Wednesday, April 30, 2008
It wasn't anything she said...
Probably the greatest lesson I learned from my mother came through her lack of words. See, my mom was probably the calmest mother in our neighborhood. Until I went away to college I lived in the same house in Orem, Utah, across from the city sheds, an irrigation ditch, and just down from the baseball park. Behind our row of houses was an undeveloped field bordering a cherry orchard, another irrigation ditch, and a canal. So with unprotected waterways, gravel pits, and trees to climb galore, I lived in a child’s dreamland and a mother’s nightmare.
Looking back, I’m not sure how my mom survived and remained unruffled with four sons and her youngest as the only girl. My brothers were all boy, Huck Finn had nothing on them—they threw snowballs at moving cars, shot off bottle rockets, tied firecrackers to cat’s tails, soaped windows, shot rocks with wrist rockets through windows, and swam in ditches. Once my oldest brothers put a younger brother on the end of a plank at the city sheds and jumped on one end to see how high they could get him to fly in the air. Of course he landed hard and ran home crying. And since I was the only girl, I hated to be left out. I know Mom thought she was getting a bundle of pink lace when she finally had me, but it didn’t turn out that way. I wanted to be just like my rowdy brothers! Whenever I could, I tried to join them, until they’d tell me to go home and play with dolls. Once in a while I’d luck out and they’d forget about me. I was there when we burned the field down and had to call the fire department. I was there when we built a clubhouse—only to have our rivals light it on fire, resulting in yet another call to the fire department when we couldn’t stop the flames with shovels and burlap. I was there when we built a dam in the ditch and flooded the field, creating a lake deep enough to raft on. I can’t tell you how many times my mom sent us to buy eggs from a nearby farmer and we’d stop and break one over a rock to see if it would fry in the sun—it never did.
Don’t think my mom was lax in her parenting style or that she didn’t make us be responsible when we did something wrong. She did, but in a quiet way without yelling—or spanking. Once, when my brother stole candy from the drug store at the end of the street and the storeowner called my mom, she marched my brother down, made him apologize, pay for the candy, and then work for the owner.
I didn’t need to try stealing to learn my lesson. I learned from what happened to my brother. My mother was so kind that you didn’t want to disappoint her. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard her yell. She didn’t have to yell to let you know you’d disappointed her—you could see it in her face. It wasn’t a mad look, rather a hurt look. I saw that look a few times.
My mother probably didn’t know she was teaching us how to treat people by the way she treated us. My mom didn’t gossip, not ever. If I heard about scandalous things going on in town it wasn’t from my mother. She never talked bad about folks. I’m pretty sure the reason she didn’t talk bad about folks was because she didn’t think bad about folks. She thought good about most everyone. And whenever I tried to shock my mom by telling her something awful I’d heard, she would always stick up for the person by telling me that we don’t know the reason people do what they do. “There’s always a reason.” Or she’d say, “Well, they’ve got it hard.” Or sometimes she wouldn’t say anything at all—she’d just go right on kneading the bread dough or frosting the cake she was taking to someone in the ward, or doing the dishes. I’d try again, “Mom, did you hear that so-and-so chopped his own foot off and ate it?” Sometimes we’d try for something really shocking to see if we could get her to react or lose her cool, but it never worked. I’m sure my mother isn’t a saint, but I don’t have any evidence to prove that she isn’t one. The greatest lesson I learned from my mother is that sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all.
By Carole Thayne Warburton, daughter of Jeanne A. Thayne