Thursday, March 27, 2014
Lessons My Mother Taught Me (but I didn't learn) ...
Some of the things my mother taught me--explicitly and implicitly--have in fact "kicked in" over the years. While I was growing up, she was an English teacher (junior high first, then high school), and she never instructed me how to teach well. But I learned a lot by inference--just by watching. I saw how she routinely graded her papers (even when she didn't feel like it), how she prepared so thoroughly for her classes, how she went back to school for advanced degrees (master's, Ph.D.). I saw how she used her "vacations," too--traveling to places she was teaching about; reading, reading, reading; writing articles for teachers' magazines. She and I both published essays in English Journal, the secondary-school publication of the National Council of Teachers of English. Her final article there was "An Expression, a Possession, and a Dream" (Sept. 1964); my first was "An Alternative for the Middle Years: English for Little Big Men" (Nov. 1971). Cool, eh?
So, yes, she was quite an influence. I learned a lot--though I never would have admitted that when I was a funky adolescent (in this case, "funky" is a nice way of saying "asshole").
But there were some of her sayings and teachings that still have not caught on--like don't stir up your ice cream and make your bed (okay, I'm pretty good about this now) and put everything away before you go upstairs to bed (I never do that) and clean up your plate (I do that only when I like the meal--and if I don't like it, it's generally my fault since I do 90% of the cooking in our house) and don't wear blue jeans so much (I wear them all the time). Once, when I was in my 40s, we were all out in Oregon/Washington for a family reunion. There was going to be a picnic at Uncle John's. Joyce and I were staying in the same motel in Walla Walla with my parents, and when Mom saw me in blue jeans, she said, "You're not going to wear jeans, are you?"
"It's a picnic, Mom."
"It's not appropriate."
In a rage I returned to my room and changed. (Remember, I was in my forties.) At the picnic, of course, everyone else was in jeans and shorts. But not this Dyer boy. (I think I'm still angry about this ... can you tell?)
Sometimes, Mom tried to be a little ... sly ... about how she, uh, modified my behavior. When I would mispronounce a word, she would immediately use it correctly in another sentence. (That annoyed me, actually.) She would do the same thing with usage errors (same response from ungrateful me). Still, I have to admit, all that correction did have an effect--a good one--though I never employed those tactics with our own son. (For which I'm sure he's surpassingly grateful.)
But the one lesson I really have not learned is this one: The weather is not a personal affront she would say whenever I complained it was too hot, too cold, too wet, too snowy, not snowy enough (on school days). For a lot of years I didn't know what affront meant, but I got the idea. Don't take the weather personally was her message. But I always did.
I remember sitting upstairs in the old Hiram High School (R.I.P.) study hall in the afternoon--an afternoon when, say, we had a baseball game later. All day it had been bright and sunny ... then ... about 2:00, sitting in study hall, I would look to the west and see the dark clouds building. And by game time it was pouring. I did not take such events well.
The son, grandson, and nephew of ordained Christian ministers, I confess that I sometimes viewed the weather as a message from God directly to me.
GOD: Remember how you swore at your little brother?
ME: No, I--
GOD: Don't lie--I hear everything! I'm God, after all.
ME: Okay. Sorry.
GOD: You'd better be. [Some deep deific sighs--winds commence blowing very hard--trees bend; God chills out.] Anyway, remember when you swore at your little brother?
GOD: Well, that is why it's pouring rain on the baseball diamond in Hiram, Ohio, right now. That is why you're not going to be playing baseball today. So ... what have you learned?
ME: Not to swear at my little brother.
GOD: See ... it's not all that difficult, is it?
ME: But God ...
ME: Sometimes he's just a shit!
GOD: Your double-header next Friday just got washed out! [Lightning flashing, thunder booming, Danny cowering.]
So, yes, my mom was right about so many things--but wrong about the weather. I still take it personally--as I did this morning (Wednesday) when I woke up and saw out on the sidewalk the inches of snow I would have to shovel. And so I swore at my little brother--and the snow fell more heavily ...
Some guys never learn--not from Mom, not from You-Know-Who.