When my mother sold our home on Ninth and Jackson in 1994, it was the house she had lived in for fifty years.
It was difficult for her to leave South Philly, but she knew she had to make a change. Two blocks away from where we lived she saw a man wielding a machete, and on the corner of our block we started to find beer bottles and used needles. It was time to go.
Gentrification had not yet begun in our part of South Philly at that point, and after our house was on the market for over a year, my mother practically gave it away. Nowadays that three-bedroom, finished-basement row house (I hear they’re called “townhouses” now) is probably worth three times the price she sold it for. She had wonderful memories of that house, and of raising a family in South Philly.
She passed away nine years ago, but she left my family with cherished life lessons and words of wisdom that we still use. I’m remembering her today and in honor of Mother’s Day I’ve listed her top fifteen quotes.
1. “Trust Your Gut”: No matter how many pieces of advice you get, including advice from my mother herself, her ultimate “go to” was to trust your own instinct, your own inner voice.
2. “Don’t Settle”: Don’t ever settle for less than what you want or what your vision is, whether it’s your profession, your prom dress or your life partner. (This advice can also be paired with her famous, “Choose Your Mate Wisely.”)
3. “The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease:” My mother began her journey in life as a shy, insecure girl who found her voice later in life and developed into a vocal powerhouse. She even had the guts to tell a prominent New York cancer doctor (when he tried to fluff her off) that her time was just as important and valuable as his time! Go Franny!
4. “God Don’t Make Junk”: She knew the grammar wasn’t right on this one, but it gave it more punch. We are all equally loved in God’s eyes and that’s all that really counts. No one is better or lesser than another. Hold yourself with the same respect and love that God has for you. She would remind herself of this whenever she got down on herself.
5. “Most People are Idiots”: (Sometimes she’d say ‘assholes’ instead of ‘idiots’): This one seems to contradict number four, but in fact, if people operated on a lower level of consciousness and didn’t get in touch with their inner voice, they usually did, in fact, do idiotic things. I’m pretty sure that’s what she meant.
6. “When You Point a Finger, You Have Three Pointing Back at You”: This was her version of ‘People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,’ or the biblical version: ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged’. Basically, choose compassion over judgement.
7. “Giggle”: Ok, my mother never actually said this, but I saw her live it so it was even more profound than her saying it. She used to love to relax on the couch and watch TV in the evenings. Often she’d watch a British comedy (or a mystery on PBS…she loved mysteries.) If something on TV tickled her she would giggle—I mean really belly laugh, and I always got a kick out of that. I rarely laughed out loud, especially from things on TV, so I envied the way she’d giggle with delight when she saw something silly.
(Her sneezes, however, were another sound all together—they were physically disturbing to me. They were so loud, so sharp and piercing that I swear they could cause a shift in the tectonic plates.)
8. “Learn to do Something with Your Hands and Your Head”: She got this advice from her grandfather. My mother had trouble learning because of her dyslexia, but it didn’t stop her from trying. As an adult, she partnered with her sister and started a small ad agency. She read textbooks about the business and taught herself the skills she needed. To cultivate her artistic side, she took ceramics classes with my sister Alycia and spent hours and hours painting the delicate features onto figurines while surrounding herself with fun women who encouraged each other and probably giggled a lot (see #7.)
9. “My Bags are Always Packed”: My mother loved to travel and she was always up for a trip. Whether is was vacationing in Sea Isle City with the whole family, following Alycia on a bus to 4H Camp, flying overseas for a crazy wedding in Italy, or cruising to Alaska to explore other cultures. She was always game for a journey, and somehow she always had some money stashed away to make it happen.
10. “Work smarter, not harder”: I wonder if this came from her having to cope with dyslexia. Maybe she figured out ways to do things so that her learning disability didn’t get in the way.
11. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”: My mother had a keen instinct about situations and people. She tried to guide her friends and family to make good choices. Sometimes they followed her advice, and they thanked her for it later. Other times, they went a different direction and they kicked themselves for it later. No matter what happened, my mother would be at peace with the fact that she tried to steer them in the right direction.
12. “Don’t fight the waters”: This came from her practice of the path of least resistance. She understood that the more we tried to resist something, the more it would persist. We needed to look at things objectively and not become ‘enmeshed’ in negativity or stress.
13. “Penny wise, dollar dumb”: This sort of speaks for itself.
14.“Better out than in”: This usually had to do with vomiting, or boogers or incontinence, but she also used it for encouraging us to speak up if we needed to. And to expressing our feelings rather than stifling them as she used to.
15. “Jesus”: The focus, the example and the inspiration for all that she did.
I am probably forgetting some of her words of wisdom, but that’s okay. I’m enjoying the memories she left me, and just thinking of her on this special day fills me with her presence.