Mothers like to impart wisdom to their kids. Mom was always issuing her favorite philosophical nuggets to us.
“Laugh today, cry tomorrow,” was one of her favorites. That one, perhaps, made its biggest impression on me. It shaped my personality. Every time I laugh, I worry that I am setting the stage for some major catastrophe. What if I never laughed, I think, maybe nothing bad would ever happen in the world. To think, I’m personally responsible for tsunamis and flu epidemics, all because I chuckled while watching a rerun of “The Office” the other night. One has to admit that’s a worrisome responsibility.
For some reason, fathers never believe it is their duty to philosophize to their kids. My father’s philosophy could be summed up in one succinct phrase: “Listen to your mother.” Dad always viewed me as a boxing sparring partner. My father fancied himself a prize fighter, although he admitted that in his only amateur bout, he was knocked out in the first round. Maybe that’s why by the time I was about 8, he decided that I should be his lifelong sparring partner. I couldn’t fight a lick and posed no challenge as Dad would dance around me throwing jabs and breathing heavily through his nose (apparently a requirement for boxers, but personally annoying to me). To give you an idea how one-sided this game was between Dad and me, if instead of boxing we were playing basketball, I would have been Red Klotz and the Washington Generals and he would have been the Harlem Globetrotters. Eventually Dad would tire and I would go back to reading the latest issue of The Sporting News.
Mom had no time for such foolishness. She knew that Immanuel Kant and John Locke never wasted time having fun with their kids because they were too busy dispensing philosophy. It is a well-known fact that philosophers never shadowbox with their sons, but instead spend their time proving to their sons that, in fact, they don’t even exist.
The approach of Easter reminds me that Mom liked to chastise me for not sitting through three hours of services on Good Friday. “You’ll sit in a movie for three hours,” she would say pointing her finger at me, “but God forbid, you should sit in church for three hours.” Now I spend my idle moments questioning why it is that I much prefer sitting in the Ritz Theater with a big bag of popcorn to a nice afternoon at Stations of the Cross.
Mom also had this complicated belief concerning what would happen if you dropped a utensil. Drop a spoon and Mom would shout, “We’re getting company and I don’t have a piece of cake in the house.” Actually her beliefs in this area were not only deeply rooted, but very specific. The identity of the company who would visit depended on just which utensil you happened to drop. Drop a fork and you were sure to get a visit from a second cousin on your father’s side.
Not all of Mom’s quotes were original. She freely borrowed from some of the great thinkers of our time. One of her quotes, which seems particularly topical at the moment was “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” If she were alive, Mom would have been very pleased with the way March has roared in here in 2014. She also comforted herself with the well-worn phrase, “April showers bring May flowers.” Mom did not need any long- range forecast from Glen “Hurricane Schwartz” to predict the weather. The corn on her big toe was sufficient. She would have been the Cecily Tynan or Kathy Orr of local forecasting if wished, although it must be said instead of mobile weather labs, global satellites or sophisticated computers, all she would have needed was take off her shoe and check out her big toe.
If you wanted Mom’s views on prejudice, she’d tell you, “There’s good and bad in all kind.” You might think it inconsistent with that statement, but she also firmly believed in the superiority of all people born in Naples and their descendants. It was probably just a coincidence, but Mom’s father happened to be born in Naples.
When she questioned you about your tardy response to performing an errand, she requested and you answered, “It’s coming,” she would reply, “And so is Christmas.” If Christmas happened to be near, she would substitute Easter.
I happened to be kind of slow in getting girlfriends (I know that surprises you), but Mom wasn’t worried I was doomed to bachelorhood. “There’s a lid for every pot,” she proclaimed. I’m not sure how my wife feels about being that particular lid.
Mom always assured us we would only fully appreciate her when she abandoned us, a threat she made on at least a weekly basis by announcing her intention to take a “slow boat to China” (also the name of a popular song of that era).
If the food cravings of a pregnant woman were not satisfied, Mom claimed the infant would be born with the mark of that particular food. She always insisted that’s why her friend Conchetta’s daughter was born with a strawberry on her nose.
I asked Dad about that.
“Listen to your mother,” he said.
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