Article Date: 4/1/2006

lessons learned
I Wish I Could Help
Some families pass gems of wisdom from generation to generation...

Humorist Sam Levenson once told a story to illustrate a lesson he learned from his mother on resourcefulness.

"We've had unexpected company and I'm going to ask them to stay for dinner," she told Sam and his brothers. "We have plenty of everything except chicken. So when the chicken is passed I want you boys to say you don't care for any." 

"Even though we were starved, we dutifully refused any chicken when it was passed," said Sam. "After dinner was finished, she announced, 'We have pie for dessert, but any of you boys who didn't eat your chicken can't have any pie.'"

Parental advice

It seems I'm always hearing about folks who have received life-changing words of wisdom from parents and grandparents. I keep reading interviews with wealthy people that go something like this:

"Everything I am today, I owe to words of advice from my father. He told me I should be a good person, work hard and marry a rich girl."

Reading or hearing such quotes makes me realize that members of my family are evidently devoid of the ability to pass profound advice from generation to generation. Since the purpose of this column each month is to pass on sage admonitions I've learned, it appears I must apologize for being poorly equipped genetically to do so.

Feeble attempts

The only words of counsel I can recall having received from my family were the following from my mother and my grandmother, and it was not exactly life-changing advice:

"Don't count your chickens with a hatchet," was an admonition I often received from my mother. To this day, I am not sure if she was joking, or if she really thought this was the correct saying.

You may have heard this story, told to me by a Catholic friend: "I've become a prostitute," a girl sobbingly admitted at confession.

"What did you say?!" asked the priest in a horrified tone.

"I said I've become a prostitute."

"Thank God!" said the priest. "I thought you said 'Protestant.'"

My rigid and opinionated Scotch-Irish grandmother would never have agreed with this. There were two things she especially disliked: Catholics and women who smoked. I discovered which was number one when she gave me these profound words of advice: "I'd rather see you marry a good clean Catholic girl than a Protestant girl who smokes."

The eyes glaze

Thus I have never been able to pass on to my progeny, let alone my peers, any helpful words that have come down from antecedents. Plus it seems to cause a complete turnoff, and a glazing of the eyes, when I preface words of wisdom to my daughters and granddaughters with, "When I was your age ..." I may have told about a 16-year-old granddaughter claiming she needed a car to get to school.

"Bygawd, when I was your age, I walked to school," was my contribution to the discussion. Obviously unimpressed, one grand- daughter replied, "Ten miles." "In the snow," said a second. "Barefoot," said the third.

Like Rodney Dangerfield, I get no respect. But at least I can attribute it to my antecedents' failure to impart to me words of wisdom when I was growing up, so I could pass them on to others.


Optometric Management, Issue: April 2006