What She Said by
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My mother as a young woman

“When you were born, your hair was black and it stuck straight up and your face was lopsided.  I couldn’t believe you were my child.  You had terrible colic and cried all the time.  But it did get better.

So proud you are all contributing members of society.

Babies aren’t interesting until they can talk.

How would the other person feel?  Be nice.

You scored really well on your tests.  When I taught you in class (for those few weeks until we got a new teacher), I found myself teaching only to you.  I promised myself never to teach again in a school where my children were students—it is too hard on them.

Be honest.  Don’t cheat.  Pay your taxes.

I believe that, fundamentally, people are good.

(A very anatomically correct description of the facts of life—eeew mama, stop it!) You may be surprised how pleasant it may seem.

(On her daughter leaving for boarding school) Be aware there are girls who like other girls sexually, so watch out (I thought she called them “nesbians”).  Your uncle Alan was good-looking and had to be careful when he was in the Navy.

You can see anyone you like.  I don’t care if they are pink or polka-dotted.  Just don’t marry a truck driver from Hamtramck.

You should have given us more warning.  It turns out we aren’t really happy to see you are dating a Black person.

I just worry about you.  Attitudes can change, and you could run into problems it you live a gay lifestyle.

I was afraid one of you girls might have a teenage pregnancy, so thank goodness that never happened.  I never thought you shouldn’t ever have children.

I hope someday you can find someone as wonderful as your father.

I told him there were two conditions if we were to get married.  Not fighting over money, and no fighting in front of children.

Teachers get no respect.  We are underpaid and the schools have benefitted from all the women who didn’t have other options for work.  Now that things are changing, they are losing their best teachers.

Public education is essential for democracy, as De Toqueville said.  My father told me that in fifty years, this country would be a bastion of fascism.

Take typing.  If all else fails, you will have some way to support yourself.

Of course you will go to college.

It’s time to go shopping for school.  I won’t let my children be without decent clothes to wear.

(On hiring a cleaning woman) You must always address her as Mrs. Bourgeaux.

I prefer to talk with the men at parties.  It is so much more interesting to discuss politics and ideas.  The women just want to talk about babies.

Don’t throw out my cigarettes!  Don’t tell me I can’t smoke. Don’t be like me—don’t smoke.

We just want you to be happy.  Do you really think that will make you happy?

I don’t know that I believe in a god, but am not ready to say there is no such thing. I guess I am an agnostic.

In the end, you live and you die alone.

I am so proud that you are all contributing members of society.”

 

 

 

Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry


Characterizations: funny, moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Laurie Levy says:

    Your mother had many profound things to share, in between some of the typical views of her generation. I especially agree with her prediction about the decline in teaching once women were able to enter other professions. Also, her pitch for honesty, empathy, and kindness and the wish that you find happiness are special.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      She was good at being pretty clear on what her values were, and I really can’t argue with most of them. You understand the teacher’s point of view, and especially how important and undervalued teaching the little ones is. Remember that old bumper sticker that went something like “Looking forward to the day when schools are fully funded and military has to hold bake sales”?

  2. Thanx Khati for sharing your mom’s words, many of her sentiments surely familiar to us all.
    And surely we all bristled at much we heard from our mothers.

    Years ago at a human potential workshop the leader urged us to better understand our parents and forgive their trespasses.

    Parents, she said, do the best they can.
    When I became a parent I learned how hard a job it is!.

  3. Suzy says:

    Khati, I love the way you just threw these all out there, with no editorial comments. Especially the “I don’t care if they are pink or polka-dotted” followed by “It turns out we aren’t really happy to see you are dating a Black person.” I suspect that was pretty common among liberal parents. And I was struck by the one about never having children – did your sisters not have children either? All in all, a great collection of things she said. Also, lovely picture of her as a young woman.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      It did just fall together that way, and the contradictions could be maddening. My two sisters did have children, eventually, so that comment was more directed to me. She was not the sort who pressured us to give her grandchildren, and maybe she feared her ambivalence about babies had been a dissuasion. Maybe it was.

  4. Marian says:

    This shows the full complexity of mothers, and all people, Khati. I recognize many of the sentiments expressed, and your compendium makes a fascinating portrait of your mom. I especially liked the comments about the teaching profession and not having children!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      I’m sure she said much more, but these were the ones that rose to mind. I wonder what she would think about that. But yes, people are not straightforward and we don’t always know when something we say or do will make an unforgettable impression. My mother was an intelligent and complicated person who could be a very strong personality, and I have worked to appreciate who she was. She thought Mother’s Day was an invention of the flower and candy industry, but happy Mother’s Day to them all nonetheless.

  5. This was a wonderful format to use for this prompt. There were some nice surprises and some points of view that progressed or elaborated on earlier pieces of advice. Very thought provoking and it seemed very honest.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Thanks, Dale. It was indeed as honest as I could make it—those are the words I recall. Of course our memories are imperfect, but these words stuck. The consistencies and contradictions were lessons I learned to parse better over the years.

  6. Betsy Pfau says:

    These words of advice really popped out, didn’t they, Khati? Your mother was clear-eyed and honest in speaking to you (being from the Detroit area, the comment about Hamtramck made me laugh). I am certified to teach high school, though never got a job, so really appreciate her thoughts on school teachers as well. (I fear her vision is too perceptive, as we see what’s happening in VA and FL with book banning and “CRT” fear-mongering.)

    Many words to live by here.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Yes, Hamtramck is a local reference—glad someone recognized it. It’s funny how she was ostensibly very pro-underdog but this was a pretty anti-working class statement. I think it reflected her values on education more than income however. She was an untiring advocate for a strong public school system, and chose to work in that venue her entire career despite the frustrations—which she railed against bitterly. She would have liked to have gotten a doctorate and taught in university, but life never cooperated.

  7. John Zussman says:

    Like others, I love the way you told this story completely in your mother’s words. Most wise, all honest.

    And like Betsy, the Hamtramck reference made me laugh too. My father had the same attitude — even though he had grown up there!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Thank, John. You made me smile too when you said your dad grew up there—and didn’t have the best opinion of the place. Don’t think I ever visited there, but now I’m kind of curious. Nest time I’m in the area with no set itinerary…

      • John Zussman says:

        It’s actually a thriving, bustling community. I worked in a factory there, owned by one of my father’s clients, one summer during college. We also used to visit Patti’s grandmother back in the day. Great cook; the house smelled like pierogi.

        If you go, you might come across Zussman Park, named after my great uncle Raymond, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. Awarded posthumously, unfortunately, so I never met him. I need to share that story one day.

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    You Mom was…complex. Smart people always are. I agree that your just putting the teaching out there w/o comment was a brilliant decision!

    I too cannot imagine why anyone with other options would put up with the insane abuse we heap upon teachers.

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