My mother lived to be eighty-five years old. And during those many years of her life, she said many things. Most, if not all, of what she said was funny, ironic and wise. They were full of descriptive, colorful explanations that only a southerner would or could express, such as “cross as two sticks”, “mean as a junk yard dog” or “too big for your britches.”
Whenever I went on a date, Mama would bombard me with a whole slew of warnings and advice, all of which would be repeated each time I left the house with an escort. They included but weren't limited to “Remember you're a lady,” “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free,” and last, but not least, “Don't chew gum in public, unless you want to look like a cow chewing its cud.”
Whenever I began to get too involved with someone who had limited economic prospects, Mama would say, “Remember it’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one.” I wish I had listened to that advice! She also emphasized the advantage of being a good listener. She said, “One good way to get a whole room full of people talkin about how brilliant you are is to get them talkin about themselves. All you have to do is say yes every now and again, and nod your head every once and awhile. They'll think you're a regular Einstein.”
Mama had her serious moments. More than once she said, “You can make a heaven or hell for yourself. It's strictly up to you.” She also said, “The world doesn't owe you anything. It's up to you to make the most of your time on this earth.” Mama gave that advice to all of her children. More than anything else, those words drove home the need to accept responsibility for my actions and my life in general. I never forgot that le son. For me, it defines what makes an individual a success or failure. There's nothing more pathetic than a person whose life in shambles and who holds others responsible for his or her mistakes. Mama knew that and tried to instill that bit of wisdom in each of her offspring.
She didn't suffer fools easily nor could Mama stand anyone who thought too much of him or herself. Which brings me to mama's greatest bit of wisdom, “Don't think you are better than others because you have a comfortable life. You're just lucky.” As I grew older, I realized that with that luck came a responsibility to give back to those who weren't as lucky as I was.
More and more often, I'm stopped in my tracks by the things I say. Because the things I'm saying are what my mama said numerous times, so many years ago.