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Communique: Commentator Nan Graham | I Remember Mama

Nan Graham

Commentator Nan Graham says her Mama said no one in her family could play a musical instrument or do math. Sadly, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

WHQR and Commentator Nan Graham hope your Mother's Day will be memorable. 

WHQR Commentaries do not necessarily reflect the views of WHQR Public Media, its editorial board, or its members.

Words of Wisdom ... learned at our mother's knee ... or our father's. And inevitably, we pass them on to our children and their children. What were yours?

My daughter Molly recently said that the most important thing I ever taught her was, "There are more ways than one to skin a cat." It was something I heard from Mama in my pre-school days. She has found this invaluable when confronting a tough problem and working through her options ... and no matter what the problem, there are always options. I had no clue this was so memorable, much less profound.

My mama was always cryptic with her adages. "Never send one wild goose after another," she would say when someone was missing in a store or had disappeared in the neighbor's yard. The deal was that you had to stay put. The missee would eventually return to the missor, was her theory. 

I do not rank this high in the "May Mama always told me" list. I like Mama's mini-lecture on my spendthrift tendencies: "I don't care if that dollar is burning a hold in your pocket. Save it. You might be poor as Job's turkey some day." I knew that the Biblical long-suffering Job lost his shirt, plus every other stitch he owned, when hard times plagued him. but I never recall a scriptural reference about any of his poultry being penniless. And why woudl a turkey give a happy damn if his bank account were wiped out?

On sewing, which she seldom did, Mama gave explicit instructions on how it must be done: "When you hem that skirt, you cannot fold the material under 4 times like that and hem it," she would say, eyeing the 5-inch-deep and half-inch-thick skirt bottom that was going to be my hem. "It will never hang evenly. You will look as if you're smuggling rifles." She was right, of course, about it looking ridiculous, but I always wondered that anyone would suspect a teenager of such a nefarious activity crossing some national border.

On shoes: "Forget about not wearing white after Labor Day. Avoid wearing white shoes altogether. They make your feet look like gunboats no matter what your shoe size." Note the military tone of these admonitions ... smuggling rifles, gunboat feet ... remember it was the fifties so WWII was only a decade past. 

"You should not only avoid evil, but also avoid the appearance of evil." This proclamation was always delivered at breakfast, the morning after I had sat in a car in front of our house TALKING until the wee hours the night before. Flashing porch lights can only be ignored just so long. ( I was a Tuscaloosa girl. Only Birmingham girls had the reputation for being "fast.")

But Mama was right. All politicians should have this advice tattooed backwards on their foreheads so they could ponder the admonition every time they looked in a mirror. Think Clinton, Weiner, Weinstein ... The scandal rate might have plummeted if this precaution were taken more seriously. Mama's advice could have changed history.