Thursday, May 09, 2013

A Woman of Grit and Grace

Yes, this is a photo of me and my mama.  All I can say is those pants were in style at the time, and being young and skinny is truly wasted on the young and skinny.  {sigh}  But on with the story . . . 

I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never let you forget you’re a man, cause I’m a woman – W-O-M-A-N!  
For those of you of recent birth, this was a jingle for a perfume named “Enjoli” back in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  The end tag line was "the 8-hour perfume for your 24-hour woman.”  

Also heard at the end of the commercial was a man’s voice saying, “Tonight I’m gonna cook for the kids.” 

Yeah.  Right.  {snort}  (That was my snort, not the guy in the commercial.)   Just in case you haven’t seen it or want to do the hustle down memory lane, I actually found it over at YouTube.

Honestly, though, I never had any illusions that I would marry a man who would actually cook.  After all, my mama had brought home the bacon and fried it up every night since 1965.  She was a woman before her time, but she never made a big deal out of it.  So, I truly didn't know it was a very big deal that she worked a full-time job and took care of us too.  

My mama never marched on Capitol Hill, worked for the ERA committee, participated in a sit-in, or burned her bra.  Of course, in the 60's, I was a mere babe and much too young to have a bra to burn or even much of a clue why women were doing that in the first place.  It looked pretty silly to me.  I always thought if my mama suddenly went berserk and decided to burn something, it would be my daddy's ratty old recliner he refused to give up.  And most likely the saddle blanket he had draped over it to hide the holes and splits in the upholstery too.  Now, that would've been newsworthy.

No, my mama simply had a vision of building a better life for herself and her family and the determination to make it a reality.  She and I never had deep, dark discussions about the changing roles of women or equal pay for equal work.  Somehow, she gracefully and fluidly moved through this otherwise turbulent time by combining the best she had seen of the 50's and 60's with the new attitudes of the 70's.  Maybe she had doubts about where this new road was taking her, and I know she must have struggled with the decisions she made, but I never knew it.  So, through some sort of magic mother-daughter osmosis, I adopted the same take-on-the-world attitude.  Proving, once again, that actions speak louder than words.    

I have learned, and continue to learn, so many things from my mama.  Although there is no doubt she was the major instigator of my big mouth, one of the most important things she taught me was, if you want to be taken seriously, choose your words carefully.  If my mama says, "H-E-Double-Toothpicks!" you know the situation is fairly serious.  If she actually says the word, you know it's critical. And, if she ever uses my middle name, I know it's time to find cover.  She taught me that I have a voice and should make full use of it if someone is trampling on my rights or just plain doin' me or mine wrong, but you don't necessarily have to be a bulldozer to get results.

Of course, my mama holds a place of honor in the Southern Belle Hall of Fame for her exemplary usage of the Bless Your Heart, I Put You in Your Place and Made You Like It tactic.  Also known as The Big Stick That Talks Softly, this is the Southern Belle way of charming someone and telling them off at the same time.  When done correctly, people will be so charmed they will not realize until much later they were KO’ed.  Delayed reactions are quite common.  People have been known to yell “Ouch!” and fall to their knees up to 14 days after being on the receiving end of one of these mint-julep zingers. Unfortunately, I have never been able to completely master that skill. 

I have no idea when the terms "superwoman" and "supermom" came into being, but I know my mama was both.  After putting in a 10-hour day, she came home to make dinner, do laundry, clean bathrooms, sew my cheerleading uniforms and formal dresses, take me to piano lessons, and all the other kazillion things women do.

It wasn't until I got married, had a family and was trying to follow in my mama's footsteps that I realized how difficult having it all and keeping all your duck butts in one pond really was.  Sometimes it seemed downright impossible.  I don't know how many times I looked up at the sky and said, "How on God's green earth did my mother do all this?!"  And then I would just keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward because I knew it could be done.  I had seen it firsthand.

To sum it up, my mama is fearless.  Okay, two words - fearless and fabulous, because she is always fashionably dressed and accessorized, no matter what.  And I am not kidding.  I have old photos of family camping trips, when we would routinely spend one or two weeks in the mountains and, even casually dressed, she looks like she belongs on a movie set.  How does she do that?!  The rest of us look like we rolled down the mountain, landed in a rushing river and were hung over a smoky campfire to dry.  Which, come to think of it, actually happened once or twice. 

If asked, Mama will give you her best advice, but she rarely offers unsolicited advice.  In fact, I can only think of one time she has done so in recent years.  I was cooking dinner and decided to bake some potatoes.  As I normally do, I skewered them all with a fork before putting them in the oven.  All of a sudden I heard my mama say, “You do know you don’t have to poke holes in those potatoes, right?  They’ll cook just fine if you don’t.”  Ooooookay.  I could’ve sworn I learned to do that from watching her but, the next time I baked potatoes, I didn’t poke holes in them.  And, guess what?  Yep, they exploded.  

Naturally, I immediately called her, told her what had happened, and said, “You knew eventually I was going to have exploding potatoes, and you were just waiting for this call, weren’t you?”  Her response?  She laughed.  Yep, she pulled a fast one on me.  And, this time, I was the one with my hands on my hips. 

I’ll leave you with a final word of wisdom, and I think the best advice my mama has ever given me ~ Half of knowing what you want is knowing what you have to give up to get it. ~  Wise woman, my mama, huh?   

Yes, she’s a woman of grit and grace, and I love her more than I can ever properly express.  


Happy Mother’s Day, Mama!  I love you!