O: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ One of a Kind & Oh, I Could Just Smack You

Blame this post on sisters Kate and Ruth.  I Skyped them last night and we got to talking about mom and the family. Kate’s down from Alaska for her yearly two-month jaunt around the lower 48. She travels coast to coast, attends her Professional Women’s Air Traffic Control Conference (though retired she still doesn’t miss a one), visits sons, siblings, cousins, and cronies. At almost every stop , she pulls out her organizing hat and gets to work, sifting through closets, going under beds and digging into forgotten drawers, tossing detritus and getting rid of stuff people no longer needs. With siblings getting older, it’s a good idea to downsize. Fewer things for the children to deal with when death comes a knocking!

Kate leaves a path of well-sorted homes in her wake. Kind of like Johnny Appleseed but without the seeds, love of apples or desire to see trees. She just wants to organize America.

I asked Ruth if she thought I was romanticizing mama in this series of blogs and she answered with a swift and decisive “No!”  Mama, she says, was one of a kind. Of course all people are, really. Individuals. Unique in the world.

But there was something about Mary.

She was extremely smart and could hold a conversation with anyone. But she couldn’t/wouldn’t drive a car. She worked the keys on a piano like a virtuoso yet she got flustered operating a food blender. Mama came from the Gash family whose women were prone to be loud, outspoken even outrageous, yet I don’t remember her raising her voice.

Last night, my two sisters reminded me of two things mom would say. When she was surprised or emotional: “Oh, dear.” When she was flummoxed, on edge or vexed:  “Oh, I could just smack her/him/you.”

But she seldom did– smack anyone.  She struck me once on the face when, as an angry teen, I spouted off to her. I stepped over the boundaries and she snapped. She hit my cheek with her palm and, soon afterwards, apologized. Striking someone in the face was not something she ever wanted to do.

Normally she left the punishment to dad. I think they  took the good cop, bad cop approach to discipline.

I was on the receiving end of the bad cop discipline quite a bit growing up.  I was strong willed, determined, independent and mad much of the time. Dad and I just didn’t get along, especially in my teens and 20’s. We reconciled well before he died for which I’m eternally thankful, but there were some years there it was definitely best that he lived in Japan and me in the States.

For many years, Mom served as the middle man in my relationship with dad. She was 100% supportive of him and his decisions, at least on the surface. Should she disagreed with his responses to or discipline of me, she talked about it behind closed doors.  Or in front of me in Japanese. They  made good use of their second language.

They presented a united front in dealing with the children and, whether I admitted it or not at the time, I liked it. Needed it. Benefited from them being on the same team.

We have a story in the family of one of the few times mom was not completely on board with dad’s discipline. I wasn’t born yet but I love to hear it told.  It’s Elsie’s story but she’s gone now. I doubt I can do it justice.

First, understand that dad and mom put a great deal of value of good table manners. No elbows on the table whatsoever. We absolutely couldn’t talk with food in our mouth. As a rule, napkins were used. Food must be cut into bite-size pieces. We could not, under any circumstances, stuff our faces. There would be no shouting or singing at the table–except for those occasions when we sang the blessing together, which was mostly on Sundays and holidays.

Be present at our table, Lord,
Be here and everywhere adored
These mercies bless and grant that we
May feast in fellowship with thee.  Amen.

As the “Amen” ended, I’d open my eyes to see which dish was closest to me so I could get first dibs. Serving bowls were passed clockwise. Guests of course were expected to be served first.

Elsie’s story took place when the family lived in the Wesco House in Missouri. It was a large, rambling two-story home with massive porches and lots of room. The older kids were still in school and I hadn’t been born yet.

Mom called the family to dinner and everyone gathered around the long wooden table. Dad said grace and the food was passed around.

Elsie was full of spirit as a girl. She loved to laugh and her laughter was infectious. That night, Elsie was extra hungry and she began wolfing down her food. Dad was not happy.

He told her to stop eating so fast. She got tickled and started laughing.

