Native Writes: The place for a lady


The older I become, the more I see my mother in me. I hope all my peers have similar memories of their moms on Sunday, which is Mother’s Day.

Happy is better than sad, but some of us lubricate our memories with tears.

The days and years pass rapidly between the day the first baby is born to the day the grandchildren make their appearance. All of us cry and I think I know why.

Not long ago, one of my sons observed that I was allowing behavior among the grandchildren that would have drawn harsh punishment when they were the same age.

“So? Granny let you guys get away with some really crazy things.” Granny was my mom, who gained the nickname before she had grandchildren because she acted like Irene Ryan’s portrayal of Granny Clampett on the Beverly Hillbillies.

The inevitable question emerged. “What did you get to do?”

“I had to be ladylike or else.” I was constantly observed by my mom and two aunts who were like hovering helicopters because I was the only girl child available. Each had her own idea of how a lady should act.

Crying draws sympathy depending upon where and why it’s done. The “be a lady” rule prevailed. I learned not to be spontaneous. I’m still like that.

I still don’t know how a “lady” cries, as opposed to shedding ordinary tears.

The reason was important.

“Stop crying or I will give you something to cry about.”

Granny was psychic when crying was caused by an accident.  “I thought you knew better than to do that.”

She taught me faith. “You better pray that stain comes out.”

My aunts offered solutions, one of which resulted in a big hole in a favorite skirt.

Repentance wasn’t in their picture. “It never looked good on you, anyway.”

The day I climbed grandma’s crab apple tree should have been fair warning that the four women couldn’t agree on anything.

“Get down this instant,” my mom yelled. “If you break your neck, don’t expect sympathy from me.”

Her sister was afraid I would gash my leg so badly that I could never wear a skirt again and my dad’s sister declared, “a lady shouldn’t climb trees.”

Grandma was more practical. “Don’t break that branch. I will need the apples from it for my jelly.”

It might have been a safety lesson.

I still had no idea how a lady would have handled it. Looking for a definition, I found many, most of which I would never attain, since they required noble birth. We weren’t British, but my aunts’ expectations seemed to be. To them, it was a woman who knew her “place.”

I heard that a lot when the entire family gathered around the kitchen table on Sunday afternoons.

“You have to know your place,” one aunt would admonish me, usually if my elbows were on the table while I was drinking milk.

I mumbled a reply and the next comment was, “You eat with that mouth?

I can still remember what Lava soap tasted like. If one is cleaning out a kid’s filthy mouth, use the strong stuff.

Listening to my mom, I was always on the edge of eternity. “You’re gonna catch your death…” preceded warnings about everything from sunbathing to sitting alongside a bonfire at night.

As she grew older and the grandsons came, she was game for all of it, from riding a burro on the side of Mt. Blanca to hunting wild asparagus in the rain. If a grandson was in a play, she was there; if it was a concert, she was listening and when a “cheerleader” was needed for a student-alumnus game to raise funds for a band trip, she was dressed in maroon and white, waving a pom pom.

Not long ago, sitting in the auditorium watching my grandson play the Phantom of the Op’ry, I wished mom could be there. Even my aunts would have enjoyed it.

I’m no lady but I think I’ve found my place.

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