Things My Mother Taught Me

by Austin Repath

It isn’t easy talking about my mother.  Not sure why.  My father was absent much of the time, and my mother became my friend and confidante.  Maybe that explains it.  Being a mommy’s boy, I spent much of my early adulthood freeing myself from the apron strings and establishing my own male independence.

         Yet she was the one who formed me and gave me much of what has  made my life happy and successful. To begin with, she loved me.  Maybe a little too protectively, but she loved me.  One of my earliest memories was of my mother sitting with me in a huge upholstered rocking chair and reading to me from a large hard covered book, that if I remember rightly, I found in a neighbour’s garbage.  It had pictures of knights on horseback riding across hills and vales, of what must have been, English countryside.  “Read that story,” I’d say, pointing to a picture.  And she would read and rock until I fell asleep, nestled in her arms.
        When I was older, just entering my teens, I asked her to teach me to dance.  She had once been a dance instructor, and our family’s one claim to fame was that we were all great dancers.  She put on some music, a slow fox trot, and stood me in the middle of the room. " You always start in the center of the room," she informed me.   “Dancing is simply,  walking to the music,” she told me, “And if you should step on the girl’s toe, you should expect her to apologize as her foot shouldn’t have been there.”
        We walked around the room to the music, my mother showing me how to lead. “You have to show her which way you want to go, and you do this with one hand on her back and your hips against hers.” She put my hands where they should be.  “Now make sure you signaled me which way we go," and we danced around the living room. “There” she said firmly,  “the rest is up to you.”
        That was the end of my one and only dance lesson, but it was enough.  Before the school year was out, I had earned the reputation as the best dancer in the school.
        My mother had this knack of giving me the confidence that I could do anything and be anything I wanted. A great attitude to go through life with.  The downside was that I took my mother’s view of my abilities literally. And so I spent much of my life being greatly disappointed as my innate abilities, definitely average, never seemed able to deliver my expectation.  Life proved far more complex and difficult than being the best dancer at the high school sock hops.
        “If only, mom, you had given me a little more sense of reality, my life would have been so much easier.  And yet then I would never have tried so many marvelous endeavor, writing a novel, singing, playing the violin.”
        She hadn't bothered to tell told me the whole family was tone deaf, that we were ordinary folk.  She led me to believe that I would marry the princess, be the boss’s favorite, go from success to success. And so I have led a life of spectacular expectations, never-say-I-can’t leaps into whatever adventure presented itself, and crushing, fall-on-my-head failures.
`        "All of this I owe to you, mom, and in truth I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way."
        Her simple Irish way of meeting life has stayed with me to this day. Once going off  to the dentist, she informed me that she would start worrying about the pain the minute it started to hurt and not a moment before.   I think I found that the most admirable bit of advice she ever gave me.
        Even more precious, she showed me what it was like to live with a woman, showed me that they were fun to be with, great to talk to, that a kitchen was a place to play, that ironing was an art, and that if you broke a piece of china, laugh.
        As I grew older, busy with a teaching career, looking desperately for a mate, my visits home became less frequent.  I began so see my mother as talkative and possessive.  I was secretly glad when she moved out West to live with my sisiter.  My mother died out there unexpectedly.  I wish now that before she had left  I had told her what a special mother she been to me.
       What I have instead is a memory of a day shortly before she left.  I had come by the house to show her my new motorcycle.  She was old and frail, but she insisted that I give her a ride.  As we rode through town mom sat behind me, a red kerchief around her head, one arm around my waist, the other waving at everyone along the street. I could tell she was imagining herself a young motorcycle moll wheeling down the street, one arm around her own private Marlon Brando
        "And mom, for that moment, for you, I was."

You might also enjoy reading In Praise of a Good Man, a tribute to my father. To contact the author, please email: