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I’ll Say it to your Face, Too

December 9, 2010

My mother has a big personality. She has a big heart to go along with that personality, thank goodness. And she has a big sense of humor.

One of the recurring themes in my conversations with her throughout her life, and mine, has gone like this:

Mom: “When you give my eulogy, I want you to roast me.”

Me: …

Mom: “I mean it. If you say something all sappy and sentimental, I’ll rise up out of my coffin and get you.”

Me: “You know, in Their Eyes Were Watching God, when Sam gives the eulogy to the mule? It’s out of this world funny. Is that what you want? A muleogy?”

My mom has been extremely ill this fall, which has had me worried. Because I have a lot of personal experience with going to the bad place, I know exactly how to channel all that nonspecific anxiety about my mother: into specific anxiety that I will have to give her eulogy. Because you know I will. Thank goodness I will, because if I do, it means she won’t have had to give mine. What on earth will I say? Now that my mom is doing better (and she is!) I can bear to think about it.

Here is what I will say.

My mother made me promise to get up here in front of you all and roast her.

One of the most important things she taught me was to keep my promises. “Your word is more than your bond,” she said. “It is who you are.  You speak correctly, you always tell the truth, and you keep your promises. Without your word, you are nothing.”

If you are your word, then my mother was an awful lot, because, honestly, I think this is the first chance I’ve ever had to have a conversation with my mother without her interrupting me, right here, right now.  It’s a Cuban thing. And believe me, if she could interject, she would.

My mother would call and I’d say “I’m dying to talk to you, but I have, like, two minutes to talk,” and an hour later, I’d be an hour late for whatever it was that I had to do, still on the phone. We’d hang out, talking, and look at the clock and it would be four in the morning. We’d go out for lunch, always, and our food would get cold because our mouths would be too busy to eat.

That’s a lot of words. All of them true. All of them thoughtful, thought-provoking. All of them interesting. All of them kind. None of them mean, petty, mean-spirited, gossipy. Not one. None of them boring. Hardly any of them about her, unless I pressed.

Here are some of the words I remember:

I can’t have friends who judge me by the state of my house. I love this one. I really, really love it. It makes me happy when my friends come over in the morning and my kids’ breakfast dishes are still on the table and I can be comfortable with that. It makes me happy when I visit other friends’ houses and their kids’ breakfast dishes are still on the table, and I can be comfortable with that, too. No one is perfect, and  when we stop trying to act like we are, then we can see each other as who we really are, like that great song that Harry Belafonte wrote for The Muppet Show.

People are more important than things. The other day, I let my daughter wear a ring-earring-necklace set of jewelry my husband gave me. It’s a nice set, but not so nice that my heart would stop if she lost a piece, and I told her that. The ring, a little too big for her, disappeared.

“Are you mad?” she kept asking.

“No,” I kept repeating. “Just keep an eye out for it.”

“Is this why you let me wear it? So I could learn to take care of things and not lose them?”

“No. I let you wear it so that you would learn that it is better to use the nice things you have, and lose or break them, than to leave them in the cabinet or drawer. And I am not mad at you for losing it because your feelings are more important than my ring.” She did find the ring a little while later.

I can’t ever remember my mother breaking or losing anything, except one earring, once. By example, she taught me to take care of things, and by word and example, she taught me to not let things dominate me.

That’s a fad. I can’t quite encompass the derision in my mother’s tone of voice that accompanied those words. Not only have I saved hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars not buying into fads, but those three words taught me to take the long view. That’s a helluva life skill.

Pray. Prayer is private. I don’t remember seeing my mother pray, much, but she talked about prayer, and I learned to listen, and I learned that God does answer prayers, even if we don’t like God’s answer. The wisdom from my mother’s prayer life is to pray for God’s will to be done. It’s like the Chinese curse, only not a curse. I think. Anyway, I don’t pray for wisdom, strength, or courage. If anything, my prayer is of thanksgiving, for the gift of my mother.

Don’t underestimate your children. This is one she got from her mother. Another good piece of generational mothering advice is this: “Listen politely to what everyone has to say and then do what you were going to do anyway.”

I do wonder how much of who my mother is comes from her mother, and how much of it I’m going to be able to pass on to my daughter.

I could come up with funny anecdotes to illustrate each of these pearls of wisdom that my mother gave to me, and roast her in the way she envisioned, but I don’t want to. Her vision is to celebrate her wacky, zany sense of humor, but one of the greatest things about the way she makes us all laugh is that it is never, not remotely, cruel or mean, even in a joking way that typifies a roast. It would be funny, but if I wanted to honor my mother, I would have to be punny, and that’s only funny when it’s spontaneous.


My life with my mother has been full of “Oh my goodness, what on earth are you thinking, you can’t just up and DO that! Or can you?”

My mom has travelled across the world on five hours notice. I grew up thinking this was normal.

“You’d better do it while you can because you don’t know when you’ll get another chance.”

So Mom, I love you, and this one’s for you.

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  1. Laura Charron permalink

    Sure sounds like your mom passed it all on to her daughter. I’m glad she’s doing better.
    xx Laura

  2. Those are precisely the sentences and spirit I remember when I’d go over to your house or eat supper with everyone back in middle school and high school. Some things don’t change and you’ll most likely be passing them on, they’ve already stopped and crystallized in my reservoir of memory/life&experience.

  3. Mary Knapp permalink

    Thank you, darling. I got to be Tom Sawyer and sort of attend my own funeral!
    You’re right that much of that comes from my mother, and I have a notion that much of what Mama gave me came from her mother.
    Maude, I remember and loved having you hang out and eat and laugh with us. And you’ll be pleased to know that it is continuing, more intensely than ever.

  4. Anne Slater permalink

    ER, You made me think of my mother who is not here physically. But she is in my heart (and mind, and behavior, and attitoods), in her other kids’ hearts (etc), and in the hearts and minds of her grandchildren. And I can tell you that my mama, Maggie, would get on gangbusters with your mama, Mary.

  5. Nancy Kirk permalink

    I’m so glad you have a mother who thinks that part of her job is to teach you what life is all about, and that you will teach your children. You’d be surprised maybe to know that not all mothers see it that way. In my neighborhood, mothers were told by each other to wear beige and keep their mouths shut. Can’t imagine your family in beige.

  6. Margarita Coale permalink

    I love both of you!! Might we be so lucky to pass wisdom to our daughters. Here is to good moms we are so lucky to have them.

  7. C. A. Rose permalink

    Today I visited your website upon your invitation. I have spent all morning reading your entire blog.
    Now the Christmas tree wants decorating, the laundry is begging for my attention and the mail is left, so far, unanswered.
    So much for efficiency……

    It’s great to see you praise your Mother. I took the opportunity on many occasions to praise my Mother in person and via mail before her decease. She was a Saint.
    I thank my dear Mother for instilling in me the need of organization.

  8. Your mother was awesome, Carol. I’m so glad I got to know her. And, I have to say, when I’m feeling especially needful of organizational ability, I try to think of what she, and you, would do. I’m glad you read my blog! Please keep reading ❤

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