Yesterday a Facebook friend, the kind I’ve known all my life, posted about bits of wisdom she’s picked up over the years from ministers, school administrators, her parents, and others, such as to watch out for “clever devils,” not to buy cheap foreign goods that will “crack up” when you get them home, and “not to embarrass the family.” That started me thinking about bits of wisdom I’ve picked up over several decades, and I’m going to share some of them.
My mother didn’t say not to embarrass the family but I knew that’s what she meant from Day One, and I went ahead and embarrassed them anyway. She did say a lot of other things, though. I wrote a whole blog post about them and submitted it to Listen to Your Mother. I was called to audition but wasn’t chosen, which is a shame, because the audience, which includes viewers of archived videos on Youtube, would have gotten a lot out of it.
At my high school baccalaureate service, Dr. McIntosh, a professor from the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, said we are told to feed His sheep, but we have to do it wisely, because if we pick up a lamb with a broken leg or a dependency complex and press it to our bosoms, we can do a lot of damage.
My grandmother Barrow said knowing how to spell privy two ways–privy and privie–is very good, but, of course, not the nicest thing a little girl could know how to spell… I was seven and should have known better than to go around spelling words not approved by Texas State Board of Education. The other grandchildren were socially acceptable, and privy/privie probably fell under the heading of embarrassing the family, although my mother thought it was funny and laughed about it after my grandmother went home.
My father said to carry plenty of cash. I was the only 11-year-old who paid for the Saturday movie with a five dollar bill and returned the change, even though he said I didn’t have to return it (and sometimes I wished I hadn’t).
He also said to keep plenty of gas in the car, so the day we ran out on the way home from Seguin, about two miles short of our destination, and were stranded with nothing but a two-lane road, a river bridge, and about fifty acres of cotton between us and the nearest gas pump, I felt justified in smiling a sweet I-told-you-so smile, because I had asked if we shouldn’t fill up before we left Seguin and he’d said no, we could make it home and fill up there.
My grandfather Waller said to go pour the warm beer down the sink and throw away the can, and I did, but before I did, I stuck my finger in the beer and tasted it, and then and there vowed never to drink beer, and I haven’t, because it tastes nasty and smells worse.
He also said that when he was a boy, he knew a man who had seen General Robert E. Lee sitting astride Traveler, and I knew from his tone of voice that he felt honored just to know that man, and I also knew he felt honored because the man saw Traveler, not because he saw General Lee. Horses were important.
I don’t think he ever gave me any advice. The Waller tribe seemed to assume I wasn’t planning to embarrass the family, and that I ate with a fork instead of with my toes, and they didn’t ask me to say Good morning to anyone, and they didn’t tell everyone I refused to say Good morning because I was shy, when it was really because I thought Good morning was a sissy thing to say, and that Hi was good enough.
I liked the Waller family, although I could have done without all the built-in supervision, because my parents got a report on every nickel I spent on ice cream when I was downtown by myself–downtown was one block long, with a filling station, a grocery store, an ice cream parlor, another grocery store, and a Masonic lodge on one side of the street, and a skating rink, a post office, a cotton gin, and a doctor’s office on the other, and my uncle was the post master and had a picture window so he could see the ice cream parlor and practically everything else, and my father’s cousin and his wife owned and operated the grocery store and had even bigger windows, and my grandfather frequently sat with the other old men on one of the benches outside the post office–and, anyway, what else did they think a 6-year-old who likes chocolate was going do with a nickel?
My grandfather did one time tell my father not to smoke behind the barn but to come on up to the house, which is why my father quit smoking at the age of ten.
My high school English teacher told me to start with a topic sentence and give plenty of examples, and to read The Red Badge of Courage, but I abandoned it about a quarter of the way through, and I’m sorry that yesterday, fifty years after the fact, I felt the need to confess, but I’m not sorry I abandoned it, because it is the most boring book ever written, lacking dialogue as it does, but I did finish The Scarlet Letter, another novel that has little dialogue and that would have more boring than the other one if I hadn’t been in a sweat to know what happened to Hester Prynne, although I thought she ought to give little Pearl a swat on the bottom and tell her not to embarrass the family.
My first-grade teacher said that when I wanted to get a drink of water or visit the restroom, I should stand beside the door and look around the room to see if all the other students were there, and if someone was out of the room, to wait for him or her to return before I went out. I thought, and still think, that is one of the finest compliments I ever received, because it meant my teacher knew I, and all the other students, were mature enough to think and act independently, and to behave properly without constant supervision, and not to run away even though school was the last place I wanted to be, every day from the first day of first grade to the night of high school graduation.
I’ll stop now because I’ve run on long enough, but I’ve benefited from writing this post because when I began, I thought I remembered only a couple of bits of wisdom, but while writing, I remembered much more, and that proves that Writing Is Thinking, a bit of wisdom I picked up in the late ’70s from Professor Lamberg in the Texas Hill Country Writing Project at the University of Texas-Austin, which I participated in because my high school English teacher told me to, so I would be a better English teacher and not tell students to write the outline before writing the essay, the way English teachers have been (incorrectly) doing since the beginning of time.
If I kept on writing, I would think of more bits of wisdom, but, as I said, I’ve run on long enough.
And if you abandoned this post a quarter of the way through, that’s perfectly okay.
Note: The Red Badge isn’t the absolutely most boring book ever written. It’s tied with The Old Man and the Sea. I’ve written about that, too.
My high school English teacher is Patsy Munk Kimball. She’s the owner of River Bluff Cabin, on the San Marcos River above Fentress, Texas. It’s in a pecan bottom at the end of the road, peaceful and quiet, and only a mile or two to a convenience store that makes good hamburgers and real pizza, not the cardboard kind. Or they did the last time I stayed there. And the cabin is lovely. So anyone in need of a weekend retreat in that area might check it out.
The foregoing blurb was my idea, nobody else’s, and does not reflect the views of Writing Wranglers and Warriors, but I’m sure it would if the other writers had ever visited there.
M. K. Waller, aka Kathy, writes short stories and has published in MURDER ON WHEELS: 11 Tales of Crime on the Move, LONE STAR LAWLESS: 14 Texas Tales of Crime, and DAY OF THE DARK: Stories of Eclipse. She writes for her personal blog, Telling the Truth, Mainly, and at Austin Mystery Writers. She edits HOTSHOTS!, Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter’s newsletter/blog.