Saturday, June 20, 2020

Things My Mother Used to Say

Self-Portrait. Mexico, 1981
This week I've been thinking a lot about how to end racism, probably like a lot of people these past few weeks. I don't think any reasonable person is desirous to see the recent tensions remaining as something we "just have to live with." (Perhaps this is, in part, what so moved me about the film about Mr. Rogers that I'd watched yesterday.)

While reflecting on these things, something my mother used to say came to mind.

"A man convinced against his will
is of the same opinion still."

The saying was made famous by Dale Carnegie, though its apparent origin is from the pen of Mary Wollstonecraft, early British feminist and mother of Mary Shelley the famous author of Frankenstein.

Racism has to end. It's bad for all races. But the how of it is going to be the thornier problem. This saying gives a glimpse of the kinds of tactics that won't work.

* * * *

Thinking about this led me to recall a couple other things Mom said when I was growing up. Here's a second.

"Oh what a tangled web we weave
when first we practice to deceive."

If you always tell the truth, it's less likely to get you tripped up under cross-examination.

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A third saying that came to mind was this one: "Boys will be boys." My mom had four of them and she would know. (We had no sisters.) But when I talked with her this morning, she gave it a quite different spin.

"People would say, 'Girls are different from boys,' and I would say, 'Boys are different from boys.' All four of you were different." 

This was an interesting observation, and very true. Each us were very different in many respects, though I've oft observed that I share common traits with each of my brothers.

* * * *

A trait that I share with my mother is an appreciation of poetry. I'd always assumed I gained my fondness for reading and writing poetry through my grandmother, who likewise wrote poems and had been influenced by an uncle who wrote poetry, John Hall, the blind poet of Ritchie County. But as I thought on the sayings above with their poetic qualities, I realized that my attraction to verse was closer to home.

This morning she told me that when she was in high school she got extra credit for memorizing poetry. "So I memorized a lot of poetry," she says. "I bought 101 Famous Poems and liked to read Robert Burns."

One of the poems she remembered from her high school days was a pre-Civil War poem about how terrible it was see Negroes chained up and being sold. It evidently made such an impression on her that she remembers it 75 years later.

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Mom said she liked to quote Ogden Nash sometimes.  I recall a big fat book of Ogden Nash poems on my grandmother's bookshelf in the living room. (Instead of wainscoating, Grandma had bookshelves along ome of the walls.) Nash wrote pithy short verses like these.

The Camel
The camel has a single hump;
The dromedary, two;
Or else the other way around.
I’m never sure. Are you?

A Word to Husbands
To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.

I wish I'd memorized this last when I when I was younger.

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