Quote of the Day: Lessons From My Mother

 

I’ve mentioned this favorite saying of my mother’s many times before. And for the first time, when I did my due diligence and searched the Internet before I wrote this, I found it attributed to someone else: Helen Gurley Brown. Pretty sure Mum didn’t get it from her, and I’ve long wondered if it was, perhaps, a line from a radio comedy show of the ’30s or ’40s that Mum heard and remembered. I guess there’ll forever be a mystery, and an unanswered question in my mind about that.

I know there are variants of it, but this formulation and the pithy distillation of sentiment is just perfection, and it evokes Mum to a “T.”

Because, for the last thirty years of her life, she was pretty miserable. And pretty comfortable, thanks to Dad and the care he’d taken to provide for his family.

As the oldest child (following a stillbirth two years’ previous, my brother Charles, who never took a breath), I was born when Mum was just 26. My sister (born seven years later) and my brother (born seven years after that), grew up, each with a different Mum than I did. I knew the vivacious, cheerful belle-of-the-ball, feted by young RAF officers and Dutch pilots in Nigeria, with a host of servants to do her bidding, highly-placed friends in the government, and dear friends among the local tribal elders and chiefs. Everyone loved Mum. Kind and generous to a fault, she was lovely.

But after we left Nigeria in 1963, Mum began to change. I think she missed being the center of attention. I don’t think she wanted to get old. I think she was frightened by a lot of things we didn’t realize she was frightened by. And I think she was miserable, most of the time we lived as a family in the States. (She continually made reference to how much better things were in England, and she had an open suitcase, ready to pack, on a card table in the bedroom for all the fifteen years she was there.)

Of course, when she, Dad, my brother, and my sister, moved back to the UK in 1978, she was miserable there too, and often talked about how much better things were in the States. Poor Mum.

The last fifteen or twenty years of her life were very difficult, as she became increasingly demented, irrational, and cruel. I’ve rarely seen her equal, when it comes to being able to spot a vulnerability on another’s part and then exploit it publicly, in an effort to humiliate and embarrass. Good thing for Dad he was oblivious to such insults, and also that he loved her so much he put up with her ups and downs, her highs and lows, and treated her with kindness and love, for over fifty years. I wish everyone a soulmate or life partner like my Dad. Lucky Mum.

Eighteen months after Dad died, and after herculean efforts on my sister’s part, Mum was moved into care at a wonderful nursing home in Worcestershire, England. And, perhaps for the last couple of years of her life, when so much of her mind was gone that she didn’t remember she was supposed to be aggrieved, cruel, ungrateful, and miserable, she achieved a happiness of a sort that she hadn’t enjoyed since she was a little girl before the war started and her world fell apart.

Thank God for Dad. For the work that he did. For the care that he took. For the provision that he made. For the house that he bought in England in 1950, and held onto throughout his years in Nigeria, and his years in the States, so that he and Mum had a lovely place to retire to when they moved back to England in 1978. And so we had a place to sell and cover her end-of-life expenses without hardship. Thank God for Dad’s love for my mother.

I think about Mum, and the trajectory of her life, often. And when I find myself going downstairs (or upstairs) in search of something, and realizing, when I get there, that I can’t remember what the hell it was I was supposed to do when I did, I worry a bit. Or when, as this morning, I realize, at about 11 a.m., that I was supposed to be at the car dealership at 8 a.m. to get a loose and rattling heat shield tightened up (it’s my phone’s fault–why didn’t the calendar remind me? I don’t suppose it could be that I forgot to enter it in??) I worry some more.

But I try to stay grateful. Grateful that I’m almost 65, and that most of my marbles are still rolling, and haven’t seized up yet. (I think about what Mum was like when she was 65, I do the math, and I think I’m OK). Grateful that, like Dad, Mr. She has been provident and careful in his financial arrangements. And that I have, too. Grateful (although with some carve-outs and exceptions) that the coal company eventually offered a very generous settlement against the promise of damage when they undermined the house, and that we haven’t really had to draw on that all that much (so far). And grateful for the frackers, who have provided an additional, and very unexpected, bit of a cushion for our old age.

