Words of wisdom from Mother

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Kitchen Table Talk

My mother died in 1990 at age 65. It has been almost 30 years, and I still think of her almost every day and miss her. She is never far from my mind, but the month of May always brings her closer.

Her birthday was May 5. Mother’s Day and the birthday I share with her mother are also in May. With the exception of December (Christmas), May was probably her favorite month of the year.

Mary Frances Ward in her late 20s

So I guess it’s fate that on one of my extremely rare cleaning-out days, I came across one of my old notebooks and a box of cards my mother had sent me. I have quite a few notebooks buried in boxes and drawers in this house, spiral notebooks that have moved with me from home in Lexington, Tenn., to the University of Tennessee to several apartments and two houses. I started writing things down when I was about 10 years old. I always wanted to be a writer, so, I wrote.

In this notebook, I kept a running list of things my mother said to me and my brother that I found funny, crazy, irritating or touching. The cards were typical of my mother’s letter writing. She would write something in a card, get it ready to mail, then write a letter to fold into the card. Sometimes the letter stopped abruptly – “oh dear, gotta go …,” and sometimes it went to its conclusion. Either way, I had a card with some sentiment in it, and I got mail. She always wanted me to get lots of mail so I would know I wasn’t forgotten.

Frances Gardner and daughter Sherri, 1955

Some of the sayings I wrote down are typical “momisms” that every mother says and every daughter swears she will never say until she hears it coming out of her mouth: “I don’t care what everybody else is doing. You’re not everybody else …” “If (fill in name) jumped off a cliff, would you?” “It will all come out in the wash.”

Others, however, are more Frances Ward Gardner. I can hear her voice as she poured everything she had into making sure her two children would be survivors, would always know what was important, would be able to face whatever life threw their way. She worked extra hard on her hard-headed daughter because she knew what it was like to lose your partner, to have to make it on your own.

This week and next, I want to share some of these words from my mom with you. I think they stand the test of time and are worth some consideration. I have picked out 20. Here are the first 10:

  1. Never go more than 30 miles from home without a change of underwear, a toothbrush and, if you’re a girl, lipstick.

I have always wondered why “30 miles,” when it finally hit me that driving from our house to Jackson, Tenn., was 27 miles and considered a “day trip” back in the 1960s. Anything a greater distance than that was really going somewhere.

2. Don’t go to the grocery store with curlers in your hair on a Saturday.

Why? Because “everybody and their brother” is at the grocery sometime on Saturday. You can run in and out other days of the week and not see half the town, but not on Saturday.

3. Fear can paralyze you and the only way through it is faith. Don’t doubt your own abilities and don’t question God’s hand on your shoulder.

Frances Ward Gardner in the Smoky Mountains, 1973

4. No matter what happens, you can always come home. You will always be loved here and always be safe here. Let that fact make you strong.

5. Can’t never could do anything. Few things are as bad as negativity.

6. You should never care too much what other people think. You have to care a little, because reputation is important, but you never care enough to give a bad person your power by putting too much stock in what they think.

7. Most of the time, being stubborn is just another word for being stupid. Don’t keep hold of a bad idea.

8. It’s good to be passionate as long as you aren’t passionate about everything.

9. Pretty is as pretty does.

10. You know to be careful who you give your heart to. But be just as careful who you give your loyalty to.





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