Mother had rules about a lot of things. Some were requirements, some were more like what would these days be called “best practices,” and some were suggestions. I suspect most mothers had their versions of these things, and there was a great deal of overlap in the rule books.
There was the no white after Labor Day rule, which in Mother’s case included not before Easter. But it wasn’t just white as pastels were mostly confined to that holiday to holiday boundary. Step over the line, and I would get a comment. “Those pants are a bit summery for this time of year, don’t you think?”
I’ve heard that some folks had mothers who insisted that their children always wear clean underwear in case of an accident, but I never quite understood that one. I mean, what other kind of undies does one wear? At the first sign of fraying or of an elastic waistband that could no longer do its job, my tighty-whities would simply disappear and be replaced by Mother.
When Mother went to bed, there wasn’t a dirty dish to be found, not even a fork in the sink or a glass forgotten on a table. Every ashtray was cleaned and in its proper place, which meant in the age of smoking that one was within reach of any place anyone might choose to sit.
Beds wear made before they got cold, and the Lord himself couldn’t help you if Mother caught you sitting on her bedspread. While Daddy and I ate the hot breakfast that she insisted we eat every morning and which she prepared, Mother would arrange her face and hair before dropping me off at school. It wouldn’t be full face, but she wasn’t going to be seen outside the house without her eyebrows.
To this day, I don’t have an article of clothing that I don’t instinctively know when it should and should not been worn. Although, I must admit that I’m not quite as fastidious about elastic waistbands as I ought to be.
After years of making up beds that only I saw had been made, and several years after Mother died, I have gotten away from the rule that the bed must be made every day. For two good reasons, I might add. One being, I may need a nap. The second having a more religious aspect. I figure if the Lord thought we should make the bed every day, He wouldn’t have bothered to give us bedroom doors.
Now Christmas, which we are quickly approaching, had all sorts of rules and requirements attached to it, too. There were seasonal candy dishes loaded with the chocolate peanut clusters that Daddy and I loved and the French burnt peanuts that Mother loved, along with those ribbon candies that look so pretty but hardly anyone ever actually eats.
The tree would go up, and everything would have to be just so, except for those few years when we had one of those aluminum trees that got one green ball per branch. Again, the Lord couldn’t help you if you tried to expedite the decorating of the tree by putting on too much tinsel at once. “Don’t clump the tinsel—it looks like you just threw at the tree.”
Every ornament would be carefully placed, usually just by the two of us, and Mother would step back and evaluate. “There’s a space right there. Do you see it? Move that red ball up. That’ll take care of it.”
The big Christmas rule was decorating could not start until at least December 1 and had to be put away before New Year’s Eve. I know there are many people who still abide by this rule, or something close to it. We don’t.
As the song says, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But not all of it, to be sure. There’s crowded stores and heavy traffic, and some people’s nerves are frayed worse than their underwear. Even so, the decorations never fail to please.
The lights start showing up, first on just one or two houses, then more follow, and suddenly it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Folks are putting their time, energy, and money into brightening up their neighborhoods, being joyful or trying to be, depending on what is going on in their lives. Since my name is not Karen McScrooge, a little bit of that joy rubs off on me.
We’ve got problems all over the place, many of which we can do precious little about. It’s one week until Thanksgiving as I write this, but we can be thankful and joyful at the same time. In fact, can we really be one without the other?
Besides, you don’t have to take my word for it. Auntie Mame said it, or rather sang it, herself. We need a little Christmas now.