Mom didn’t teach me to cook. I wasn’t much interested and I don’t think she was either. She tried to teach me to sew but when she insisted that to be a good seamstress one had to learn how to rip out and redo the seam I decided I didn’t have the patience. She did teach me penmanship with limited success. I may have looked just like her but I scribbled like Dad.
She did tell me that the best thing to say when someone offers a complement is a sincere and simple “thank you.” I had/have a tendency to defer the compliment, deny the reason why it was given, or deliver a full history of how whatever is being complimented came about.
Most of the lessons I learned from my mother were delivered silently as I watched her go about her day, which included saying the rosary at 4:30 every afternoon. The lessons I learned from my mother were delivered when I watched her laugh until she snorted when her sister visited and coo endlessly at my baby brother after his bath. The lessons I learned from my mother were about living with caution because you might get hurt and how unexpressed grief manifests itself.
My mother’s first husband died in the aftermath of the D-Day invasion. One night when I was 9-years old, my father took me into the living room after dinner to have a talk. I knew I hadn’t done anything particularly bad that day and was excited to see what Dad wanted to share with only me. He sat on an ottoman across from me in the big armchair in the corner of the room. My saddle-shoed feet stuck straight out.
There he told me that my mother had been married once before. That her first husband had died in the war. That my oldest brother was from that marriage. That my Dad had adopted my oldest brother. That we did not consider my oldest brother to be a half brother. He was a full brother.
Years later it struck me that Mom didn’t tell me this news. Or that Mom and Dad didn’t tell me. It was her news, her life. Mom wouldn’t talk about the man she married at 24, who died less than two years after their marriage. She once said that her parents told her she was lucky. She might have lost a husband but she had a good job, a wonderful son, and family to help her. She learned to keep her grief to herself and adjust to her situation.
The main lesson I learned from my Mom wasn’t directly imparted to me. The lesson I learned was to be in control of the narrative of my life. If I hurt, hurt. If I love, love. And if I have to laugh, laugh until I snort.
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