Years ago, when I was a child in the ‘50s, my family would watch a program on television on Friday evenings titled “I Remember Mama.”
It was about a Swedish (I think it was Swedish) family and the memories the writer had of them. She especially focused on the wisdom that her mother exhibited in dealing with family situations. I always enjoyed that program, although I couldn’t tell you what a single episode was about.
I had a mother, too, and the older I get, the more I think about her. I don’t know if I do some of the things she did, but I know she influenced my life greatly. I am who I am, either because of — or in spite of — her upbringing.
There were a lot of things that were forbidden for me. I was not allowed to say bad words, for instance. My mother said bad words. My brother said bad words. My mother’s boyfriend said bad words. But, I was told that saying bad words would buy me a ticket to the fiery furnace. I sure worried about my family.
It was also a sin to waste food. I remember distinctly sitting at the table one day when my mother was trying to get me to eat lunch. I didn’t like to eat when I was a child. My mother said I was “picky.” She told me that little boys and girls in Africa were starving and I should be glad to have food to eat. I was glad to have food to eat, but I didn’t want to eat it. I wanted to go outside and play. That would be when she would bring out the “big stick.” She would tell me that it was a sin to waste food. Oh, no! Another sin! I used to think that there were 25 commandments, because Mom was always telling me something was a sin.
In the summertime, I liked to sit at the picnic table and play with my clay. I would make all kinds of animals and dishes and cookware. But, it was kinda fun to sit on the table and do my work. Don’t tell me why. When Mom would see me, though, she would tell me it was a sin to sit on the table; or stand on the table; or walk on the table. “That’s where people eat,” she would say. Is it any wonder I thought there were so many commandments? When I looked it up in the Bible, I couldn’t find any of those things mentioned. What was she trying to pull? It worked, though. You won’t find me saying bad words, or wasting food, or sitting on the table.
She had some interesting sayings. Some of them required translation. Like, “In a pig’s eye.” I don’t know what the pig’s eye had to do with it, but when Mom said it, she meant that whatever I wanted was never going to happen. She seemed to favor pigs for making analogies. For instance, she would say, “Even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while.” To me it meant that, no matter how many mistakes a person makes, he/she will get something right eventually.
How about this one? “Never buy a pig in a poke.” She told me a story about someone who had bought something without seeing it first and being disappointed when he/she saw it. A couple of years ago, a group to which I belonged was having a Christmas gift exchange. We were to wrap something and put it in a box for someone to pick out. I said I wanted to see what I was getting, but I was outvoted. So, I got a brown paper bag, bought a little stuffed pig and put it inside and put it in the exchange basket. The fellow who pulled it did not seem to be disappointed. He looked at me and laughed.
Some of Mom’s sayings were handed down from her mother. For instance, “You’re burning a hole in the daylight.” She said it when she wanted me to turn the light out in the room when it was the middle of the day. I don’t know why I would have it on, but sometimes the day was transitioning from morning to day and I would forget the light was one. A favorite of my Grandpa’s (of whom I have only a vague remembrance) was, “The wheel that squeaks is the one that gets oiled.” It means that the people who complain are the ones who get their needs met. That’s not necessarily true, but if a person doesn’t speak up, they’re probably out of luck.
My mother grew up in a generation when women and girls did not wear pants or shorts. At least, my mother and her sisters were not allowed by their mother, my grandmother. In her later years, my mother thought she would like to try wearing some and bought herself two pantsuits. She didn’t feel comfortable in them, though, and only wore them once or twice. When she passed away, I had her laid out in the prettiest one of her pantsuits. How’s that for defiance?
Well, I’m a mother and grandmother now and I didn’t want to, necessarily, walk in my mother’s footsteps. I did it my way. I just wonder, though, what will my offspring remember about me?
(Dorothy Knight Burchett is a former newspaper columnist and the author of “Miles and Miracles,” available at Pokeberry Exchange in New Castle and on Amazon.)