Life Lessons Learned from my Mother

Teacher… Mother

Mother, in her depth of wisdom taught all of us many things. She taught us never to put the milk carton on the dining room table. She taught us dinner was better by candlelight with family gathered around. We used to call it, coming over for shouting and dessert. Everyone bursting with stories and opinions while the wine flowed and mother kept amazing us with a series of wonderful culinary marvels. Father would stand at the head of the long table and bang on his wine glass with a spoon calling for attention and everyone would laugh and tap their own glasses and finally all would be quiet and he would read long passages from whatever book he was immersed in at the moment.

The dining room table was all formality and yet full of joy and excitement. The candelabra were ornate silver and the china was storied and precious. In the high arched hall the centerpiece was heaped with fruit and flowers, the silverware was the most beautiful deep carved design I had ever held, and laughter filled the room like water fills a well.

Mother had an ancient Siamese cat that had reached such an age of elegance and grace that no one even questioned her right to join us at the party, carefully walking up and down the table as if on the catwalk of feasts. With head and tail held proudly erect she would move carefully between the candelabras with small puffs of smoke rising up each time her tail came a little too close to the open flame. Too proud to beg and too elegant to steal, she would accept morsels freely given from admiring fingertips, as was her due.

Mother taught us it was important to give. One day I arrived home after a long and cold adventure of hitchhiking in the rain, I told my parents that I had traveled on the road with a nice young man who was now stuck, wet and miserable on highway 1 waiting futilely for a ride to San Francisco. Without a question, they bundled up a collection of dry clothes, a raincoat, and a large glass jar of hot chocolate wrapped in towels, then we all piled in the car and drove down to the coast where the unexpected kindness probably changed that young man’s life… I know it certainly changed mine.

Mother taught us about passion for creating, she taught us about speaking truth… In fact they both taught us about speaking truth. Both of my parents lived their lives with only one fear, and that was of losing each other, and that fear was a profound part of the joy of being together, but I’ve talked about that before, about how the joy makes the fear worth living and how empty life is without it.

The Marijuana Grower’s Guide

Of course that is not to say that mother did not have her secrets or that she did not choose her battles carefully. One year, my mother came to me and said, “You know this marijuana plant I see in the newspapers is very beautiful. I would like to grow some, just to look at it, could you find me some seeds?” I said, “Mom! I don’t smoke marijuana!” which, unlike most of my friends, I didn’t. “Besides, if the cops find out, they will put you in prison!” To which she replied, “No they won’t, I’m just an old lady. The police don’t care about me.” Which I suppose you could call the old lady defense.

So she gives me that owlish look from behind her big reading glasses and she says that yes, that might be true, but I “Know” people, which I admit was true. In fact, I worked at a nursery with the man; I think his name was Mel, who wrote the first professional book on the horticulture of marijuana called The Marijuana Grower’s Guide. Well, I went to him and I told him what my mother wanted and whether he believed me or not, he gave me this little vial with about 6 seeds in it and told me that it was the most powerful dope on the planet and was worth its weight in gold.

Anyway, I give these seeds to my mother and she takes them down on the hill below the house and she plants them right in the middle of a nettle patch that grows over where the septic tank has been overflowing for the past 15 years… rich earth, and then she more or less forgets about it for awhile. Evidently it was the perfect place because the next thing you know, father comes up out of the woods one day dragging a huge bunch of marijuana plants and shouting about how “Someone has been growing marijuana in our woods!”

Mother doesn’t say a word… She just puts one hand up to her cheek in a distracted manner and looks off towards the corner of the ceiling, the picture of Southern innocence. Father burned the stuff in the incinerator out by the garage. I warned him to stay as far away from the smoke as possible and don’t know to this day whether he ever found out who the culprit was.

Or there was the story about the turkey… Father raised these big old bronze turkeys with dark iridescent feathers and wild hanging wattles that morphed from bright red to bright blue, but never while you were watching. They were big and mean and fearless and wandered the property at will making their chortling gurgle and attacking pretty much anything that moved. When I would come up to visit on my big old motorcycle, they would all gather around and peck at it like was an unwelcome cousin.

