Things my mother taught me. (amongst others)
When I was younger…. much younger I had a problem with fire. Fire fascinated me then and it still does to a certain extent however through the powers of negative reinforcement I have learned that fire is not always our friend. Up to age 10 I had what would now no doubt be called, “HAMS” also known as hyper active match syndrome or in plain text, a playing with matches problem that had led to the basement catching on fire once(that my parents knew about), the kitchen curtains going up in smoke and a few other incidents that my parents missed and the neighborhood failed to report to them. If my brother is reading this, I am still innocent of burning down the garage and Boatwright’s shed – those were not my doing!. After the incident with the kitchen curtains my mother dished up a rather unique, way before its time, type of aversion therapy. One Saturday I spent the whole day standing on a chair in the kitchen and lighting a whole case of wooden stick matches then extinguishing them in the water in the kitchen sink. Twenty boxes of 250 matches each lets see that’s 5000 matches. I can remember begging to stop after the first 500 or so. It gets sort of boring and the tips of your fingers start getting a little crispy,crusty, and toasty even a little splintery no matter how careful you are in lighting the matches. Her answer to my plea was simple and direct. “No, No, keep on lighting, remember you like lighting matches.” Eventually she did let me light them two at a time but it is a lesson I have never forgotten. Later that year while mowing the yard the lawnmower caught on fire, without my help, right in the driveway, just as my father got home….. contrary to my protestations , to the day of his death I am sure he thought that I had something to do with that. Did the aversion therapy cure me, you ask? No, but it made me much more careful about where and how I lit fires. Hence I learned that if you, “play with fire, you are going to get burned.”
Lesson # 2
I loved baseball, baseball was my game. Our house had a kitchen counter just inside the back door and just as most flat places do, the counter by the back door of our house tended to collect things(there is an irresistable attraction between flat surfaces not in cupboards or closets and the possessions of teen-agers) . This space often collected my baseball glove. One rainy week my baseball glove sat on the counter for several days while my mother asked daily for me to put it away. Which of course being a teen-agerk, I ignored. Finally the sun came out and I went to get my glove and it was gone. “Mom, where’s my glove?” I asked. To which she replied, “I threw it away.” I, in a panic, “Mom you threw away my baseball glove how could you do that.” Her explanation was simple and direct. She had asked me to put it away several times and at least once suggested that I needed to take care of things that I valued. When I failed to put it away she told me with a straight face, “that she thought I didn’t want it anymore so she threw it away.” Both she and I knew the truth but I was smart enough, even filled with the sometimes ephemeral teen-age knowledge, at that point to not question her as I could see some of my other valuable possessions sitting on the same counter. It was a while before I got a new glove and although it worked in the meantime, it was not nice playing ball with your dads old doughnut-hole catchers mitt, particularly in the outfield… Others seemed to notice and a few may have even commented. I learned that, ” If you love it hold it close and keep it safe.”
Lesson # 3
I was a messy teenager, unkempt, bed room a disaster, just a general slob, which my wife at times claims is still part of my nature. I personally like to think of messiness as an ongoing random chaotic creative problem solution but others don’t always see it that way. Once again as a teenager I had a very nice room with all sorts of closet and storage space that I rarely used. I trashed my room on a daily basis and actively resisted cleaning it up. One day when I came home from school my room was spotlessly clean with everything put away in its proper place. Strangely, there was an empty cardboard dishwasher box in the middle of the room at the foot of the bed. I remember quite clearly that it had writing indicating a Maytag Washer from Brach’s of Beaverdale. Nothing was said to me about the box but there it was, a washing machine box in my room. I am not sure what I thought about that but being the generally thoughtless teenagerk I was I ignored it thinking it would go away. The next day I learned the purpose of the box. When I came home from school my room was once again spotless and neat but everything that had been laying out or not put away was now in the box including food dishes,dirty socks, a Twinkie wrapper, underwear yesterday’s clothes and a couple of books and a writing assignment that of course hadn’t been finished. The next day clean clothes that I had failed to put away were “in the box.” as well. I was clearly not thinking, “Out Of The Box,” as it took a week or so for me to realize that the box was not going away. Finally under the weight of the realization that I was out of clothes and I was going to have to go box diving in the jumble of my less than organized life to get dressed I sort of straightened out my act. With the exception of an ongoing belief that close to the clothes hamper is the same as in the clothes hamper(See wife comment above) but a lesson was learned and now thanks to my mother I know how to open a drawer or cabinet and get things out or put them away. Sometimes I even close the drawer or cabinet when done. I learned that, ” a stitch in time saves nine.”
My mother was not a mean person, she was quite smart and quite tolerant of my weirdness. She often said that the punishment should fit the crime. Was she guilty of child abuse? Effective? Creative? ……. or just what a parent should be. I’m going with the last.