Saturday, January 02, 2016

My Mom's Thirty Guidelines for Life:

I grew up in the fifties and sixties. I remember watching my mom's hands as she drove. They were always soft. It wasn't because she didn't work but because she always remembered to use lotion, something I couldn't seem to pick up. 

My mom was born to an Irish father who, I was later told, sometimes used his fists to settle a problem, and a Dutch woman who kept an immaculate house and had only an eighth grade education. They grew up in the Midwest with my grandma having to quit school to care for her siblings and feed them, her father, and the farm workers, after her mother died. My grandfather left home at 16 to escape the abuse of his step-father. He worked as a cowboy, a farmer, and later as a professional carpenter. When I knew them, they lived in a darling little house he had built, which was decorated with the fruits of my grandmother's knitting, crocheting, and embroidery hobbies; and they had an extensive garden and orchard.

My mom married my German-English father, whose father had always been a professional carpenter and whose mother had been a teacher and, when I knew my paternal grandmother, she was the leader of the state ladies' auxiliary for the carpenters' union. They lived in town, kept up on current events, and when my parents married, my dad told my mom not to tell his parents that her bookkeeping job was for a brewery.  

My parents worked and scrimped to put my dad through college to become an electronics engineer, and then, all his life, he worked his own business on the side, in the evenings, as well. Though not a professional carpenter as both my grandfathers had been, he could also build. He built a tiny house from scrap lumber for himself and my mom while he was in college. I once asked him if my mom ever complained that they didn't have indoor plumbing and he said no. Later, he built a combination playhouse and tool shed, a desk and, with a co-owner family, an addition to our little beach cabin. I like to jokingly say that I grew up with an outhouse and a hand pump, but of course, that was only on weekends and only for a few years until they installed indoor plumbing.

Someone used to speak of my maternal grandmother in a disparaging way (behind her back, of course). I have no recollection who it was who said it, but it was pointed out that she said 'ain't', ate her peas off her knife, and didn't have a high school education. I never saw it that way. But when I look back, I even see the opposite. I recall a picture of my mom and dad roller skating before they got married, and my mom looked very classy. She must have gotten her classy start somewhere. 

I've always remembered my mom saying that this or that was "not classy". But recently, I had a chance encounter with someone who struck me as possibly being upper class (whatever that is, right?), and for some reason, she made me think of my mom. Then I remembered, too, one time - years ago - that I had the privilege of flying business elite because my daughter was working for an airline, I was flying stand-by, and they had the space. I met a family who struck me as the epitome of upper class...the kind of classiness that looks nice, well groomed, but not necessarily expensively, and who smiles and treats everyone with respect. Remembering that, last night, I started recalling some of the things my mom taught me, and then I started writing them down, and then the list got longer and longer. 

This may be some-50's and 60's, some simply common sense, and some just my mom. But here are thirty rules of life that I was taught by a woman who came from uneducated parents who someone had the gall to make fun of, but who probably had more "class" than the person who said it. Boiling down what my mom taught me into a sentence, I would say that being "classy", as my mom taught it, has little to do with either formal education or money. I can't say I practice all of this, all of the time, and I'm sure you all could make similar lists. But I've simply enjoyed this walk down memory lane and writing a little tribute to a woman whom I didn't fully appreciate for too many years. 

My Mom's Thirty Guidelines for Life:

Dress appropriately for the occasion; 
dress up a little to go downtown
Take a bath and dress up a bit to go to the doctor
Dress according to custom, for example, white shoes in summer, black shoes in winter, and the purse should match
Buy new clothing for the beginning of school and for going on vacation

It's okay to wear hand-me-downs, as long as they are clean and neat
If you let a hem down and there's a line, you can cover it by adding rick-rack where the line is
It's okay to make your own clothes; it's probably better quality than store-bought
Always sew a missing button or a hem right away, before you wear the item again
Always be clean, with hair and clothing neatly groomed; it isn't classy not to be well groomed

Treat people the way you would want to be treated; it isn't classy to treat people badly
Treat everyone, without exception, with respect
Never stare or comment on someone's appearance
Never make fun of anyone
Say thank you to the cashier, to your hostess when you visit, and to the bus driver
Say excuse me when you walk in front of someone
Write thank you notes

Don't talk about bathroom functions, illness, or underwear in public
Always cover your mouth when you sneeze, cough, or yawn
Don't burp out loud or yawn out loud
Chew gum with your mouth closed and never blow bubbles in public
Don't ask nosy or overly personal questions
Let the people you live with know where you are going and when you will be home

Keep a neat and clean bedroom, bathroom, and house
You can make delicious food without spending a lot of money
You don't have to buy the most expensive item, but you shouldn't necessarily buy the cheapest item
Homemade gifts are as good as, or better than, store-bought gifts

Work hard
No one is going to do everything for you
Working together with relatives on projects is expected, and it's fun too
Use your talents

No comments: