Mama may have

My mother was like a treasure chest of old sayings. She always had just the right proverb or phrase for the right occasion. Whenever she was angry with us, instead of saying I'm angry she would say something like, “Boy! I'm going to be all over you like white on rice.” whenever we needed something from her like cash to pay for a hobby or snacks, she would often quote the lyrics of an old Billie Holiday tune, “Mama may have and Papa may have but God blessed the child that’s got his own.” I always thought that was a funny thing to tell us because the nature of being children is that you do not have your own anything. Children are dependent on their parents for every tiny morsel of whatever they receive. Well not totally dependent. There are the grandparents, uncles, and aunts who secretly slip money into the children’s pockets from time to time. My mother used to always say, “a child shouldn't have this much money,” before the generous gifts from relatives disappeared out of my pocket and into the coffers of the electric, gas, or telephone company.

As a child, I lived most of the time in outer space or dimensions beyond this one. If I closed my eyes, I could see through the portal that existed somewhere in the region between my eyebrows. To tell you the truth, I still spend a great deal of time there, though not as much as I would like and not nearly as much as I used to when I was a boy. Because of my interdimensional nature, I sometimes lose sight of the reality on this side of the portal. My mother called it absentmindedness and every so often she'd say to me, “Boy! Your absent mindedness is going to be the death of you.” That prediction almost came true when I was walking my bicycle with my brother and a few other friends. I walked right into moving traffic without even realizing it. Part of the problem was also because I needed glasses. I could barely see 2 feet in front of me without them. My mom always bought the cheaper design so they never lasted very long. My glasses were always broken, so I spend most of my childhood not really being able to see. If I asked her to buy the good glasses she would probably have responded, “you got some good glasses money?”

Along the lines of absentmindedness causing my demise, my mom used to always shout at me and say, “You'd lose your head if it wasn't attached.” She never liked it when I said that it was impossible for me to do that because I would not be able to know where I was going. If I made her too angry, she threatened to slap the taste out of my mouth, slap the black off of me, or slap me into next week. I always wanted to ask how any of those things could be possible, but I knew I would come dangerously close to finding out if I ever dared open my mouth. Mother used to always say, “A hard head makes a soft behind.” If I continued to talk back, as she called it. I would inevitably get hit with, “Boy! I brought you in this world and I'll take you out.”

Sometimes mother got serious and talked to us about life and how we should become upstanding young men and a young woman, She inevitably got to the point where she warned us of how cruel the world could be. “Watch as well as prey.” That was something she always told us. She didn't mean prayer to the heavens or God. The message she tried to give us was to be aware. While we are going after the thing that we want we must be careful that someone isn't going after us. You have to watch and pay attention as well as go after your prey.

More than anything she wanted us to grow up to be good human beings who worked hard, respected others, and kept our rooms clean. “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” That was the catch phrase she used to convince us of how righteous it was to clean our rooms and keep them that way. Of course, it never worked, but the phrase is stuck in my head all the same. It sits there right beside another of her favorite sayings, “better safe than sorry.” I still use this phrase today. One of her most irksome catch phrases was another one she used to refuse us something. “People in hell want ice water.” That was another way of saying you can want something all you like but you're never going to get it.

As I'm about to end this entry for today, I can't help but laugh at the memory of that big steaming bowl of Brussels sprouts sitting in the middle of the kitchen table. I hated my mom's Brussels sprouts. In the memory, she is picking up the “big spoon,” a giant stainless-steel spoon, which I think she still has. She is using it to pile a stack of baby cabbage heads onto my plate. I wrinkle my face to show my disgust. She pauses then says what she always said, “It's food, ain’t it? If you get hungry enough, you'll eat it.” I suppose that would have been the perfect time to snap back with some sort of snarky comment to test whether she actually could slap the taste out of my mouth. If so, eating those Brussels sprouts would have been a lot easier.

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