April 27, 1981
MY MOTHER SAID
"Your mother sure said a lot of things,” my twelve-year old daughter Irene remarked in a rather exhausted tone of voice. I didn't realize that in my disciplining I would often hide behind the rules and regulations handed down to me from my parents to avoid the possible rebuff I might get from my children if I clearly indicated that the idea was mine. I've forgotten just what great wise thing my mother expounded at that moment - probably it was: “My mother said, 'Anything worth doing is worth doing well - especially for someone named Worth.’” Worth is my maiden name. I aIso used this expression to my son, Worth, a year younger than my daughter.
“How can you remember so many things your mother said when she passed away when you were only twelve?" Irene said unbelievingly.
“Well, the only way I can always have my mother with me is to reach back in my memory and recall everything about her I possibly can. I often ask myself, ‘What would mama say or do?’ when a problem arises,” I answered.
I told this story to a friend in later years who was complaining about her mother always telling her what to do. She replied, “You're closer to your mother now even though you only had her such a short time of your life, than I am to mine, who is still with me. You make me feel I should listen to her more closely.”
These sayings often monitor my thinking - and probably I attribute many of the sayings others have said to me to my mother. “Practice makes perfect,” or, “Sharp that F,” she would call from the upstairs bedroom as I was practicing piano, and I'd wonder how she could know which note I wasn't sharping.
Most piano lessons would be punctuated with, “Go blow your nose,” as the tears welled up at a stern, "PLEASE COUNT!”
My mother was a teacher in the Denver Conservatory of Music and she would leave the house to take the street car down town to the conservatory before we left for school. I was the baby of the family; VerI, my brother, three years older, and my sister, five years older, Gladys, would gather around her trying to get the last kiss. She settled
the question by saying, “Let's have a four-cornered kiss,” and we'd all end up laughing as our kisses met the air in between our cheeks rubbing together, trying to get close enough.
“You'll never have to remember what you said, if you tell the truth the first time,” was one of Mama’s sayings which I have found to be so comforting. Situations can get very embarrassing if one has to repeat a concocted story; it's much easier to remember the truth. I know, I've tried it a few times.
My children, as well as my piano students receive some of the advice my mother gave me, such as: “Curl your fingers, make your fingers march like soldiers; when you tell a story, you don't tell it all in the same monotone voice, do you?" She’d also say, “A simple piece played beautifully is much more pleasant to listen to than a harder piece murdered,” which paves the way for perfecting the simple pieces before trying more difficult ones.
In 1936 when I had a typist-clerk position in the L.A. General Hospital when it was just built, I had to take my turn at working three months day shift, three months evening shift, and three months from midnight to seven in the morning. This necessitated my having to transfer on the bus on Main Street, right in the heart of skid row, at all hours. Since I firmly believed what my mother had told me, “If you act like a lady, you'll always be treated like a lady,” I never was accosted in any way, as I knew I was not deliberately exposing myself to a dangerous situation. Of course my early Christian teaching had taught me that I would be protected at all times if I was “about My Father's business,” and not just fooling around asking for trouble.
Since my mother was away from the house when we came home from school, she managed to have each of us be a “policeman” over something. My sister was the “policeman” over the bread drawer - no one could eat a plain slice of bread or open up a new loaf until the heel was eaten. I was the “policeman” of the rungs of the chairs - Gladys and VerI had to obey me if I said, “Keep your feet off the rungs of the chairs,” and we had to obey my brother, VerI, when he said, “Don't slam the screen door!”
The saying that stood me in good stead in office jobs was: “You have to be your own policeman." I would remember this when the other girls in the office would start to goof off and slow down in their work whenever the boss wasn't around. I was probably thought of as a “goodie-goodie,” but I was being my “own policeman,” and wanted to “give a good day's work for a good day's pay,” which saying incidentally was one of my father's sayings.
“Pretty is as pretty does,” and “It will never be noticed on a galloping horse,” are probably among many mothers’ sayings, in response to a child’s lament over a dress or shirt with a missing button, or a wrong color.
My daughter came back with the phrase, “But I’m not on a horse.” So I added a saying, “If you wear a smile, no one will notice whatever else you’re wearing,” which she is now using on her children.
I’ll conclude this story of My Mother Said... with another saying from papa. My uncle was at the wheel of his Model T Touring Ford (the one needing many helping hands to put up windows which snapped reluctantly into place whenever it started to rain); Aunt Vernie beside him; Myrtle and I in the back seat with Myrtle’s Uncle Harold. My father patted my hand and said, “Make yourself useful and you’ll always be welcome.” I waved goodbye to them with the assurance that they’d be coming to California too, as soon as my father got his LA transfer as a government meat inspector.