Don’t ask: Mama might just tell you the truth

Published 5:34 pm Friday, May 13, 2011

Sometimes people mean exactly what they say.

It took getting older or maybe it was having children that brought that home to me.

How many times did Mama say, “Don’t get me anything for Mother’s Day (my birthday, Christmas). There’s not anything that I really need or want.”

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That’s what Mama said but what she meant was “Get me anything at Mabel Blecher’s store or Jackson’s Hardware that catches your eye and that they’ll gift wrap.”

So understanding the underlying meaning of “don’t get me anything,” Mama was showered with linen wall calendars that could be used as dish cloths after the year’s end, fuzzy bedroom slippers, flashlights and batteries, candy dishes, half slips, bath rags in a variety of colors, pins with Mother scrolled in colored wire, dusting powder, nylon hose and, of course, a box of perfumed stationary and yet another set of salt and pepper shakers.

Mama would smile and thank me for all the “pretties” and then try to find a use for them or a place to put them until they could be discretely discarded.

If I had known that Mama meant what she said – that she really didn’t need or want anything, I would have taken her at her word and spent time sitting at the kitchen table with her instead of wasting time picking out something she didn’t want or need at the hardware or the mercantile store.

Now, when my children ask me what I want for Mother’s Day (my birthday, Christmas), I’ll always say, “Oh, don’t get me anything. I can’t think of anything that I really need or want … except (I always add just on the outside chance) a place of my own in the mountains.”

Just as I didn’t take Mama at her word, neither do my children take me at my word. I really appreciate their thoughtfulness but times are hard and I don’t want them spending money for things that I really don’t need.

With Mother’s Day approaching this year, I knew they would be asking what I wanted so I decided that I’d just tell them.

“What do you want for Mother’s Day?” my daughter asked expecting me to say, “Don’t get me anything. There’s not really anything I want or need.” But I surprised her and my son whose ear was cocked my way.

“What I want is for y’all to rake up all the magnolia leaves in the front yard.”

A shock wave bounced back and forth between them. “That’s what I would really like for Mother’s Day.”

The magnolia tree is about 40 feet tall and its leaves fall at a rate of 666 a minute, day and night, in all kinds of weather. Magnolia leaves are the Kevlar of the plant world. They are indestructible. They are not biodegradable and, if they are not removed, they will remain on the ground until the Second Coming.

I wanted them gone. That’s what I really wanted for Mother’s Day.

Not wanting my children to have to go out of their way to grant my Mother’s Day wish, I put the yard rakes out in plain view and mentioned several times during dinner how delighted I was with their thoughtful gift – never mind that I was the one who “thought” of it.

Less than 15 minutes into the raking, blisters began to appear on my daughter’s hands as a result of her not knowing how to hold a rake.

“Loosely. Hold it loosely,” I advised. I also supplied her with a pair of gardening gloves.

Now, it was hot on the afternoon of Mother’s Day and it was also Sunday – the day of rest. But, they had asked and I had told them. The ox was in the ditch.

The pile of magnolia leaves left for trash pickup reached epic proportions, as did those raked to mulch at the base of the towering magnolia.

Raking magnolia leaves is hot, sweaty, blister-rising, back-breaking work. But not for the son who didn’t ask Mama what she wanted for Mother’s Day. He just went out and bought wind chimes that serenaded his siblings while they worked and he read the Sunday paper.

From now on, I think all my children will subscribe to the “Don’t Ask” theory ‘cause Mama just might tell.