As a young mother, I heard a lot of yelling from neighborhood mothers reprimanding their children, and I quietly determined that I would never do that. I may not have been a yeller, but I certainly spoke harshly. My mother never yelled, never raised her voice. She would softly speak wisdom; tears might run when I was rude. Consequently, I wanted to be more like my mother.
Although she worked six days a week until I was thirteen and five days a week from 3 to 11 p.m. as an RN when I was a teenager, which permitted very little time together, her influence was indelible. When she started work as a nurse, she let it be known that when her girls called, she would talk with them. She may have been absent in body but not in attention.
Her philosophy and strong faith have carried me through my lifetime. I am grateful. She expected my sister Jean and me to do our best because our best would be sufficient. Having a strong work ethic, doing more than the minimum for an employer, earned me the “Waitress of the Summer” recognition when I worked at the Virginia Beach Rathskeller restaurant before my senior year in college. Since school was our job, we studied not only to get good grades but, also, to learn what we would need for the future. Preparing for life as an adult was important to her. She wanted us to be self-sufficient, to be able to take charge when circumstances demanded it. Knowing we could support ourselves would give us the confidence necessary for contentment.
Growing up, we were taught to be nice to everyone, no matter how they treated you, which was, of course, impossible for us children at times. Mother always excused bad behavior in everyone since her mantra was “Be kind to everyone because you don’t know what kind of day they’ve had.” She even excused my lippy backtalk with, “I’d rather you blow up at home because you have to get it out of your system some way, or you’ll get an ulcer. Besides, it’s better to behave when you’re away from home.”
Perhaps her best lesson for me was, “Everything works out for the best in the long run, Linda, but it may be a very long run.” If you have done your part and can do no more, let it rest. If the results are inevitable, you have no choice but to adjust to it. Sometimes the immediate result is only temporary. That attitude makes life much more pleasant.
Mother was adamant about following rules, whether it was game rules, underage drinking, paying the correct amount when you aged up to adult prices, reimbursing an overcharge, or being honest on your taxes. I used that concept with my children when I said, “If you don’t like a rule, do all you can to change it, but obey it while it remains a rule.”
Obeying the rules undoubtedly came from her strong Christian beliefs, which meant more than weekly church attendance was required. Although she never preached, her life and her little sayings transferred her values and expectations to us. She lived the Golden Rule, “Treat others as you want to be treated” which was fully ingrained into her character. Her integrity surfaced in one saying which kept me out of a lot of trouble: “It doesn’t matter if Mother knows what you’re doing; God sees everything you do, and that’s more important.”
Mother was, also, very pragmatic. She knew and accepted that sometimes you had to be at the right place at the right time and that sometimes “It’s not what you know but who you know.” With so few jobs for a sixteen-year-old in my small hometown, I knew I got a job at the swimming pool as a cashier because my beloved Uncle Tom, an All-American for Duke University, was the manager. I, also, knew that I had to do my best to be rehired and not embarrass the family!
Mother took nutrition courses in college before entering nursing school, so we had balanced, healthy meals. Consequently, Jean and I rarely took medicine, even an aspirin. If you had a headache, obviously you had not gotten enough sleep and you went right to bed. If you had a stomachache, you must be constipated, so you immediately had to drink a large glass of water or eat a whole apple. A fever indicated you were ill, but usually that simply meant going to bed until it passed.
Eating breakfast every morning was expected: “Always eat breakfast so you get those gastric juices out of your stomach, or you might get an ulcer.” Since Jean and I are relatively healthy for our age, her rules have served us well. While I am a self-proclaimed junk food junky who enjoys fast food when traveling and ice cream, cookies, and desserts when my weight allows the extra calories, the three meals a day are usually supplied with lots of fruits and vegetables.
When I started journaling, I remembered her words, “Never write down anything you don’t want the world to read.” Words are somewhat permanent. As I journal for my family to later read, I am conscious of things I want them to remember. Some things are better left unsaid, however, so I censor what I write. No one needs to relive pain that has passed.
One of my former parenting students once called after graduation and said, “When I was sitting in your parenting classes, I’d think, ‘Yeah, yeah,’ but now I hear you talking to me when Jesse does something.” I hear my mother’s sayings talking to me, too. As an adult, I know her influence is still strong in my life.