Jewish World Review May 15, 2002/ 4 Sivan, 5762

Gayle A. Cox

Gayle Allen Cox
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Consumer Reports

We need more mean mothers | Growing up along the banks of the Mississippi River, my sisters and I had the kind of mother every child dreads: a mean one. She was the meanest mother in Warren County, and her list of rules had no end.

We couldn't sass.

We couldn't say "yep."

We couldn't say "nope."

We couldn't ask for something without saying "please."

We couldn't accept something without saying "thank you."

We couldn't say "golly."

We couldn't say "gee."

We couldn't eat without saying grace.

Indeed, life with Mother consisted of rules, rules and more rules - and they weren't limited to 329 Hill St. The Queen of Mean had rules for everywhere.

No smacking gum in the car. No undressing mannequins in stores. No belching in restaurants.

Even in church, Mother was mean.

As the church pianist, Mother didn't sit beside us on the pew, but never fear - Mother's eyes could execute orders from afar, no words required. We called it the Look of Death.

I never understood how Mother could stare at three kids simultaneously without moving her eyes in either direction, but she did. No blinking. No wrong chords. Just steady staring and steady playing - lips puckered, one eyebrow cocked, shoulders rigid. Sometimes it took us a while to realize that Mother was in the Look-of-Death mode, but once we figured it out, it didn't take us very long to get spiritual. After all, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth were no foreign concepts to Mother's kids.

Mother was a very gifted woman, capable of doing just about anything. But nothing was more important to Mother than raising her kids. At times, I wished it had been otherwise. Mother would have made an excellent commanding general in the Marine Corps: Giving orders was what she did best.

Recently, I overheard a mother counting to three after telling her offspring to do something, and I couldn't help but chuckle. Mother never counted to three after telling us to do anything. She didn't even count to one! She ordered. We obeyed. No countdown.

When it came to fashion at our house, Mother had the last word. The "everybody's wearing it" routine didn't budge the meanest mother in the world. If Mother didn't like it, it wasn't fashionable. We might not agree with Mother's idea of style, but we wore it.

As my sisters and I edged toward adulthood, Mother's rules didn't disappear, but she did fine-tune them a bit to fit the seasons. Occasionally, she even made rules on the fly as she winged her way through the unfamiliar terrain of raising teen-age girls.

I remember one such time very well. It was one of my first real dates. Curfew time was nearing, and Mr. Wrong and I were sitting out front in the car with the engine off.

As we smiled into each other's eyes, suddenly the porch light came on. Then it went off again. Then on. Then off. On. Off. On. Off.

Uhh - Mother?

Yes, Mother - still executing orders from afar, no words required. "Time to say good night and come inside," her switch-twitch was saying. And, of course, I wasted no time in exiting the vehicle and high-tailing it to the front door.

It seems that mean mothers aren't as prevalent as they were when I was growing up. I don't know what happened to them. Instead of mean mothers, we have a bunch of mean kids - fighting, cursing, killing their classmates, their teachers, and their own flesh and blood.

I miss mean mothers.

Children miss them, too.

JWR contributor Gayle Allen Cox writes from Fort Worth. Comment on this column by clicking here.


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© 2002, Gayle Allen Cox