Growing up in a large family had obvious drawbacks, especially since we only had one bathroom. But it also had its perks — there was always someone to play with.

My mother did her best in raising us — it’s just that I didn’t think so at the time. I’m telling you, I’m surprised she didn’t sell me to the gypsies. She certainly threatened to enough times but maybe she couldn’t find any. I only pulled this once on one of my kids and found another child hiding in the closet so the gypsies couldn’t find her and take her by mistake. That’s when the whole thing smelled like mental abuse to me so I put the gypsies where they belonged … in history.

But Mom had a lot of theories that scared me straight. The most important one was that if we crossed our eyes too much they would stay that way. I couldn’t let that happen because I’d never get anything done.

Next in line was that if you played with your belly button your ears would fall off. I gotta tell you, it didn’t make much sense but I wasn’t taking any chances.

She also said that if we swallowed our gum it would stay in our bellies for seven years. I would picture gum swirling around, sticking to everything and making a real mess so I stopped swallowing it. However there were a few times when I swallowed it by mistake and ran to Mom in tears.

Mom also believed in beauty sleep. That all sleep before midnight made you pretty and being awake after made you ugly. To this day I am afraid of the stroke of midnight. (I’m smelling more mental abuse here.)

But Mom also had good theories. She encouraged us to eat the crust of our bread because it would make our hair curly, and to eat the skins on our apples because it would make our hair shiny. In truth, she just wanted us to eat our food in its entirety. This included the Hydrox cookies she bought. We would twist them open, scrape the cream off with our teeth and throw the cookie halves in the trash.

Well she found them in the trash and threatened to never buy the cookies again, so we had to start throwing the cookie halves in the sewer grate on the corner.

She was famous for saying “Pretty is, is pretty does.” Confusing as it sounded, this meant it didn’t matter if we were physically attractive because it was our deeds that made us appear so. And I knew it meant a lot to Mom to have the neighbors like us so I was as “pretty” as a little girl could be outside the house.

If an adult dropped something, we were told to pick it up because we were closer to the ground than they were. I would do it (and still do) because it was another chance to be “pretty.”

If Mom thought we were lying she’d recite, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”

And my personal favorite: “He who steals my gold steals trash. But he who steals my good name enriches himself not, but makes me very poor indeed.”

And these, my friends, were all words I learned to live by, and perhaps they might shine some light into what’s really going on inside my head.




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