My father-in-law, a gentle, old-fashioned country doctor, had three attitudes that he referred to as his “prescription for a happy life.” He lived by them and he urged them on his patients, his children, and, of course, on their spouses. They were: 1) Think highly of yourself; 2) Never feel sorry for yourself, and; 3) Don’t take life too seriously. As my father-in-law was a wise and happy man, my husband and I tried to pass his prescription on to our own children. I thought of his precepts recently when I made a terrible mistake at my oldest daughter’s house that, had she not shared his outlook, might have justifiably strained a normally happy mother-daughter relationship.
On the way to her house one morning, I stopped at Bert Morgan’s garage to have him look at an air-conditioning problem in my car. We had planned to take her six kids to the Kentucky State Fair. Now, let me preface by saying that she has taught her children to remove their shoes when they enter the house, which is a good idea, what with kids being kids and the always present threat of mud puddles. She and her husband had re-carpeted their house when they moved into it a few years ago, and in spite of the many small feet traipsing over it, they have tried to keep it respectable.
On that fateful day, I may have been thinking that such rules don’t apply to adult feet, and that I hadn’t stepped in anything particularly dirty anyway. Or perhaps I wasn’t thinking at all. In any case, I walked right in from the front door to the kitchen, where I greeted the children, and then went downstairs to the bathroom. When I came out, I saw my daughter smiling. “Mom,” she said, “I think there’s been a slight problem.” My eyes followed hers to the carpet where, to my utter horror, I saw my path traced in dark and oily shoe prints. I’d obviously stepped in oil or grease at Bert’s and picked up enough to make large and distinct smudges on her beige carpet!
My daughter, perhaps reciting her grandfather’s prescription in her head, was not upset. However, I was so chagrined that my knees felt weak. Were I Catholic, I probably would have headed straight to Confession! My daughter Googled the Web to see how to deal with the stains and came up with the discouraging information: “If you get motor oil on your carpet, you have a serious problem.” She remained calm, insisting that we go to the Fair as planned and deal with the situation later.
You can guess that my scrubbing upon our return from the Fair was almost totally ineffective in removing the marks. I offered to have the carpet professionally cleaned or, if necessary, we would even buy them new carpets.
That evening my wonderful son-in-law – while never directly influenced by my late father-in-law but embracing the same philosophy nonetheless – called to tell me that he and my daughter had been thinking of replacing their carpets with hardwood floors in the future and had now decided to go through with it sooner than later. So, their carpets were replaced this week while they were away on vacation.
I think there are several lessons to be learned from this story. The most obvious, of course, is that just because you wear a size eight-and-a-half adult shoe doesn’t mean that you can go traipsing across someone’s carpet without wiping your feet. But the basic message of my father-in-law is more important. My daughter didn’t feel sorry for herself or take life too seriously. Her easygoing sense of humor served us both well. She didn’t stir herself up in spite of an obvious disaster, and she also didn’t make me feel ashamed and foolish.
And for that I love her more than ever.