I have been reading Kathryn Forbes’s book of family stories, Mama’s Bank Account — my own mother’s favorite book and one given to me by my eldest sister thirteen years ago.
My mother was a story-teller in her own right, keeping me entertained for
hours during my childhood and teenage years. In tribute to her, I asked her to
write her stories about her experience during
World War II. I published these in a small print run for her 90th birthday to
share with my siblings and their families.
After her death, I published her stories in a digital edition, now available
to the world.
Watching the funeral of Justice Antonin Scalia reminded me of how much my
father influenced my life. My mother used to say “If you don’t want to do
something you don’t think is right, tell the other girls that your mother won’t
let you.” After my father’s death when I was thirteen, and for many years after,
I found myself saying, “If my father was alive, he would not let me do this.”
Thankfully, I was spared the most dire consequences of my stupidity.
Reading Forbes’s account of her early family life in San Francisco brought
many personal memories to mind. One of the stories was titled “Mama and the
Graduation Present” which reminded me of a Christmas present I received from my
mom and dad when I was in my preteen years.
I had just started junior high school (now called middle school for some
strange, unknown to me, reason) and my female peers had a great influence on my
sense of what was expected of teenage girls. Besides the usual hair style and
pegged jeans (my generation’s equivalent of skinny jeans), the gym-suit and
short socks required smooth legs.
My crime became known to my mother when my father cut his chin while shaving
with a dull razor. Since I had expressed a desire for a lady’s razor and that
request was denied, the perpetrator was obvious to her. Without revealing her
sources, she assured my dad that there were new blades in his shaving kit.
When his new blade was dull before its time, Mom had no choice but to point
Though I had an allowance based on my own estimation of my weekly expenses
and a stipend for completing all my chores, there was not enough in the short
time I had, to purchase the implement required. Complain, cajole and beg as I
will, my mother was adamant that I did not need to have smooth legs at my
One of my sisters and her family invited us to spend Christmas with them. We
drove to Arizona for the occasion and my younger sister and I were crammed into
the backseat on either side of one three by three foot toy box for my nephew and
its companion for my niece tied into the trunk of our two-tone Ford sedan.
Since the arrival of grandchildren, we seemed to have taken a backseat to
this new generation although I was only six years older than my Arizona niece. I
had little in the way of expectations for a Christmas spent away from home.
There were a few presents from my parents for my little sister and me under the
tree but the toy boxes were chock-a-block with toys.
My father always went out on Christmas Eve to buy stocking presents. These
were his special project, a holdover from his own childhood as the youngest of
nine children and the infrequent recipient of toys. On Christmas morning, the
youngest members of the family were wildly excited. I—at the age of twelve—as
the eldest of the children, approached the present-opening event with decorum
Decorum and patience flew out the patio doors along with my vast sense of
maturity when I opened the little blue and white circular, click-closure box to
I doubt my father had the where-with-all to make the choice without some
input from his wife. This was the most exciting and best loved gift that year
and for many thereafter. In fact, I have never forgotten the feeling. Not
because I had wanted it or asked for it, but because my parents had heard me and
were not opposed to the changes in young ladies’ grooming requirements.
Like Kathryn Forbes at the end of her story about her Graduation Present when
her father offered his “grown-up daughter” her first cup of coffee, I “felt