I don’t want to be miserable in comfort. I want to stay grateful as long as possible.

Because I think gratitude is the key to happiness.

I don’t want to end up like Mum. I want to be happy for as long as I can.

Happy 91st Birthday, Mum. I miss you. Thanks for the lessons. I know they cost you.

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There are 22 comments.

  1. Percival Thatcher

    The only finer tribute to your mum is you yourself. She certainly did that well.

    • #1
    • June 24, 2019, at 12:20 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  2. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    Percival (View Comment):

    The only finer tribute to your mum is you yourself. She certainly did that well.

    Thank you @percival, that’s very . . . umm . . . I called you “sweet” once, and it didn’t go well. But, that’s what you are.

    • #2
    • June 24, 2019, at 1:06 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  3. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Originally, “happiness” was simply a synonym for “fortunate” or “lucky”. (Compare it to the words “happenstance” and “hapless”, which derive from the same root.) Therefore money can increase happiness, but it’s not a guarantee.

    Sadly, somewhere along the line “happiness” became a synonym for “joy”.

    • #3
    • June 24, 2019, at 1:15 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    I want both. And whether it’s by luck or good management, most days I have some of each

    But your comment reminded me of a song from my childhood which, I think, makes your point perfectly.

    on iPhone. If the embed didn’t work I’ll fix it when I get home.

    • #4
    • June 24, 2019, at 1:26 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. Stad Thatcher

    Gotta love Mum . . .

    • #5
    • June 24, 2019, at 2:33 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Also, I don’t think it’s possible to live in comfort and also be miserable. After all, a miser is someone who refuses to live in comfort even when they have the resources to do so. Ebeneezer Scrooge, for example. Bob Cratchet wasn’t the only guy in that office freezing his nuts off.

    • #6
    • June 24, 2019, at 2:53 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. PHCheese Member

    One of my Mother’s quotes “ I know you can’t take money with you when you go, I just want enough to get me there”. Nice post She.

    • #7
    • June 24, 2019, at 3:00 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  8. EB Thatcher
    EB

    Wonderful tribute to your Mum. My parents died relatively early – Mother when she was 60 and Daddy when he was 74. This was a mixed blessing, of course. It was way too soon to lose them, but neither of them went through long illnesses or suffered the indignities of dementia or Alzheimers.

    • #8
    • June 24, 2019, at 3:01 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  9. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    Misthiocracy secretly (View Comment):

    Also, I don’t think it’s possible to live in comfort and also be miserable.

    Oh, I think it is. What’s going on in one’s head often doesn’t have anything to do with what one is surrounded with, or what one has.

    After all, a miser is someone who refuses to live in comfort even when they have the resources to do so.

    My mother didn’t stint on the comforts of life, and lived very “comfortably” until she became so demented that she didn’t know how. She was “miserable,” “unhappy,” and in general “joyless” for a great many years, though.

    Ebeneezer Scrooge, for example. Bob Cratchet wasn’t the only guy in that office freezing his nuts off.

    I do think that characteristics of “miserliness” (and “hoarding”) are not always entirely within the control of the person displaying them. OCD is another one. I don’t know that one would pick any of those “lifestyle choices” given options to be, or do, otherwise.

    If a person’s in his right mind, I agree with you. Unfortunately, many of us are not.

     

    • #9
    • June 24, 2019, at 3:19 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    One of my Mother’s quotes “ I know you can’t take money with you when you go, I just want enough to get me there”. Nice post She.

    I think your mother, and my mother-in-law (born in 1918, lived in South Side Pittsburgh most of her life) would have got along just fine.

    • #10
    • June 24, 2019, at 3:21 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. Stad Thatcher

    She (View Comment):
    I think your mother, and my mother-in-law (born in 1918, lived in South Side Pittsburgh most of her life) would have got along just fine.

