Thursday, December 18, 2014

Don’t listen to your parents

This is probably not the best advice at this time of year, but I assume most of my readers are not expecting fantabulous gifts under the tree from Santa or their parents.

I’ve had lots of fun with the mantra:
Don’t listen to your parents!
They tell you to act your age.
If you act your age, you’ll grow up.
If you grow up, you’ll get old.
If you get old, you’ll die.
So, why act your age?
I’ve done my share of listening to my parents and other parental figures, and taking their advice to heart.  I’ve also done my share of ignoring advice, either because of orneriness or because the advice was just plain wrong.

I think the best advice was just plain encouragement: get good grades.  Sometimes that encouragement also took the form of a dime or a quarter for each A on my report card.  A dime?  That’s not much!  Ah, but I grew up at a time when a movie ticket was ten cents, and candy bars and ice cream cones were a nickel.

My encouragement was also by example.  We had lots of magazines and newspapers in the house, and my brother and I were given books from time-to-time.

My parents were divorced before I started school, and my father “bribed” us with neat Christmas gifts that encouraged creative play.  Among these were train sets and Erector sets.  Our imaginations soared, even as we had difficulty getting every square nut to turn easily on the small screws.

Then there was the advice that was off-the mark or just plain wrong.

One year about St. Patrick’s day we were getting dressed to go somewhere and my brother and I wondered about wearing green.  My mother replied, “We’re Orange Irish!”  As far as we knew, Magree was an Irish name, but we had no knowledge of any ancestor coming from Ireland.  Plus, because of the divorce, my mother had very little contact with her father-in-law and knew very little of our father’s family history.  If she did, she never shared it with us.  On her side, her grandparents were born in England or Germany.

Many decades later, I pieced together that my Magree line was resident in the United States since at least 1830.  An irony was that my great-grandfather was born in England, though he sometimes claimed to be born in Brooklyn.  His father was probably born in Baltimore, and the closest record I have of him having any Irish connection is being the master of a ship in 1851 bringing mostly Irish immigrants from Liverpool to New York.

So much for being Orange-Irish.

When I proposed to my wife-to-be (Jan), my mother didn’t think she was suitable for me and that the marriage would not last.  Sorry, Mom, but it has lasted longer than your two marriages put together.

Before I met Jan, I had flunked out of Case Institute of Technology.  I considered going to Ohio Wesleyan in the middle of Ohio, but my mother didn’t like that.  I wouldn’t be in Cleveland where she could see me more often.  Well, I did go to Ohio Wesleyan and got good enough grades to get into graduate school at Case.

Because of the divorce, I didn’t see my father much and so didn’t get much advice from him.

I did ask him for a loan of $107 to pay for my meals at Ohio Wesleyan for one semester.  When I tried to pay him back, he refused to accept it.

None of his seven children followed his example on education.  He dropped out after the eleventh grade.  All finished high school, five received college degrees, and two of those did graduate work.

But the advice from my Dad that I chuckle about the most is that music must be foot-tapping.  Probably ninety percent of the time that I turn on MPR the music has a strong beat.  Today, it was L’Arlésienne by George Bizet (and I identified it within two minutes!)  If you are not familiar with it, it is the piece that “The Prisoner” times over and over again, getting a different time for each record.

My mother remarried when I was fifteen.  My stepfather insisted that we use Desenex (and only Desenex) on our feet every morning and that we polish our shoes every week.  He did have a point because he had been hospitalized with athlete’s foot some years before.  I haven’t checked with my brother, but I rarely powder my feet.  If I do, it’s with Desenex only because I happen to have it on the shelf.  Polish shoes?  One does not polish today’s athletic shoes, and I can’t even get myself to oil work boots with any regularity.

My last piece of ignored advice is not from a parent, but a teacher.  In my high school boys had to take a semester class called “Personal Regimen”.  I won’t go into the details of the class, but we could get an F for wearing Levis.  I had been wearing Levis since junior high school ($4.95 a pair) and my mother liked them because they were easier to wash than many other pants.  Sixty years plus later, I wear jeans almost all the time: to church, concerts, theater, restaurants, and more.

Oh, one last word.  The best thing I got out of Personal Regimen was learning to tie a tie.  If I really need to, I can still tie a Windsor knot without looking in the mirror.

When people ask Mel’s age, he tells them to guess.  The latest guesser took six tries to guess, all but the last under.