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Passing along mom’s folksy wisdom

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By Janny Wilcke

Nearly everybody seems to have some set of personal values they follow to guide their actions, whether consciously or unconsciously. Those values surely vary some from individual to individual, but I am pretty sure that almost all of us value such traits as honesty, faithfulness and fairness in our dealings with others. Maybe there are sociopaths that don’t have much of a conscience, but I wouldn’t know about that. 

When I was a child, my mother seemed always to be expounding her own “pearls of wisdom” to my brothers and me. “You gets what you gives,” she’d often say, meaning that how you treat others is usually how they will treat you in turn. An educated woman, she liked her country-sounding phrasing, presumably because they lent her sayings a tone of timeless folk wisdom. Another favorite was “You always gets found out.”  My brothers and I used to tease Mom about her sayings but I suspect that, even though we found them tedious and a bit corny, we probably took them to heart nevertheless.

The other day, as I was struggling to carry my large fern indoors for the winter, I got to thinking about those pearls of wisdom that we mothers use when raising kids. As I strained under the weight of the pot, my mind was drawn back to an incident some thirty years ago when my oldest son was four. Funny how the mind flits, one thought leading to another, transporting us to places that we haven’t visited for years.

At that time, we rented a small house, and because my little boy’s bedroom just happened to have a ceiling hook near the window when we moved in, I hung my large fern from it. I figured that the only way he could reach the plant was by standing on his chair and that it surely wouldn’t hold much interest for him in any case.

One morning as I went into his room to put some clothes in his dresser, I gasped in horror to find all the fronds neatly trimmed to within two inches from the dirt. I found my son and said, “Billy, why did you cut my plant?” His blue eyes looked directly at me and said, “I didn’t do it.” The only other possible perpetrators would have been his older sisters and I knew they’d never have done such a thing. Knowing he had to be the culprit, I tried again. “Honey,” I pleaded, “Are you sure you didn’t cut Mommy’s fern?” Still no admission of guilt; the blue saucers unwavering from my accusing stare. 

Being the amateur psychologist that I am, I tried a different tack. “Sweetie, just tell me this: Did you pull all the green branches off with your hands or did you use some scissors?” “Scissors,” he said without thinking, and then his face fell as he realized he’d been caught. He looked so blue that I couldn’t get mad. In fact, it struck my funny bone, and I burst out laughing. He began shyly smiling too — in relief I’m sure.

The moral of this story, I suppose, could be to never hang a plant in the bedroom of an inquisitive toddler. But the other day, instead, I hearkened back to the folk wisdom passed along by my mother so many years ago. “You always gets found out.” That’s the real moral, and so I pass it along to readers. Like mother, like daughter!