    I often wonder how much my mother would have loved to meet my fellow Ricochetti.

    neutral observer and I would come back from Ricochet Meetups and tell my mother all about the people we met, and she loved hearing about it. We never could convince her to actually go with us to a Meetup, but there you go . . .

    I agree. My mother would have loved to sit down and chat with other moms about their kids. No doubt she would have told all the stories about how terrible I was growing up. Payback . . .

    • #11
    • June 24, 2019, at 3:27 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  12. KentForrester Coolidge

    All old people wonder, if only occasionally, what their latter days are going to be like. None of us get out of this alive, of course, but we see that some lives end badly and that worries us. If our own parents’ lives ended badly, we worry that we may end up the same way.

    But consider this, She: You’ve reached 65 and your mind is still sharp enough to construct a complicated sentence, oftentimes filled with wit and sophisticated diction. Since that is the case, you’re not likely to finish the way your mom did.

    When we were one and twenty (I bet you recognize that), we might forget where we put the car keys, but we never interpret that episode of forgetfulness to meant anything special. But now we interpret that same missing car key as something ominous.

    The negative personality changes that some people undergo is way worse than the memory problems, no matter how severe. My dad went through a bout of paranoia when he was in his late 80s. One time he came out of the house with his pistol and told my sister to get the hell out of his front yard and go back to her home. That was after she had driven hours to visit.

    She, when I read of your exotic upbringing —Nigeria, England, servants, tribal elders hanging around your house — I think that my upbringing in Compton, California, the armpit of California, was mean and flat by comparison. My mom was a housewife, my dad a working man, both of whom grew up in rural Oklahoma. Your childhood memories have to be richer than mine. That’s something to treasure.

    Old age is the best age. That’s because one lives in one’s head, and an old person’s head is filled with more memories. I love my memories. I have 80 years of them.

    • #12
    • June 24, 2019, at 4:09 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  13. Vectorman Thatcher

    She: I think about Mum, and the trajectory of her life, often. And when I find myself going downstairs (or upstairs) in search of something, and realizing, when I get there, that I can’t remember what the hell it was I was supposed to do when I did, I worry a bit.

    Being slightly older, I can’t juggle too many ideas at the same time. For example, if you go upstairs to find something and notice a flaw in the woodwork, you have to ignore it and focus on what you’re trying to find. And hope that no one asks you an important question until you find it!


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    • #13
    • June 24, 2019, at 5:47 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  14. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    All old people wonder, if only occasionally, what their latter days are going to be like. None of us get out of this alive, of course, but we see that some lives end badly and that worries us. If our own parents’ lives ended badly, we worry that we may end up the same way.

    Very true. My mother’s situation was complicated in that she had what I suspect might have been a bipolar condition of some sort, and then about 30 years before she died she fell about three feet from a kitchen stool onto a tile floor. Fairly serious head injury which she refused to have treated beyond what the EMTs did when they came; she wouldn’t go to hospital. The conclusion eventually was that something happened there that exacerbated everything else. Sad all round.

    But consider this, She: You’ve reached 65 and your mind is still sharp enough to construct a complicated sentence, oftentimes filled with wit and sophisticated diction. Since that is the case, you’re not likely to finish the way your mom did.

    I hope so. She was amazingly witty, and for most of her life she could do those awful “cryptic” British newspaper crosswords like nobody’s business. She and Dad and Auntie Pat and Uncle Arthur would do the Telegraph crossword puzzle every weekend to see who could finish first. My mother could figure out that the answer to a clue like “Wave cereal bowl” was “Brandish” before you could say “Jack Robinson” (which I never would). It used to infuriate Dad, who used to cheat on his own puzzle by quietly phoning up his friend.

    When we were one and twenty (I bet you recognize that), we might forget where we put the car keys, but we never interpret that episode of forgetfulness to meant anything special. But now we interpret that same missing car key as something ominous.

    Oh, ’tis true, ’tis true. (I bet you recognize that, too.)

    The negative personality changes that some people undergo is way worse than the memory problems, no matter how severe. My dad went through a bout of paranoia when he was in his late 80s. One time he came out of the house with his pistol and told my sister to get the hell out of his front yard and go back to her home. That was after she had driven hours to visit.

    Sad, and inexplicable. And very hard to live with.

    She, when I read of your exotic upbringing —Nigeria, England, servants, tribal elders hanging around your house — I think that my upbringing in Compton, California, the armpit of California, was mean and flat by comparison. My mom was a housewife, my dad a working man, both of whom grew up in rural Oklahoma. Your childhood memories have to be richer than mine. That’s something to treasure.

    I do have some very cool memories. I expect you do too, though. Mr. She grew up in the bowels of the steel mills in Pittsburgh’s South Side in pretty impoverished circumstances (I think he was born the same year you were), and he has some fascinating stories, different from mine, but equally interesting. (Haven’t you written some very fine posts about your childhood?)

    Old age is the best age. That’s because one lives in one’s head, and an old person’s head is filled with more memories. I love my memories. I have 80 years of them.

    I’m glad you have so many. I’m finding that to be true also.

    • #14
    • June 24, 2019, at 6:48 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  15. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    Stad (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    I think your mother, and my mother-in-law (born in 1918, lived in South Side Pittsburgh most of her life) would have got along just fine.

    I often wonder how much my mother would have loved to meet my fellow Ricochetti.

    neutral observer and I would come back from Ricochet Meetups and tell my mother all about the people we met, and she loved hearing about it. We never could convince her to actually go with us to a Meetup, but there you go . . .

    I agree. My mother would have loved to sit down and chat with other moms about their kids. No doubt she would have told all the stories about how terrible I was growing up. Payback . . .

    Bit off topic, but my mother-in-law was very interested in politics her entire life. I always say that I’m so sorry she didn’t live until 2016 (she died in 2007) because if she had, she’d have considered the action of voting against Hillary Clinton for President one of the crowning achievements of her long life. When she was on a roll, there was nothing like it.

    I used to listen to her sometimes, and wish there was a way to get her, and several like-minded geezers into a panel of “talking heads” and put them on a Sunday morning political talk/news show (or run them as the “Fox All-Star Panel” once or twice a week). They’d have made so much more sense than almost all of those who do it for a living, and it would have been vastly entertaining. My Dad would have been aces at that, too. Auntie Pat would have owned it.

    • #15
    • June 24, 2019, at 6:55 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  16. Percival Thatcher

    She (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    I think your mother, and my mother-in-law (born in 1918, lived in South Side Pittsburgh most of her life) would have got along just fine.

    I often wonder how much my mother would have loved to meet my fellow Ricochetti.

    neutral observer and I would come back from Ricochet Meetups and tell my mother all about the people we met, and she loved hearing about it. We never could convince her to actually go with us to a Meetup, but there you go . . .

    I agree. My mother would have loved to sit down and chat with other moms about their kids. No doubt she would have told all the stories about how terrible I was growing up. Payback . . .

    Bit off topic, but my mother-in-law was very interested in politics her entire life. I always say that I’m so sorry she didn’t live until 2016 (she died in 2007) because if she had, she’d have considered the action of voting against Hillary Clinton for President one of the crowning achievements of her long life. When she was on a roll, there was nothing like it.

    I used to listen to her sometimes, and wish there was a way to get her, and several like-minded geezers into a panel of “talking heads” and put them on a Sunday morning political talk/news show (or run them as the “Fox All-Star Panel” once or twice a week). They’d have made so much more sense than almost all of those who do it for a living, and it would have been vastly entertaining. My Dad would have been aces at that, too. Auntie Pat would have owned it.

    I wrote here once about the minds congregated on the bench out in front of the feed-and-grain store. If only they were still there, the Hoover Institution could save a lot of expense by just sending someone over there to take notes.

    • #16
    • June 24, 2019, at 7:01 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  17. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    Percival (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    I think your mother, and my mother-in-law (born in 1918, lived in South Side Pittsburgh most of her life) would have got along just fine.

    I often wonder how much my mother would have loved to meet my fellow Ricochetti.

    neutral observer and I would come back from Ricochet Meetups and tell my mother all about the people we met, and she loved hearing about it. We never could convince her to actually go with us to a Meetup, but there you go . . .

    I agree. My mother would have loved to sit down and chat with other moms about their kids. No doubt she would have told all the stories about how terrible I was growing up. Payback . . .

    Bit off topic, but my mother-in-law was very interested in politics her entire life. I always say that I’m so sorry she didn’t live until 2016 (she died in 2007) because if she had, she’d have considered the action of voting against Hillary Clinton for President one of the crowning achievements of her long life. When she was on a roll, there was nothing like it.

    I used to listen to her sometimes, and wish there was a way to get her, and several like-minded geezers into a panel of “talking heads” and put them on a Sunday morning political talk/news show (or run them as the “Fox All-Star Panel” once or twice a week). They’d have made so much more sense than almost all of those who do it for a living, and it would have been vastly entertaining. My Dad would have been aces at that, too. Auntie Pat would have owned it.

    I wrote here once about the minds congregated on the bench out in front of the feed-and-grain store. If only they were still there, the Hoover Institution could save a lot of expense by just sending someone over there to take notes.

    Exactly.

    • #17
    • June 24, 2019, at 7:15 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. Gary McVey Contributor

    Another touching and vivid post by our own Willa Cather, our own Dorothy Parker, our own Eurdora Welty. Thank you so much so it, and for being among us! 

    Your story about your Dad is doing the impossible–it’s making married men look good! On the other hand, getting my reader’s eyes to mist up seems to be easy for you, with your gifts of description and empathy. 

    My wife is all of 18 days older than me. For us, it works out fine. But Mr. She is, judging by this thread, roughly 15 years older than you?

    Mr. She, you dawg you! Slap me the high five! Damnity damn! 

    • #18
    • June 24, 2019, at 11:18 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  19. SkipSul Moderator

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    The negative personality changes that some people undergo is way worse than the memory problems, no matter how severe. My dad went through a bout of paranoia when he was in his late 80s. One time he came out of the house with his pistol and told my sister to get the hell out of his front yard and go back to her home. That was after she had driven hours to visit.

    Both of my mother’s parents suffered dementia in their last 15 years or so. Their personalities never changed, they only amplified – as the memories departed, their personalities were all they had left. For my grandfather that was a good thing. He was always kind and had an impish sense of humor about things, and that never went away. My grandmother, though, was mercurial and temperamental, and also prone to cruel and petty back-handed insults, and that never went away either, only got worse.

    • #19
    • June 25, 2019, at 6:19 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  20. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Another touching and vivid post by our own Willa Cather, our own Dorothy Parker, our own Eurdora Welty. Thank you so much so it, and for being among us!

    Your story about your Dad is doing the impossible–it’s making married men look good! On the other hand, getting my reader’s eyes to mist up seems to be easy for you, with your gifts of description and empathy.

    My wife is all of 18 days older than me. For us, it works out fine. But Mr. She is, judging by this thread, roughly 15 years older than you?

    Mr. She, you dawg you! Slap me the high five! Damnity damn!

    Oh, @garymcvey, you’re even sweeter than @percival (ducks).

    Thank you. And best to the missus.

     

    • #20
    • June 25, 2019, at 7:16 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  21. KentForrester Coolidge

    I hope this isn’t too personal, but how is Mr. She getting along? He’s my age and we both were professors, so I’m naturally curious about how other old men are faring. 

    • #21
    • June 25, 2019, at 8:41 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    I hope this isn’t too personal, but how is Mr. She getting along? He’s my age and we both were professors, so I’m naturally curious about how other old men are faring.

    Unfortunately he’s rather frail and in poor health. He’s heard about you, and has enjoyed some of your posts, though, and as an animal lover, he was particularly charmed with Bob. Thanks for asking, I’ll tell him you inquired.

    • #22
    • June 25, 2019, at 8:49 AM PDT
    • 3 likes