Dad said if she thought it was funny to eat like a pig, then she should really eat like a pig. He ordered her to move her plate to the floor and eat from there. She obeyed but her giggling continued.

pigs-eating-20113611One by one the other kids at the table got the giggles. One by one, dad ordered them to join her on the floor and eat off their plates. Out-of-control kids soon littered the floor around the table.

Only Dad and mom remained seated when mom began to laugh as well.

He gave up.  Elsie and the rest of the  little piggies returned to the table and dinner resumed. Dad gracefully admitted defeat and a favorite family story was born.

Mama loved to be with her family and to feed her family. She enjoyed being in the homes of her children, gathering around their tables, sharing meals and the commotion of multi-generations at play.

Mama mostly loved her stern, gracious Watson. And, oh dear, they made a great good cop, bad cop.




17 thoughts on “O: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ One of a Kind & Oh, I Could Just Smack You

  1. You and your family sound like so much fun! And your sister Kate should start a “Rent-a-Kate” business! I know I could use an organizer. Getting this house emptied of 40+ years of STUFF is driving me crazy. I’m at the “Get me a shovel and a dumpster” point of my tolerance for sorting, gifting, donating, selling so we can move to Ecuador life. How in the world did we fill this goldfish bowl so full???

    Liked by 1 person

    • she’d come and help you, I know!! we went through the same thing getting ready for ecuador and it was so FREEING. hard at first, but quickly much easier to get rid of stuff. i think you’ll hear that from many down here. look me up when you get here…that is if you come to Cuenca.


      • We’ll definitely look you up when we get to Cuenca (it’s going to be our home city). And I’ll bet your lovely daughter could teach my 30-year-old daughter some of the “younger” things to do around town (and maybe help her with her Spanish). I’m sure that Tyra would be more than happy to trade art lessons (she’s a professional graphic artist and does fantasy art and sculpture on the side) for some more youthful companionship. She’s got friends of all ages on the ‘net, so she knows how to relate to EVERYONE, but being able to talk to someone younger in person would definitely help – otherwise, my “kid” is going to be doing nothng but “old folks” stuff until she’s been there for a while.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello again, Nancy. I so adore getting up each morning, grabbing a cup of coffee and reading about Mary! I am starting to feel a little uneasy that the end of the alphabet is getting nearer!! Thank you for sharing your family memories with us…Mary sounds so much like my grandmother who immigrated to Canada from Czechoslovakia – when that was still one country 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • your note makes me smile!! thanks for reading — and enjoying what you read!! that makes my day. would have loved to have met your grandmother. i don’t think they make them like they used to…although there is a generation of youngsters who are crazy about the ones they have so that is great! so nice to hear from you.


  3. Nancy, I happened on one of your articles, “N”, last night and I was hooked. I had to go back and read them all in this alphabet blog. I remember the Thornton family as I was growing and in school in Greenfield. Cathy (Kate) was in the class ahead of me and I also remember her coming to a birthday party of mine when I was 6 or 7. Your dad was the school counselor and interim principal when I was in high school. You are so lucky to have had your large family gatherings growing up and after…..what memories were created and now to be cherished. I’ve always felt we grew up in the best of times, even though we didn’t appreciate it at the time. Your mother’s letters and journals are a genalogist’s gold mine! What treasures!! I didn’t mean to ramble, but wanted to let you know I so enjoyed this blog and look forward to the rest of Mary’s alphabet. You have such a gift for writing, keep it up! Blessings to you and your family. Margaret Elmore Bridgewater

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Margaret. I remember your name most certainly! So happy that you enjoy reading the blogs and that you wrote me. Thank you! I have had the best time doing this challenge as it has reawakened wonderful times with the family, friends and with the town. I also believe we lived in a wonderful time. Not perfect of course, but very pleasant. Happy for the most part. I’ll tell Cathy I heard from you. Thanks again!! My best to you and yours.


  4. Maybe not your forte but add the sound to the blog. The music gets lost. Marcia attempts to get us to sing a song at Thanksgiving which I presume came from the Thorntons. The Yarbroughs were serious prayers and eaters and singing would delay both. But, the tune can’t be fully recalled. Pleaseeee.

    Liked by 1 person

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