Not one of ours… But you get the idea

Both mother and father’s studios were separate from the house and they had to walk past these miniature Godzillas on their way out to work. For father, it was not such a big deal, he was a big man and would just give them a smack to get them to move out of his way, but mother was not much bigger than they were and they could get quite aggressive. She took to carrying a stick with her when she went out to her art studio and when they came after her, she’s give em a couple of good whacks to keep them at bay. We all laughed about it and would quote, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”

One day, without noticing, she picked up a stick with a nail in it and when the turkeys attacked, she gave one of them a good solid crack in the head and that nail caught the damned bird right smack in the middle of its forehead… Down goes the bird and mother thinks she’s killed it. It flops around a bit in the dirt like it’s having its final moments and then, it seems to perk up a bit and struggles back to its feet. It staggers around for awhile and finally looks like it’s going to be okay and mother figures everything will be all right and goes on to her studio to create some artistic masterpiece.

Sometime later, father is on his way out to his studio when the turkeys rush up to attack him and he casually smacks one with the back of his hand as he walks by. The turkey lets out a strangled gobble, staggers about a bit, and then keels over dead. I of course hear this story because I am called to do the plucking and cleaning. Father relates in a confused manner how he barely hit the damn bird and certainly not hard enough to hurt it, and later mother tells me about the stick with the nail… Don’t tell your father… Lesson learned.

One of the most important lessons my mother taught me was about how to get things done when the system does not want to cooperate. There was a long road up to our house from the coast a large portion of which had been built by The Pacific Cement Company (PCC), a controversial organization with deep pockets and a lot of political sway. The old road had been narrow and twisted and was difficult for the cement trucks to navigate, so they had come in and carved out a long curved incline right out of the side of the mountain. I missed the old road, part of which had been washed out in a huge rainstorm one winter, but the new road was wide and smooth and I suppose made more sense.

Borrowed picture

One day, someone junked a car about half way up the hill on the side of the road. It was a long incline and I suspect that the car, just couldn’t quite make it all the way up and the owners simply got out and walked away. So the car sat there for weeks and wasn’t faring very well. First thing was someone slashed the tires, and then the windows got broken and the headlights… Next, someone took a tire iron to it and it began to look like a piece of the urban nightmare growing up out of the side of the mountain like a fungus.

It made mother crazy. She called the city and they said it was the county’s problem. She called the county and they said there was no budget for it and it was the city’s issue. So, in the middle of a moonlit night, she took a can of spray-paint and went down there and sprayed, “Fuck PCC” all the way across the side of the ruined vehicle.

It was gone within 24 hours, as if it had never been there.

The Saint George Hotel

Years later when I had a similar problem, I immediately thought of mother and the can of spray-paint. I lived in The Saint George Hotel in the middle of Santa Cruz. The hotel faced the mall, but we parked in the back on the top floor of a multiple floor parking garage just off Front Street. It was an isolated lot and pretty much everyone who parked up there had their cars broken into at one time or another.

One day, someone abandoned a beat up old couch by the northeast wall about a hundred feet from where we parked. Within days the skateboarders and the homeless found it and had moved in. Someone used chalk and drew a rug around it and as well as pictures, lamps, and a television on the wall behind it. There was at least one person and sometimes two sleeping on it every night and car burglaries shot up.

I contacted everyone I could think of. The city said it was the hotel’s problem because they rented the space, the hotel said it was the city’s problem because they were the landlord. It sat up there for weeks, getting nastier and nastier by the day…

Finally, I followed my mother’s lead… I took a can of lighter fluid and I waited until a night when there was no one sleeping up there. And then about 2:00 in the morning, I went up and set the thing on fire. There was nothing else up there to burn, no electric wires, or trees, or paint, just bare cement. Then I waited until it was going pretty good and called the fire department. I said, “Something is burning on top of the parking structure behind the Saint George.”

Borrowed picture

I actually dropped by and visited with the guys from the fire department as they all sat around and watched it burn. They didn’t bother putting it out until it was a smoldering cinder. They said it was good practice to see how it burned and besides it was pretty. I never knew how many colors a fire could be.

Next day, it was gone, as if it had never been there.

Lesson learned… Thanks mom.

2 Responses to “Life Lessons Learned from my Mother”
  1. Rich says:

    Great stories . I really enjoyed reading them. Thank you. Your Mom sounds like quite a lady.
    God Bless

  2. Rocci says:

    I come here for entertainment & humor, you do not disappoint

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