The mother of all advice
“When your mother asks, ‘Do you want a piece of advice?’ it is a mere formality,” said Erma Bombeck. “It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.”
As a tribute to Mother’s Day, we asked a half-dozen Rochesterites to pass along their favorite pieces of advice from Mom, whether they wanted advice or not.
“I’m mailing you $30 to take the Law School Admissions Test”
“What are you doing with your life?”
my Irish Catholic mother inquired candidly during a telephone call in the early spring of 1978. At the time I was taking some post-graduate courses at the University of Minnesota and loading Coca-Cola bottling trucks in northeast Minneapolis during the graveyard shift.
“I’m going to give dental school another shot,” I responded confidently. (Having already been denied acceptance twice before but still chasing the dream of practicing pediatric dentistry with my father.)
“You’re never going to get into dental school.”
“But I have been thinking … you would make a good lawyer.”
I had never considered such a career.
“I’m mailing you $30 to take something called the Law School Admissions Test which will be given in a month over at Nicholson Hall,” she said.
I sent the money in, read the brochure (the night before), took the test and scored in the top 15 percent. I applied to one law school, Hamline University School of Law, and was initially wait-listed. Three weeks before classes started in the fall of 1978, I received an acceptance letter, graduated, failed and then passed the bar exam, practiced law for 20 years and have been a judge for 11. I am blessed to have had a remarkably rewarding professional life.
Thanks Mom. I love you.
Kevin Lund, Olmsted County District Court Judge (pictured with mom, Mary, and dad, Anthony, on Mother’s Day, 1955. At left is Lund’s grandmother, Edell McCarthy.)
A dime, a hat pin, and making beds with fitted sheets.
One bit of advice from my mother goes back a long way: When I was in high school and I would go out on a date, my mother would insist that I would have a dime (that’s how much the pay phones were then) and a “hat pin” under the collar of my coat. Yeah—she wanted to be sure I was prepared for anything. (But I never had to use it, either.) Another thing was about making beds with fitted sheets: “Always make the bed from diagonal corners.” I hated to admit it, but she was right.
Chris Cross, Regional Network Manager, Minnesota Public Radio (with her mom, Wanda Dominik)
“Look at this flower!”
I’ve combed through 57 years’ worth of memories and realize my Mom never gave me a single word of advice. Well, maybe just once, about ten years ago when she was 79 years old (she is 89 and kicking today): “Sleep cures everything. So get your sleep!”
But, actually, I don’t agree with that advice. In my experience, a person sometimes needs good therapy, pharmaceuticals, exercise, meditation, and friends to cure what ails them. In lieu of great words of advice, though, I’ll tell you something similar but far better that my Mom gave me and my three siblings. It’s a practice we’ve all used throughout our lives. She showed us, through her personal example, how to carefully notice and take great pleasure in the very smallest objects and doings of daily life. She never advised us about this, she just did it herself, over and over. And from that we picked up how to do it ourselves.
“Look at this stone!” Mom would say. “Look at this rug! Look at that cloud!”
I puzzled over this when I was young, before I got the knack of doing it myself. I’d look at the stone, the rug, or the cloud that Mom was pointing out and wonder: “What is Mom seeing that is so special? It’s just a stone! Just a rug! Just a cloud!” But eventually, I saw it. I could see what was special in each thing. In that way I learned that nothing—nothing in this world down to the smallest thread or glint, cloud or pebble, sparkle or hue—is ever “just.”
Today, whenever I want, I can always look through those eyes that see specialness. Those eyes that can see the very smallest, most trivial, and overlooked thing as in fact the most glorious and brightly glowing, most miraculous and special thing in the world.
Doug McGill, freelance writer/blogger/journalism teacher (mom, Jean, is pictured)
“There are some people who always think the grass is greener”
The best advice my mom ever gave me made no sense at the time I heard it.
When I was 13 or 14 years old, a person we knew was getting divorced and I wondered why. You know, one of those innocent questions that can make a parent uncomfortable. Without giving me any of the painful details or gossipy chit-chat she said it was one of the most unfortunate things that can happen to a person.
“You mean getting divorced?” I asked.
“No” she said. “There are some people who always think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.”
I must have had a strange look on my face, or maybe it was what she determined to be a teachable moment, but she continued on.
“Some people are so busy looking for a better job, or a better car, or a better spouse that they forget to appreciate what they have at the time. If you’re always chasing what looks better, you’ll likely miss out on what you have. It’s the secret to happiness.”
At the time I thought I understood what she was saying, but as I age and see others chasing after “greener grass” I realize what great advice that was.
Tracy McCray, Post-Bulletin columnist/KROC talk radio personality (with mom, Carol Jones)
“If you can’t be Tom Overlie, be ... Barry Manilow.”
I was forced onto the performance stage at an early age. My sisters and I sang in church, we sang for special family functions, we sang in school performances and for my mother’s coffee club.
One day, in elementary school in 1979, I had to sing a solo for the school Christmas program— and I was extremely nervous. I remember sitting in my room, listening to Barry Manilow on my 8-track player (“Copacabana”), and trying to work through the nerves. Mom came to my room, noticed I’d become a frenzied mess, and offered me this advice: “If you’re too nervous to get up on stage and sing as Tom Overlie, then sing ...” she looked around the room and saw the 8-track. “As Barry Manilow.”
That year, in elementary school, I sang “Jingle Bell Rock.” With a “Copacabana” twist.
And it’s a trick I’ve used to this day. When I’ve got to be in front of a lot of people, I’ll put Tom aside and pretend to be someone else. Someone great, like Barry Manilow.
Thanks Mom (I think...).
Tom Overlie, KTTC News anchor (dad, Warren, and mom, Barbara, are pictured on the KTTC set)
The most memorable piece of advice my mother ever gave me was, “Talk nice to your mother or your tongue will stick out of your grave some day.” Couldn’t shake that image, so I’ve paid special attention to my tone with mom and all the special girls in my life.
Mitch Anthony, author (pictured with his mom, Betty)