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Crow's-Feet Chronicles: I remember Mama
By Cindy Baker Burnett
May 11, 2014
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My mother was a frisky, 5'2”, New England chick who grew up in Hartford, Connecticut.  She was full of vim and vigor and brought her ready stash of witty comebacks and wise sayings to Texas in 1943.  

Mama had definite opinions about how to relax.  Her idea of a quiet evening that involved guests was to watch Johnny Carson on TV, listen to an Al Jolson record, or pull taffy.  All of the above involved taking off her shoes.  Relaxing at home without company began with taking off her girdle.  Don't assume that an intimate evening at home WITH Daddy and WITHOUT her girdle meant any shenanigans.  If Daddy took off his clothes, it was only so Mama could iron a fresh crease in his trousers.   

Mama was thrifty.  As Daddy used to say, “Your mother is as tight as Kate Smith's garter.”  There were certain things that Mother never threw away, because they could come in handy later:  ribbon and wrapping paper from gifts, brown paper bags, used aluminum foil, corrugated cardboard packing inserts, excelsior, rags, applesauce jars, soup cans, mailing tubes, and any kind of string.   

“I'm glad to say I won't be needing a new winter coat this year after all,” my mother said one year. 

“Oh?  How's that?” asked Marie, Mama's friend. 

“I glued the Woman's Section of the Sunday paper inside the lining of my old one, and now it's warm as toast,” Mama announced, proudly.   

My mom had definite ideas about education.  She said to my brother, Tim, “I just want to tell you that your father and I have decided not to interfere.  We have concluded that you should do whatever you want to do, if you really want to do it.  Whatever you want to do will be perfectly all right with us, so long as it makes you happy.  You could be even a blacksmith, if that is what would make you happy.  The only important thing, after all, is that you should do what makes you happy.” 

“OK,” said Tim. 

“Your father and I think, though, that you would be happiest if you would become a doctor, a lawyer, or a C.P.A.”  Mama figured that if Tim studied medicine, law, or accounting, then my sister Kathy and I should study ballet, French, tap dancing, piano, or anything else that would enable us to meet nice young men. 

No matter what, my mother was a philosopher whenever something good happened and whenever something bad happened.  When it was bad, she quickly pointed out the fortunate aspects. 

“Mama!  Mama!” I screamed, running into the house. 

“What's the commotion?” 

“Those bad boys ran off with my skate key!” 

“Those bad boys ran off with your skate key?” Mama asked.  “You should be grateful they didn't also cut your throat.” 

Whenever anything good happened, Mama pointed out the unfortunate aspects of the situation.  “Mama, I made high school twirler!” my sister announced one day, as she ran into the house, clutching the judges' score card. 

“You made high school twirler?  Very nice.  The costumes alone will send us to the poorhouse.” 

Mother had a classic guilt technique.  She felt it was important to let her children hear her sigh every day.  She figured that if she didn't know what we'd done to make her suffer, we would.  She must have done an intensive study of the Dristan commercials on TV.  No doubt, she paid particular attention to the face of the actor who had not yet taken Dristan.  She studied the squint of the yes, the furrow of the brow, the downward curve of the lips---the pained expression which could only come from eight clogged sinus cavities or severe gastritis.  Surely, she practiced the facial expression in front of a mirror several times a day.  She always kept the edge of a plain linen handkerchief tucked around the index finger to facilitate tear-dabbing.  If we asked her what was wrong, she'd reply, “I'm fine; it's nothing at all.  It will go away.”  Then she gave the on-cue, all-too-familiar, thirteen-syllable sigh. 

If someone were brutally honest, Daddy would say, “You be Frank and I'll be Ernest.”  That pretty well describes Mama.  After I was born, she tried to console my older sister Kathy. 

“A baby sister is nicer than a goat.  You'll get used to her.”