The first word I ever said was “hot”.
It wasn’t the usual “mama” or “dada”, according to my mother. It was descriptive!
My mom used beautiful, descriptive words. So did dad because he was a professional writer. But dad was at work most of the time, and his words didn’t rub off on me as much as mom’s did. I mimicked her from the start.
She taught me the longest word in the English language: antidisestablishmentarianism. I’m still not sure what it means.
When I was about 2, my mom pointed out a dead bird in the side yard of our building. Several days later, an older woman in our neighborhood, Miss Finch, died. Is Miss Finch a dead bird? I asked. Mom thought this was hilarious.
My mother’s grammar was flawless. She would’ve deplored broadcasters today who say “between you and I”. Or use impact as a verb. Don’t begin to explain to her the overuse of “awesome”. The word should be reserved for sunsets.
Mom taught me to weed a garden, iron a shirt, make milk gravy, climb a tree. I find ironing a Zen exercise. I like gardens. I love gravy, but if I eat too much of it I’ll get fat. I would never climb another tree if it were up to me. “Were” is subjunctive, something you wish for. If you don’t understand why it were up to me, look it up.
My mom’s arms would fly around above her head. What are you doing, Mom? Getting rid of bad luck, she would say. If she had a bad day, she would say gremlins were hovering over her, and she needed to wave them off. She smiled and raised her voice with her arms, Shoo, shoo. I’ve tried her method, and I think it works. If you’re having a bad day, waving your arms over your head and shouting shoo isn’t a bad option. If you think it will make you feel better, it probably will. Unless you have low ceilings.
My mother taught me how to set a table correctly, whose name to use first when I’m introducing people, when to stand up when being introduced (always for very old people), and how to help an older woman on with her coat. She thought these were valuable things to know. They are.
The only time I’d ever heard my mother swear up a storm was when she painted my bedroom. I was in high school, and I was shocked to hear her base words coming down the hall. Normally when she was upset she’d say, Bughouse! A refined expletive. Given what goes on today my first word was characteristically tame.
I remember her scent. It was similar to Helena Rubenstein pressed powder. After Mom died I could still smell it among her things. I’ve kept her jewelry boxes, and one of them is tightly sealed. Every so often I open it, briefly, because her familiar powder aroma lingers there. I take it in, even after ten years. I don’t think it will ever go away.