upset her she would say, with heavy sarcasm: “Thanks a barrel and a heap!”
All the material on earth is in three states: liquid, solid or gas. All three can potentially block the view of the television set. “You make a better door than a window,” my mother would say to who ever was in the way.
Botany offers a surprisingly rich vein of sarcasm. “Have you finished your math homework yet?” my mother would ask. “I’m doing it, I’m doing it,” I would say, even as I continued to read the newspaper. “How?” my mother would demand. “By osmosis?”
Peanut butter is the staff of life. Not unlike Henry Ford’s assembly line, we could have anything we wanted for our school lunches as long as it was a peanut butter sandwich.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. “Don’t dilly-dally,” my mother told me and my two brothers every morning as we set out for kindergarten. After the first two weeks of school I asked her to define dilly-dallying. From then on she added “Come straight home,” for my benefit.
It pays to be patient in financial and other matters. As Mom said: “I’d rather owe it to you than cheat you out of it.”
Happy Mother’s Day!