You might remember a book published many, many years ago called “All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Along that vein, I got to thinking about the things Mama taught me—not necessarily all spoken, in fact most of them were by example, rather than expressed out loud.
One good parent can be enough, if that’s the way it has to be: This is about Mama, in honor of Mother’s Day, but it’s impossible to leave the other parent out of it. Suffice to say, he wasn’t a good guy. Mama, on the other hand, did her best to raise us right. It took, to the largest extent.
“If a man wants someone else, you don’t want him:” On reflection, one or more of her four husbands was probably a cheater. It always struck me as good advice. Who wants someone with a wandering eye? I’ve been pretty lucky in that respect.
Family matters: Mama was close to her only sister, and to her own mother and extended family in East Texas. Possibly the cruelest thing my father did was to keep her away from them whenever he could, possibly to hide the bruises. When they finally divorced, her biggest joy for the next 20 years was driving over to see her mom and sister in Marshall any time she felt like going. Riding with her was completely hair-raising, ‘cause she drove like a maniac.
“When you get to the end of the road, turn:” This was her advice when I found out I would not be able to have babies. It’s served me well as other roads have turned out to be dead ends. Sometimes I’ve turned around, sometimes to the right or to the left. But I never just stood there hoping someone would build a new road. When you’re done, you’re done.
Defend your children with everything you have: Mama stepped in so many times, particularly when I or my sister were the targets, and deflected our father’s anger onto herself. It took me a long time to realize it, in fact long after I left home. When I braced her about it on my next visit, she simply shrugged and said, “If could have kept my mouth shut, I would have.” She took no credit, but deserved it all.
Make the leap at the right moment: She chose the right time to leave, as soon as she felt she could keep herself and my baby sister safe. She jumped into the unknown at the first moment where she felt she could do it without risking them both, and it worked. She didn’t know she would have a heart attack the very next day, but by going when she did, she was able to get the medical care she needed, with my sister safely stashed at someone else’s house. Had she stayed even one more day, it could have all been very different.
You can survive even the greatest losses: Losing her 20 years later shook my world to the core. But brick by brick, I rebuilt myself, indeed all of her children did. Her life and her amazing heart were worth the grieving.
Lying isn’t worth the energy: She always said she didn’t have a good enough memory to lie, because she could never remember the lies. I’ve used the same line more than once. Truth is simply easier.
Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder: She thought I was beautiful, even at the times when I felt I was ugly. Because of her, I can believe my husband means it when he says I’m beautiful, instead of denying it. In a world where women are told that we are not up to the standards of beauty by every image we see, it’s an amazing gift.
The physical body may get old, but the rest never does: In her late 60s, I remember her saying about Alan Jackson, “He could eat crackers in my bed anytime.” I believe my exact comment was, “Mama!”
Old ladies get to say what they choose: There was no stopping her once she got going. I’m starting to get that way myself. I’m OK with it.
But, all in all, I’m thinking out loud the biggest thing she taught me was to make your own joy: Mama rebuilt her life in exactly the way she chose once she was finally free of her last marriage. I asked her once if she would ever remarry. Her exact words were, “Why would I want some old MAN in my life, messing it up?”
Happy Mother’s Day, Mama. We sure miss you.
Lisa C Hannon’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org. She lives and writes in West Texas.