The theme in our second Guided Autobiography class is, “Your Family.” Family is defined however the student chooses to define it. It could be their family of origin, or the family they created, or friends, or even a pet. It doesn’t matter how it is defined, it’s just a story about some aspect of family and/or family life about which the student feels inspired to write.
As always, sensitizing questions were handed out. The one that caught my eye concerned a family philosophy about life. We didn’t have a written or spoken philosophy, but it was a powerful philosophy none the less.
Here’s my story:
“Good-bye, be good, if you can’t be good, be careful, and remember I love you.” A kiss on the cheek and off to school we went, my three brothers and me. This is how our Mom sent us on our way each and every day. At first glance it may seem trite. I certainly never gave it much thought as a child. Now, however, I have come to cherish those parting words.
“Be good.” What mother would argue with those words of wisdom? “Be good,” to my Mom meant staying out of trouble; things like not walking in mud puddles, doing your classroom work, and being nice to other people.
“If you can’t be good, be careful.” What a wonderful piece of advice this is for a child. She wasn’t exactly giving us permission to play in mud puddles, but she was saying that if you just happen to end up playing in one, be sure you don’t lose your overshoe in it.
“I love you.” This more than anything else she said sent us all out into the wondrous and sometimes scary world with the confidence that there was someone who loved us, no matter what.
If you ask my brothers who had the most influence in our young lives, they may very well say it was our Dad. He is the one who went out every day, even on Sundays and ran a gas station back in the day when that meant filling the gas tank for the customer, along with washing their windshield and checking their oil, rain or shine. It meant changing tires on school buses and figuring out what was wrong with someone’s old pick-up truck, or driving a woman back to her car which was out of gas and filling it for her, free of charge. It meant working from early morning until late at night six days a week along with a half day on Sundays. He came home at night exhausted, but most of the time, he still found the energy to play with us for awhile. We begged him to take us on what we called, “horsey-back” rides which meant getting down on all fours and bouncing us up and down on his tired aching back until we fell off more from giggling than anything else. If he got a bad report about our behavior from Mom, he would slap his belt against the stairway to our upstairs bedrooms and admonish us for being “little stinkers.” Just hearing the whack of the belt against the wall was enough to bring all four of us back into line.
While it is true that Dad made the money for our family I contend we wouldn’t have been a family without our Mom’s love and d
aily guidance. She is the one who fed us, made sure we took baths now and then and that we had new school clothes every fall and new dressy clothes every Easter.
She put thought and love and creative energy behind every holiday whether it was her potato salad on the 4th of July or her chili soup, as she called it, for Christmas Eve dinner.
I grew up believing I had a birthday party every year until I left home. I followed suit and made sure my daughter always had a birthday party, just like my Mom did. It turns out I had very few actual “parties,” per se. No friends were invited over, no balloons hung from the dining room light, no streamers cascaded down from the ceiling. Still, I could have sworn I had a party every year. Why? Mom always baked us a birthday cake of our choice. Mine was always German chocolate cake with that yummy coconut and walnut frosting drizzled down the sides. She also allowed us to pick out a special birthday dinner like fried chicken with all the trimmings – mashed potatoes and gravy, and home-canned green beans with just a little fried bacon on top. We always sang, “Happy Birthday,” and Dad always tried to chase us down for the traditional “spanking,” one spank for each year of our young lives. There were gifts from Mom and Dad and from my brothers. I was a young woman before it occurred to me that the gifts from my brothers were really gifts my Mom picked out for them to give me.
She took us to church every Sunday. Imagine getting all of us cleaned and dressed in time to make it to church before the doors closed. As a child I used to think she was rather emotional, because she cried a lot on those Sunday mornings. None-the-less, we made it to church, we sang “Holy, holy, holy,” and we learned about eternal love, maybe more from her than from the sermon.
There was one final thing she never failed to do that trumped all the special birthdays and yummy food and fun times. She never failed to say those three magic words, “I love you,” at least once each day. Seeing the love pour out of her brown eyes and down onto my young head, made my day.
Of course, I had no idea that other children didn’t grow up the way I did, so it wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I began to fully appreciate her loving ways. She taught my brothers and me how to conduct our lives, not through wise sayings but rather through the way she lived her life. My Mother left an eternal legacy that lives on through the way we have raised our own children, repeating her actions and her three little magic words.
Now, when I go out the door every morning, I try to remember to, “Be good, and if I can’t be good, to be careful, and I remember that I am loved.