Mothers have a profound effect on our lives — and I’m not just saying that because I am a mother of four! I know that a lot of the things my mother impressed upon me have influenced the way I handled my own children — my mother’s sense of humor, her sense of what is right and wrong and her ability to see a better day coming no matter what — have always influenced my time with my children. Okay — not everything transferred perfectly — I have never managed to harness the power of my mother’s ability make you feel guilty — even if only for thinking about doing something of which she would not approve — just couldn’t get the hang of that one.
However, one of the things passed on from my mother was my hatred (yes, I do mean hatred – not just annoyance) of people speaking as if they are hillbillies or just plain idiots (or nincompoops, if you prefer). My mother impressed this on me when I was about four years old. I know, you think no one remembers anything when she is four years old — but believe me, if you had incurred the wrath of Gracie (my mother) at age four — you would definitely remember!
It should be noted that my mother was a bit of snob – not because she was born to the upper class – in fact, just the opposite was true. My mother was ‘mining camp brat’ which meant her father ran various mines in Colorado and South Dakota. She was born in Deadwood where Grandpa ran the Homestake mines and grew up above Telluride, Colorado where he ran the Alta Mines. However, her mother had impressed upon her that it was important to be educated and speak properly in order to be treated properly – and she would know since she had been a governess to a wealthy family in Omaha before she met my Grandfather.
The only thing I remember about that fateful day was my mother’s reaction when I uttered the words “Ain’t that purty?” when referring to some beautiful thing which had caught my eye. We were in the kitchen and mother was having coffee with my Granny Hogan. I remember thinking that my mother had sprouted wings and flown across the room at such a speed that it was breathtaking! All of the sudden she was right in my little face and was telling me that “No child of hers was going to sound stupid!” — and starting hauling me towards the bathroom for her favorite bar of soap to wash out my little mouth! (I was a bit of mimic and had a habit of picking up my father’s foul language – so the soap was used often enough that I knew where we were going!). As far as Mom was concerned, I had uttered foul language and it would not be permitted to go unpunished.
After that day, I thought about what I said before I said it – and I made sure that I used real words! I know my mom’s actions seem a little over the top by today’s standards — and I never used the same tactics with my children — but I can definitely say that I strive to speak properly all of the time – it’s probably the deep memory of how awful that soap tasted – but more importantly, I think it was the whole guilt thing that Mom instilled in me (and which I never seemed to be able to instill in my own children).
Over the years I tacked on my own lesson to my children concerning grammar and that is that even though someone speaks eloquently and has perfect grammar — he or she can still sound like a hillbilly or nincompoop – so don’t forget about the “message” as well as the way it is delivered. Oh — and one more thing — if a person who is usually articulate starts speaking ‘hillbilly’ to you — he thinks you are stupid – so walk away before you feel the urge to wash his mouth out with soap.
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