[January 29, 2024] Sitting beside my Mom, I remember watching the epic movie “The Ten Commandments,” starring Charleston Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Pharaoh Ramesses II. It was a moment in time that helped me see my Mom as a woman of good character and that she made sure her kids understood right from wrong. Indeed, that was no easy task with little ones like me as a disagreeable, strong-willed youngster.
Remembering the movie, having sat with my Mom at home watching for nearly four hours with only one intermission, I saw how her values were ingrained into us kids. I was slow to realize that Mom valued the love of God, kindness, generosity, and pinching pennies, which was a huge advantage for us kids.
Mom’s ability to save money was legendary, and the family was in awe of how she could seemingly make dinner for five out of practically nothing. It was like we only ever had leftovers; an original meal was an allusive fantasy. Nothing was ever wasted. She would save the grease from cooking, scrape baking pans with a special tool to get every drop, and cut the bottom out of sugar and flower bags to get every ounce out. Any food item “almost going bad” was made into soup, along with the bones with marrow inside. Just scrape off the mold; it was just “on the surface” anyway. Leftover meats that started to smell funky were a staple of our diet after cooking the flavor out. Hmmmm, good!
I believe her culinary knowledge created one of the best human immune systems in her kids that would marvel the medical world. None of us ever missed a day of school, except for the standard communicable diseases we all got, and amazingly, we all had mild cases, except for measles. Upon returning to class, my teachers gave me the teacher’s skeptical eye, saying, “I don’t believe you’re not sick,” because how could I be back so quickly? There was no getting a doctor’s note clearing you in those days, just a hand on the forehead to check for fever and a spot check for bumps in the wrong places.
Of course, we only got vitamin C from the Kool-Aid drink; strawberry was my favorite, with half the recommended sugar to save costs and extra water to make it go further. I was an adult before I had a proper Kool-Aid drink made to the package directions. And those thin Jiffy Peanut Butter and Miracle Whip sandwiches on stale white bread that Mom always made me for lunch were great. Later, I moved up to real mayo and crunchy PB. Such delicacies were daily. I still eat Mayo-PB sandwiches.
When I was seven and in First Grade, Mom gave me a half dollar to go into town and buy five Mr. Goodbar chocolates. Candy was a special and rare treat for the family and her favorite. I came home with six candy bars. I thought I’d hit the jackpot and hoped to get the extra candy, but “No, it was a mistake.” And it would be wrong to keep what I didn’t pay for. So, I’m back to the store to return that extra chocolate bar. Even at that young age, Mom had taught us a crucial life lesson I can never forget. Don’t steal. The store owner would not have missed it, but that was not the point. The chocolate did not belong to me. Period. Even if the missing candy bar was never discovered, Mom said, “God would know.”
Mom was a saint. She was disgusted by lying, so don’t ever lie to Mom. She had a remarkable mother lie detector that could ferret out even the most minor lie. But she was not above a little white lie to prevent hurt feelings. Most babies are beautiful, but some just aren’t. Mom would tell the mother that their baby was beautiful, nonetheless, “Oh, what a cute baby.” And if that dress on the neighbor girl was ugly, Mom would say it was just right for her. “It’s a gorgeous dress, little lady.”
Born in 1929, Mom didn’t have a racist bone in her body. This was the Deep South in the 1950s, and segregation, despite being technically illegal, was alive and well. Whenever Dad brought home a big mess of fish, she insisted we take extra to the poor blacks on the other side of town. Mom understood being poor and tried to do something to help them, even if it was a small gesture. She saw that their houses had no doors or windows, so she would use her sewing machine to make curtains for those folks we personally knew. And she refused to use the segregated bathrooms around town and told the owners her mind. Please don’t get on her bad side.
It wasn’t unusual for me to get into trouble at school or when doing odd jobs; sometimes, I just forgot to do what I promised. She was always there with a kind word, a big hug, and a kiss on the top of my head. Mom would make things right, often with just a phone call and her gracious words. Indeed, she taught me to pursue responsibility and never be lazy. God was watching, and being a habitual slacker was a broad, easy path to Hell. This was a harsh lesson, along with telling the truth. But all of us kids survived and turned out okay.
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