All mothers have a store of wisdom that they want to pass on to their children. It can come across to the next generation in many forms – sometimes as a warning, sometimes as praise, sometimes as an “I told you so,” sometimes as punishment, but often as just a bit of well-earned knowledge. These pearls of experience can be received with a comforting hug and whisper, a shout and a wagging finger, or in passing with a calm voice. Any way they come, we should listen, accept and hold on to them for the wonderful guideposts of life that they are.
My mother was no exception when it came to handing down her sage bits to her youngsters. In fact, I learned so well that I find I am now repeating many of her adages to my own children and grandchildren. Yes, I have become my mother! I can’t help it. Her advice was good and there is no sense in reinventing the wheel.
Some of her best pieces of wisdom:
Never depend on someone else to get you home — I heard this a lot during my dating years and I always had a Plan B for getting home. I was therefore prepared for that one time in High School, when on a double date, we girls needed a bathroom stop at a gas station. While we were inside, the boys took off, leaving us in a remote area at night. The other girl was hysterical with crying and indecision. I called my Dad. We got home safe and the boys came back to a deserted gas station. This was before the Feminist Movement, but still holds true today. Women need to have their own ideas, plans, expectations and agendas.
Having too much fun can kill you — I think this meant don’t go overboard. Moderation, moderation, moderation. This phrase is still often used in our family today. After coming home exhausted but very happy from an especially great party, with a face that hurts from hours of smiling and a tummy tender from joyous laughing, someone always says, “I think I had too much fun tonight. I’m sure I’m dying.” This is then followed by more smiling, more laughing, more pain!
One banana is good for you, two is not — This is a strange one, but I think it also has to do with overindulgence. Mother grew up during the Depression when fruit of any kind was hard to get. I’m pretty sure her mother told her this when she would ask for a second banana. But it came to symbolize so much more – too much of a good thing is not a good thing.
If you think something long enough, it will eventually fall out of your mouth — Secrets are very hard to keep. After a time, it gets harder and harder to remember who knows what, who shouldn’t know what, who may know what, etc. In the heat of a conversation, without thinking and probably without any intentional malice, the long-held secret will be told. And then there will be room in your head for another secret!
If your clothes don’t match, walk fast all day — I can envision this advice being given to my mother during those lean years when “everyone was poor, but we didn’t know it.” Nowadays it would really only be appropriate if the laundry didn’t get done and/or you woke up late for class/work and grabbed whatever was wearable off the floor.
You can have 5 colors and 3 patterns in any room — My mother was a great decorator who loved color and fabric, but I have no idea how she came up with this tidbit. However, it has helped me design many a room throughout my life. And when I share this advice with others, it makes me sound like I know what I’m doing.
If there is something ugly in your home you can’t change, ignore it and keep decorating — This is astonishing to me, even though I saw it in action! My mother successfully “ignored” a house full of dark brown carpeting for the entire four years we lived there. Nothing in the house was brown or even coordinated with brown. Rugs were placed everywhere, like patches of flowers in the sea of dirt. And it worked! The place was beautiful!
Whatever makes you happy is worth doing, even one time — The Depression taught everyone the value of work and effort. My mother especially, knew nothing would happen without someone putting in some time, effort, care, love and skill. In the end, nothing was wasted if it produced joy, relationship, commitment, growth and smiles all around.
Never go anywhere with an empty hand or a bare face — Hospitality was big with my mother. Every person who came to our house was fed, watered and pampered to the best of her ability. And she never went to another’s home without taking a gift of some sort, even if it was just a bunch of flowers from the yard or a card. The “bare face” part was a big expectation of her generation. You didn’t go out of the house without makeup – simple as that.
If you can read, you can learn to do anything — My mother learned early on to be self-sufficient. She taught herself to do many things and really did not understand people who were “incapable.” She always thought a person could ask for help, give it a try, make some changes, take a class, read a book, brainstorm new ideas…whatever it took to get the job done. The amount of work involved was never the issue. She was always interested in the journey, not the distance.
Use it up, wear it out; make it do or do without — My mother never actually said this but she did embody the message. There was no waste in our home when I was young. Everything was used until it could be used no more. Mother saved bits and pieces of everything because we might need it later. She turned worn collars on my dad’s shirts. She made all her own clothes, upholstered furniture and fashioned drapes and curtains for the whole house. She painted and repainted every house we lived in. She could get more from one turkey than anyone I ever knew – the Thanksgiving meal plus turkey sandwiches plus turkey stew plus turkey broth. I have seen at least eight meals for the family come from one 22 pound bird.
Of course, my advice to my children was and is a mixture of my mother’s words and my own. Every mother’s words of wisdom are a combination of the new and the old, the currently appropriate and the forever true, the popular and the prophetic. We all have, if we are lucky and blessed, a base to stand on, a store of knowledge to draw from. We hold in our hearts the truths our mothers imparted to us, with the privilege and responsibility to then embellish, edit and update those truths to hand over to the next generation.
And so it goes – year after year – decade after decade – one mother to the next – training,teaching, tantalizing, tickling, toiling. Because that’s what mothers are supposed to do!