Advice columnist Ann Landers once described a lovely gesture by her daughter, Margo, her only child. On Margo’s birthday, she sent her mother a dozen red roses with a note that read, “Thanks for having me, Mom.” I was just a kid when I read that, an only child myself, and I remember thinking that Ann Landers and her daughter must have been as close as my mother and I were.
Mom’s the one who got me hooked on Ann Landers in my adolescence. My father taught me how to read well before I started school, and my mother encouraged me to read the daily newspaper as soon as I was able. We started with the comic strips, then moved on to columns like Lou Boyd’s bits of trivia and Hawaii writers Bob Krauss and Eddie Sherman. But Ann Landers was our favorite.
Sometimes Mom felt the need to clarify or expand on the advice given. In one column, Ann stated that aspirin was a sure-fire method of birth control: “Place one between your knees and hold it there.” I hadn’t yet reached my teens, so Mom spent a good deal of time discussing that one, making sure I understood tongue-in-cheek humor as well as contraception.
My mother has never been the type to dole out advice; she taught more through example than words, just like the way our family rarely says “I love you” out loud, choosing instead to show our feelings through actions. But Mom did dispense a few tidbits that have stayed with me and served me well.
Like many local kids, I remember drinking coffee as an occasional cold-weather treat, loaded with sugar and Carnation milk. I think I only got to drink it when we were out of cocoa, and once I started school, Mom wouldn’t let me have it. She said coffee was one of those things that I could look forward to having as a grown-up. And she told me, “When you’re old enough to drink coffee, learn to drink it black. That way, you’ll never be disappointed.” She was right. My first husband was a coffee addict, but he didn’t like it black. If we ran out of half-and-half, his day was ruined. And, consequently, so was mine.
When my friends and I were teens, dreaming of romance and “happily ever after,” most of their mothers admonished them to marry within their own ethnic group and/or religion, and make sure he has a good job. Mom had only one bit of advice for me. “Marry a man who is smarter than you.”
I’ve shared that with several women over the years, and each one reacted with surprise, disapproval or indignation. But Mom wasn’t being sexist or self-deprecating. As she explained to me, “If you think (or know) that you’re smarter than your husband, you’re bound to lose respect for him, no matter how much you love him. In marriage, mutual respect is just as important as love.” Again, Mom was right, at least in my experience. Love and respect aren’t automatically paired, but both are necessary for a successful marriage.
My father was only 67 when he died. Mom’s been a widow for 18 years and never felt the slightest desire to remarry. She says it’s because she and Daddy had a perfect marriage, nearly 45 years of wedded bliss, and that’s enough for her. Personally, I think it’s because she’ll never find another man who’s smarter than her.
Today, on my birthday, I’m reflecting on the great advice and guidance through example that my mother has given me, every day of my life. Thanks for having me, Mom. I love you.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.