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OISCIPUNE/Reginald Gibbons ? Mother's view of life was sometimes expressed in accepted sayings: Waste Not, Want Not; Neither a Borrower nor a Lender Be; A Word to the Wise Is Sufficient. (Even in her eighties she was still saying them, once in a while.) Whatever these mottoes meant to my sisters and my brother, such messages—to hoard whatyou had, money or possessions or thoughts—must have had an effect on me that was to ripen only much later, for I remember that as a boy I dismissed them. As Mother was putting out the serving dishes filled with our dinner, Daddy would say, "Go wash your hands before coming to the table." Then we sat in our set places. The table only seated five, and we were six. But Mother liked sitting apart on her high kitchen stool, watching. Hanging above us on a yeUow waU, as a decoration, was a trivet whose black wrought iron formed the stylized script of the text, "I Wept Because I Had No Shoes—And Then I Saw A Man Who Had No Feet." It might have been that Mother needed that man not to humble herself or us but to confirm her sense of her own unhappiness. Her official position on the matter of material goods was that we should feel a penitential and obligatory gratitude; you did not getvery far complaining to her about anything. You cleaned your plate. Yet Mother herself might complain of something we could not afford. Mother aspired to refinement, even, I think, secretly to a kind of grandeur, but she was obsessed with pennies and little things, and tike many persons with inexhaustible energy she was impatient. She commanded with authority and with a large vocabulary. Her language included proverbs, occasional Bible verses and also words that no one else we knew ever used. These little verbal badges of her knowledge came from a higher level of diction than that of "common" people and ranged from the precisely pronounced polysyUables that precisely signified (they sounded pretentious in ourmilieu ofmostly working-class families, but they impressed me) to her cutesy euphemisms, spoken in a high, self-conscious tone of voice—and sometimes with a slightly theatrical giggle—for the unmentionable body parts and bodily functions . She could also camp with low diction, disparaging that portion ofhumanity she referred to as "tobacco road." Herpronunciation of the word "ichor" rhymed with herjoking about "pot liquor," only the way she said that phrase she made me hear it as "pot ticker." And she had a The Missouri Review · 145 predUection for the suffix "-some," as in "wearisome," "tiresome" and "boresome." She was excellent at the game of Scrabble; she liked winning . In February 1953, when I had just turned six years old, we moved from our Houston neighborhood between downtown and Rice Institute into "the new house" well outside the city in Spring Branch. I never knew where the branch might be or whether it was fed by a spring. At the new house even the weeds were new, growing quickly in the muddy expanse that had been buUdozed bare by the construction men. Houses were fifty feet apart rather than ten. School rules were now added to Mother's and Daddy's praise or reprimands, rules and mottoes —certain principles that adults would repeat to us as if they had all met somewhere and agreed on what to say; and those "ten commandments " I was now learning. The new house was much larger and nicer than the old house. Mother could justifiably feel proud of it. In the kitchen was a nook where the tall refrigerator stood, like a white vault for food, and beside it was a swinging door into the solemn, seldom-used dining room. Entering that room through the swinging door, you saw the good plates and a few keepsakes in the china cabinet on the left against the waU of decorative brick that to my mother suggested substance and luxury—and which, like the longhorn-head front-door window, she had designed herself. In the dining room, her idea had been to cover the wall beside the swinging door from the kitchen with a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 145-165
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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