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What my mother used to say... a Remembrance

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My mother never raised her voice. She didn’t need to scream or spank. She had guilt: a weapon that cowed the four of us in one glance or quiet word.

“Mrs. Fritz should not have had to turn around in her pew and smile.”

Mrs. Fritz had grey hair, and in winter wore a beige wool coat topped with a fox fur wrap with faces and claws chasing a circle around her neck. I’d never liked sitting behind her because those beady black fox eyes glistened at me, threatening to snatch my heart in a glance. “Smiling is nice. I think she likes me.”

“She was smiling because you were fidgeting, making too much noise. Her smile meant she was embarrassed for me.”

We were not supposed to embarrass my mother even though dad often snored right beside her as the sermon droned on. No one turned and smiled at him although I think he did go home with bruises in his side because of all the times mother elbowed him before giving up and letting him snore until a hymn bolted him upright again.

My mother had rules, some that I actually liked. Others were just plain cumbersome.

Pick your battles. Most aren’t worth fighting because they diminish you as a human being.

If you’re reading, studying, or playing the piano, you can get out of doing the dishes and sweeping floors.

Creativity is not just good, it is essential.

Your guests should never go home hungry.

Everyone is worthy of your kindness.

Work hard.

Don’t brag.

Tell the truth.

Learning never stops.

Always vote.

Thistles can’t be killed with a hoe—you need to dig them up with a shovel whether they are on your land or the neighbor’s.

Take the smaller portion so someone else can have more.

Say YES to people who need your help.

Wear your best underwear when you travel in case you get in an accident and need to go to the hospital.

Every time the field is plowed, more rocks surface. Pick them up. They don’t belong there.

You can’t watch TV without a project to work on.

You can get your point across without yelling.

Don’t throw your apple core behind the couch---throw it in the garbage, or better yet in the garden.

Never wear red and yellow together. Or two different patterns.

Nice girls are never “hot,” they are “warm”.

Go to Sunday School.

The one thing she never explained was what to do if my underwear fell while walking to Sunday School.

My mother was frugal. In grade school, she made the underwear for my sister and me. But, her waist bands were too loose. More than once, about the time I hit Main Street in order to trek the six-block business district to get to the Methodist church at the opposite end, it inched its way down. It was usually before the theater, often between the hardware and appliance stores, that it started to slip. By the time I reached Fjords Drugstore, which stayed open Sunday mornings to sell coffee and hot chocolate from its lunch counter, my pale pink undies with lace around the legs, were starting on their downward march. About Five and Dime time, where I typically spent half of my collection plate money on penny candy, I was walking wide to keep it from dropping below my knees. But, before I made it to Krogers, it had invariably dropped to my ankles and my only choice was to slip into the entry of a darkened store front and kick it off.

What then?

My friend Susan said. “Just leave it. Kick it back in the corner.”

“But what about Sunday School and church?” I knew my mother expected me to be one of those ‘nice young girls who didn’t wear red and yellow together, didn’t say they were hot, and certainly never went to church without their underwear.’ I wasn’t even sure God would like my bare butt very much.

“Keep your legs together. Don’t bend over. No one will know.”

And no one did know the number of Sundays I was underwear-less while I sang in the choir, or slid across a pew in back of Mrs. Fritz and her foxes. Well, God maybe. Jesus probably. As a Methodist I didn’t have to worry about the Virgin Mary caring one way or the other. I could never quite get a fix on the Holy Ghost and whether he/she would care about underwear.

I do imagine my mother wondered where all her nice daughter’s underwear went. But my sister and I were wearing the same size, so I could claim, if asked, I didn’t have a clue where Nancy lost her underwear.

Oh wait---that’s on the list, ‘always tell the truth.’

Kay Haden lives in Ely.

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