When my husband Gary and I were first married, he would laughingly call me “Pollyanna” –the girl who always saw the good in every situation. Through the years, I have to admit there have been times when that quality has failed me, when things were so bad I didn’t know what we were going to do. I know we’ve all had “those” times. But in general, I’m one of those people who does try to see the good in things.
I think I “learned” to do that from my mom. I thought a lot about this over the last few weeks—fall makes me remember and miss my parents more than any other time of the year. One night Gary and I were talking about the things our parents had taught us, and I told him one thing my mom taught me was to look on the bright side of things.
I imagine she had to do a lot of that, being the oldest of eleven children in the Dustbowl days of Oklahoma—which was also during The Great Depression. Growing up, I remember how she’d comment on things that meant nothing to me…at the time.
“Oh, Cheryl, I saw the first robin today! That means spring is on the way,” she’d say, with a smile.
And? my young brain would ask. So, spring is on the way.
When spring came along, maybe she’d comment on how green the trees were, or how blue the sky was today—just look at those clouds!
Now that I’m older, I realize why these things were important and such a cause of joy to her.
Growing up dirt poor in a small house that had no insulation and very little heat, I’m sure that seeing the first robin was important because it meant those cold days and nights would soon be at an end and warm weather was soon to blow in.
The green of the trees meant there was enough rain to allow things to grow—something I know, as the oldest in such a large family, she was acutely aware of since my grandfather was a hardscrabble farmer and had so many mouths to feed. What a relief, especially here in Oklahoma, that there had been plentiful rain and things were growing well!
The blue of the sky—can you imagine growing up in a time when you could look outside and see billowing gales of dust—and nothing else? Animals had to be put up in the barn, families had to be inside, and still, the houses were so poorly constructed there would be layers of dust on the windowsills once the dust storm had passed. So a blue sky was important—no dust, and those beautiful white clouds must have looked heavenly in her eyes.
Mama always found happiness in the small things—small in MY eyes. A good meal she’d cooked for her family, getting the laundry done and put away for the week, finding a good sale on orange juice—yes, those were the days when people would look through the Sunday or Wednesday paper at the grocery store ads, make several stops to find the things at each store that were on sale, and several trips home to put the perishables away—a very different time.
It was not just the fact of the accomplishment itself, but what it meant to her from the things that had happened in her past. A good meal meant there was enough food to go around for everyone, served on a matching set of dishes. No one went to bed hungry. Laundry being done meant that everyone had clothes for a solid week—not one or two good dresses that had to be laundered over and over. Making the rounds of the different grocery stores and finding good “deals” meant she was able to provide some extras with what Dad made in the oilfield. She knew how hard he worked. She never took anything for granted.
So though I didn’t have the past that Mama had—mine was much easier in comparison—I think I learned that attitude through watching her. I’m sure there were times she wanted to just go into the bathroom and have a good cry, but instead, she looked for the good, and found it.
I think of her every time I see that first robin. What a gift that has been to me, in so many ways. Part of writing is thinking about our characters and WHY they act and react like they do. This realization about seeing the good in things has been a whole new area of enlightenment for me. I understand so many of my characters even more than I did when I wrote them—their reasoning, and their motivations.
Do you have an aspect to your personality that you inherited or learned from one of your parents or another family member? What is it? Do you think that these behavior patterns can be multi-generational? My mind is whirling! What do you think?
One of my fave pics of Mama and Daddy–taken April 9, 1991 on their 47th wedding anniversary.