(Good) Things my Mother Taught Me

Because she was human and therefore fallible, my Mother taught me some things that weren’t so good; things that proved damaging to my life, actually. I could, and used to constantly dwell on this mess, but I have finally shifted my focus regarding both of my parents to the good that was their legacy; and my spiritual inheritance.My Mom never lied…no…never. What was so inconvenient for me all through school when I wanted to take a mental health day has proved to be a point of pride now. The truth is that Hazel’s level of honesty is rare as hens teeth. It was then, and it still is. That’s a pity because Truth is a healer. It saves marriages, friendships, careers, tears and regrets. I now love to brag on her for this. This woman never, to my recollection, lied, not even once. Not to save somebody’s feelings, even, and she hated to hurt anyone’s feelings, just despised it! Once she told me that when some proud parent would introduce her to their less than attractive baby, she would say “Oh, that is such a sweet baby!” She could really pull it off because she adored babies and really put her heart into it, homely or not. But lie? Nope. Not her. I used to think it was ridiculous to think that a “little white lie” could ever be a problem, but she maintained that there simply is no such thing. As she put it “A lie is a lie.” Some years later I heard it said that we are only as sick as the secrets we keep. By then I had come to believe it, and I joined my Mother then and there in her nothing but the truth so help her God stance. This is how I live my life now and my life is so much sweeter because of it. I have learned that lies take on a life of their own and can surely destroy yours. Thank you Mom.

Oh, she taught me all the usual weird Mom stuff too; like always wear clean underwear in case you are in a wreck and they have to cut your clothes off your writhing, bleeding, battered body. She used to say that and giggle, but would always add that I had better wear clean clothes every day because after all, what did I think she washed them for anyway? I often heard her yell out the window to my cousins and me to “stop that y’all! You kids are going to put somebody’s eye out with that thing!”And she was right in a general way, I suppose. We did play a bit rough, although all 4 of us still have, by the grace of God, both eyes. Thank you anyway, Mom.

My Mom taught me to be on call for others. I wish I had a nickel for every casserole she ever made and took to the family when someone died, or every greeting card she ever sent, or every hour she spent on the phone with a distraught friend just listening and supporting. Her kindness was not just for 2-leggeds, either. Once, as kids will do, I was torturing some plant or other by mindlessly stripping it’s leaves off and she stopped me, gently suggesting that the bush or tree or what-not I was destroying was a living being, just like me only different in appearance. Once a hurricane, and I mean a big one, I believe it may have been Hurricane Donna, was headed straight for us. In those days, you didn’t have much of an advance warning; Doppler had not arrived on the weather scene yet. It was the ’60’s, and I was 5 or 6. When we did get the hurricane watch, she had raced around like a wild woman, filling the bath tub and lots of milk jugs with water and picking up all the stuff in the yard that would soon become airborne while Dad stowed the heavy things and boarded up all of our old-timey Florida jalousie windows. They had us all ready for the big blow just as the wind came screaming sideways and the rain tore like bullets from the blackened sky. It was at this point that I remembered that my 2 white mice were still out in their cage in the crook of a scrub oak tree. I started to cry hysterically because I had been through lesser hurricanes before and knew those little guys would never survive. Mom said “It’s ok, Susie, I’m gonna go get them!” Dad shushed my cries and yelled at her “Hazel, leave the damn things out there! They’re only rats, for cryin’ out loud!” Quickly she looked at him, then at me and simply turned and dashed right out the door through the carport into the storm, leaning hard against the door to force it open. Even as a little girl it occurred to me just what a brave act this was as an astonished Ray, not at all accustomed to such blatant disobedience, stared as she finally struggled through the door, soaked to the skin, clutching the huge wood-framed hardware cloth cage. That day, neither the wrath of my Dad (normally something she always went to great pains to avoid) nor Hurricane Donna making landfall in our yard meant anything to her at all in the face of the impending death of 2 little pets and one heartbroken little girl. He was so shocked at this rare defiance that he spoke not a word. I jumped up and down, so happy and relieved, so proud of my Mom; my hero. For years Mom and I would laugh about that act of defiance and compassion. She loved to recount how she ripped that cage right out of that tree and saved the rats. She taught me a lot that day. Thank you, Mom.

She taught me that feelings do matter, your own and the feelings of others. But she really never talked about this, she just lived it. I will never forget the spanking she didn’t give me when I said something uncharacteristically ugly and mean-spirited to my utterly shocked and humiliated second grade teacher and made her cry. I was trying to be clever. I thought it was hilarious, great comedy. Not for long! When she found out, she just looked at me as if to say “I am so disappointed in you.” But she didn’t say it. She didn’t have to. No spanking could have hurt as much as that sad look. I remember that I never saw her laugh at mean jokes, ones that put someone down. It just wasn’t in her. Thank you, Mom.

The best thing Mom taught me was that there is a God who loves me, in fact, One who is Love and that I had a steadfast friend in Jesus Christ. She took me to church when I was only a few days old. Note, she took me to church. She went too, faithfully. I used to complain about it a lot when I got to be about 10, so she said “Susie, when you are 12, you can decide for yourself whether or not you want to go. I will not make you, but for now, you are coming with me!” I never did quit going, although when I left home, I left the church I was brought up in to discover what felt right in my own soul. I found it. Thank you, Mom.

.I so deeply regret that my daughter and grandson never knew the smart and savvy person she was when I was little. Her sparkle had faded away long before my daughter was born from years of living with daily ridicule and conflict that left her just a shell of the person she once was, the Mom I knew, the one who parlayed Dad’s once meager earnings into a tidy sum by her thriftiness, talent with money, and personal sacrifice, the woman who stood up to daily criticism again and again until finally she could stand no more, and sank back into the safety of a childhood that provided such happiness and freedom. By the time my grandson was born, she had regressed into a child-woman, a Mother I could barely recognize. I felt irritation and disappointment in her then, but today I see that she was only coping with life the best she knew how. She did not choose alcohol or tranquilizers to dull her personal pain. Thank you, Mom. I love you and I miss you. Happy Mother’s Day.

One thought on “(Good) Things my Mother Taught Me

  1. Susan, you have managed to transcend all of the bitter lessons learned from your mom and embrace the ones that really benefited you. Hazel is undoubtedly preening herself after getting this blog.

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