Kids were meant to have fun. To frolic and play, not to work their little fingers to little bones. I never felt that my mom quite grasped this principle. “Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty,” she liked to say as she steered me to a stack of dishes in the kitchen sink.
I tried to be patient with her. I was the second of her six children, so she still had a big learning curve ahead of her. I remember pointing out that if I had to work, I should at least get paid for my labors. Mom’s eyes narrowed and she informed me, “Money doesn’t grow on trees!” Which I already knew, of course, though I didn’t say so. I did interject that my friends Joannie and Carol Anne both got weekly allowances. Mom was unmoved. She said, “If Joannie and Carol Anne jumped off the Golden Gate bridge, would you too?”
We didn’t have family meetings in our family. We certainly didn’t take votes on anything. We didn’t argue or talk back to our parents, either. Children were to be seen and not heard.
After my parents began to take in foster kids, my work load increased. There was more for all of us to do. We had one family of three children that lived with us for seven years, and another girl who was with us for six. I cannot even begin to remember all the kids who came and went. “Cheaper by the dozen,” my mom liked to say. Add the paying boarders (Jerry and Loren and John) and my Grandma and all of us and some extra relative or another, and at times we were setting the long dinning room table for twenty-five. No one wanted to sit at the middle, because all you did was pass food one way or the other with a boarding house reach. The first one of us kids to spill on that tablecloth had to wash and iron it, so we were excruciatingly careful. We hated the refrain: “No use crying over spilt milk.”
We lived in a huge Victorian house near the San Francisco airport. At one time, it had been a wondrous place, but by the time we moved in it was racing toward its twilight years. Bing Crosby lived a mile away from us, but, believe me, in an entirely different world. Once my brother and I tried to sneak onto Bing’s estate. After the police brought us home, my brother, still heady with adventure, spouted one of mom’s favorites sayings: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” My mother was not laughing. She said, “If you two ever try such a stunt again, neither one of you will sit down for a week!”
My mom always said, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” so I tried my best to keep the vinegar of my life hidden from her sight and only let her see honey. Like the fort my brother and I built out of discarded junk in the creek bed. “Stay out of there or you’ll fall and break you neck!” Mom ordered. Highly unlikely, I figured. Lots of kids played there and I’d never seen one with a broken neck. But rather than argue (vinegar) I told Mom we were going to clean up the yard for her (honey). It was a lie, of course. (Huge vinegar!) We were really going to run back to the creek-fort. I thought I had cleverly covered my tracks with deceptive honey: “Don’t watch us, Mommy. We want it to be a big surprise!” Mom looked.
Anticipating my punishment and already teary-eyed, I braced myself for Mom to really give me something to cry about. But she never even reached for the paddle. She just shook her head and said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I miss you.
And, yes, I will finish all my peas. I know there are hungry children in the world who would love to have them.
“Because I said so, that’s why!”
Marjorie Marshall, my mom