Things My Parents Taught Me
By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Author’s note: Extended family folk gathered in Maryland a couple weeks ago to celebrate an 88th birthday and put my parents ashes in the Bacon plot after some years of their awaiting an efficiency of schedules. The cemetery gathering was cause for reflection on Mother and Father and on a topic I wrote about some years ago, the things my parents taught me, now updated with a bit of sibling input. Some of the lessons might be Bacon Gressitt peculiarities; perhaps some you'll find familiar.
- When two people love each other very much, the father plants a seed inside the mother, where a baby grows until it doesn’t fit any more and subsequently requires many diaper changes until she or he acquires toileting skills. Then all hell breaks loose and the kid perfects a drop-dead look that could kill a rhino—and breaks your heart. And then, when the mother and father are too old to reach around, the kid wipes their tushies for them.
- Tattling is verboten. But you may certainly bring that delightful doll of yours to tea, so she can share her tale of woe about the really mean thing her brother did that would be cause for spanking—if tattling were allowed.
- If it’s likely to get a laugh, say it. Just be prepared for the consequences. They are inevitable.
- On the other hand, if you can’t say anything nice to someone, say nothing at all. Save the caustic comments for when the target isn’t present. Then the rest of us can enjoy them.
- Spread the peanut butter on both sides of the bread. This keeps the jelly from bleeding through.
- Speaking of which, toss a twelve-year-old into the bathroom with a box of tampons and close the door. She’ll figure it out. She’s smart.
- Love the unlovely. But whatever you do, don’t stare at that mole.
- Family members dine together. Even when some family members hope others choke, and one or another stomps off in a huff mid-meal. They all come back for more. Eventually.
- Serve from the left; clear from the right; don’t throw out the untouched Napoleon; and don’t admit that you didn’t throw it out.
- Never offer guests “more” of anything. Doing so implies they’ve eaten more than their share—which is sometimes the case, but it’s tasteless to point that out. We’ll discuss their gluttony after they’ve departed.
- Horses sweat, gentlemen perspire, and ladies glow. Ladies once glowed into cotton-covered rubber dress shields that attached to brassieres. That was before women started baring their upper arms outside of ballrooms. Recently, dress shields became all the rage again—because some people still believe horses sweat, gentlemen perspire, and ladies glow.
- Food is comfort. Spoon bread and creamed chipped beef, caviar and cream cheese, and Charles Potato Chips are known to heal broken hearts, disconsolate souls, and evacuated wombs.
- Tithe. It’s a loving thing to do. Particularly if your gift goes to Planned Parenthood. Just don’t bring it up at family gatherings.
- Never marry an engineer. They’re a humorless lot, too anal-retentive. Father excepted, of course. He can dance.
- By the way, dance. Especially when it hurts. Don’t sit down. Keep dancing.
- There will be separate punch bowls at mixed weddings. This does not mean the Baptists don’t visit the Methodist punch.
- Do note that Southern Baptists are similar to Catholics: Forgiveness is contingent on the confession of sins. Groveling is also required. Be grateful the Bacons are Methodists.
- Always write a thank you note. Failure to do so bespeaks of more than mere thoughtlessness. It calls the family pedigree into question. This is unforgivable.
- When dinner guests bring unexpected companions, it’s FHB—family hold back. This is not a problem if the offering is terrapin soup—the children won’t eat pets. But when it’s Crab Imperial, engage the guests during cocktail hour in discussion of the diet of the bottom-feeding blue crab.
- It’s better to be looked over than overlooked. Unless you are picking your nose, scratching your crotch or sneaking the last of the Crab Imperial.
- When a family member does something of note, it becomes a story. Stories that embarrass the subject are more frequently retold. They are enhanced with each telling. Sometimes, no longer able to recognize themselves, the subjects also embellish the stories. These are the best.
- Some rules are meant to be broken. Just do it with flair and make it perfectly clear to everyone that you know what the rules are. But Jesus, Mary and Joseph, use a modicum of judgment!
- It is not polite to eat with your elbows on the table. If you want to elbow someone, do it after dinner. Neither is it polite to talk with food in your mouth. Or about death. It puckers the fannies of the fainthearted and those who spurn the game of See Food.
- Don’t fret over too much or for too long; everything will look better tomorrow. Except Mother is dead; Father, too. This does not get better.
About Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Spawned by a Baptist creationist and a liberal social worker, K-B inherited the requisite sense of humor to survive family dinner-table debates and the imagination to avoid them. As a result, she’s a feminist writer, so she supports unrestricted access to affordable abortion and other reproductive health services, and she’s an immigration and LGBTQ rights advocate. She also birthed a child of color, who’s taught her a lot about white privilege and intersectionality. An erstwhile daily paper political columnist, she has since earned an MFA in Creative Writing, her work’s been published in literary and feminist journals, and she’s taught Women’s Studies. K-B is a founding editor of WritersResist.com and her website is ExcuseMeImWriting.com. Contact her here.
Photo credit: pixxiestails via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC