SaraHoxie.com, “If I Were You”
used with permission
Ah, but dispensing your hard-won wisdom is so tempting.
Yet one of my friends lectures on the hazards of giving advice. Terry Turner teaches interpersonal communication, and she’ll tell you that offering suggestions to a friend can be a bad idea.
She says four things can happen.
- First, your advice didn’t work, but he did as you suggested. So you get blamed.
- Second, your friend ignored you, did it his way, and now he thinks you’re not-too-bright.
- Third, you were right. (Oh, the cleverness of you!) But he ignored you. Now your friend is embarrassed, defensive, and avoids you fearing he’ll get an “I told you so.”
- Finally, you nailed it and gave sage counsel. Your friend heeded you. Perfect. Except that the next time he has a problem, he’ll bring it to you again, and again, and again….
So giving advice has four possible outcomes, and none of them are attractive. What should you do? My advice? Well… I’m not going to say.
But let me tell you a tale or two about my mother.
Mom was the greatest storyteller of all time. She’d spin one yarn after another for hours. She was the repository of our family history, a wise old soul, and a woman who never let the truth get in her way.
While she cooked, cleaned and mended, Mom dispensed stories, often surrounded by her or other people’s kids. Her stories often came in response to a problem or a “situation.” Her repertoire ranged from Aesop to Ikatomi and even Dr Suess. I remember hearing her recite or read “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” “The Little Engine That Could,” and even “Horton Hatches the Egg.” All of these imparted lessons suitable for a rambunctious boy who wondered why it wasn’t OK to play with the school’s fire alarm, quit when the going got tough, or break a promise.
Mom usually stopped short of saying straight out what I should do. The parables she shared did this—more or less. But therein lay their greatest weakness. Since I was so distractible, I sometimes missed the message, and I’d ask questions like:
“But how could one wolf eat ALL the sheep?”
“Where did the little engine go AFTER he made it over the big hill?”
“What did Horton NAME the elephant bird?”
“Ah…” she’d cock her head, wink, and say, “now THAT’S ANOTHER STORY.”
It took me years to learn this was her way of forcing me to think for myself—or ducking a sticky question. Even so, I loved her stories. The best ones were worth listening to time and again. A good thing, because I heard them repeated when I fouled up—about every five minutes. Mom set a world-record one summer for retelling “The Ant and the Grasshopper” each time she caught me goofing off instead of doing my cores.
We both quit counting at 10 bazillion.
She didn’t even have to tell the entire story. She’d look at me, raise one eyebrow and say, “You know, once there was an ant and a grasshopper….” By summer’s end, just the title got the desired effect.
Eventually I shaped up a bit, learned to read, and graduated into adolescence. Now the stories included those drawn from Mom’s own private reserve—tall tales from her life.
And these were the best.
When I asked Mom about dating, she slid into the story of how she and Dad were married one week from the day they met.
Amazing. Harlequin romance novels had nothing on Mom.
Then I asked her about breaking a school rule that seemed unfair, and she lowered her voice to a whisper and confessed how she snuck into a locked warehouse and rescued a sick puppy.
Her stories made us co-conspirators.
Even a mundane gripe could elicit a gem. Once I complained about how hard it was to parallel park, and she comforted me with the revelation of how she managed to turn the family sedan completely sideways in a one-car garage—in just five minutes—while teaching herself how to drive.
Mom demonstrated her mastery of comedy. She mimicked the look on Dad’s face during the hour it took him to extract his car.
Entertaining? You bet. But these adult tales featured the murkier side of Mom’s morality. Still, I loved every moment, even when she was offering her oblique observations. These narratives were family secrets, and the juicy ones could only be rolled out when certain family members were NOT in the room.
Like the story about Mom borrowing her father’s brand-new car.
I first heard this one when I asked her what she thought about loaning my car to a friend. She motioned for me to sit down while she mixed cake batter.
“Let me tell you about the first—and only—time your Grandfather let me borrow his car.”
Only once, I thought. Hmmm… Mom’s a good driver. What’s the deal?
So I pulled up a chair, sat down, and listened.
“You can’t repeat this,” she said.
I nodded and looked around to see if anyone was listening.
“Grandpa was so proud of his car,” Mom said, cracking open an egg with one deft movement, “He bought a new one every other year.”
“Did he teach you to drive?” I asked.
“Oooooh, Noooo.” Mom shook her head. “I taught myself after you were born.”
“Wow! Didn’t Dad help?”
“No. Not hardly,” she rolled her eyes and whipped the cake batter a bit harder. “That’s another story. Anyway, Grandpa drove his brand-new car here all the way from Austin.”
“It was a canary-yellow Electra 225 coupe—very sporty. And it had tailfins. He took Dad and me around the block to show it off.”
Mom handed me the eggbeater to lick.
“We got back, and I started cooking dinner. A few minutes later Grandpa waltzed in and dangled the keys in front of me.”
“’Would you like to try it out?’” he asked, and then he just handed me the keys.
“Why?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Who knows? I about fell over. But I needed some butter. So thanked him and drove the Electra to Safeway.”
Mom paused, and I took a wild guess at how this story was going to end.
“Did it get clobbered the parking lot?”
“No. I parked it far away from anyone.”
“Did you run a red light?”
“Heavens no,” she put her hands on her hips. “Is this your story or mine?”
“OK. But what happened??”
“Well…. Grandpa’s car had power steering.”
“And our car didn’t,” she glanced at me from the corner of her eye. “So when I pulled on the wheel to make that hard left onto Chester… his car jumped sideways.”
“Ouch,” I said. “What’d you hit?”
“Nothing, really, just a little-bitty curb.”
“How big is ‘little-bitty’?”
“It’s not like it was a wall or anything. It was only eight or ten or twelve inches tall.”
“You drove over a divider?”
“I did not drive OVER it,” Mom said firmly.
I suppressed a laugh. “Well, then what DID happened?”
“I just straddled it a bit and then bounced right back off again.”
“I drove home.”
“I made cookies.”
“Grandpa and Grandma stayed another week and drove back to Texas.”
I paused, confused, thinking that maybe this wasn’t a cautionary tale after all.
“And then…?” I asked.
“He called,” Mom said, “complained that his Buick gave him fits on the way home. Pulled to the right like it was in a windstorm, had a blowout, and was towed home.”
“Oh-oh,” I said, and grinned in anticipation of the story’s payoff, that creamy, sweet spot of morality inside the painful-but-chewy life-lesson nugget.
Mom whistled a few lines from “Que Sera, Sera,” and slid the cake into the oven. I grew impatient.
“Was he mad?” I prodded.
“Well,” she shrugged. “He did take the car back and demand a refund.”
Now I had assumed Mom wanted to impart the risks of loaning my car. I guess she had—but that wasn’t what most interested me about her story. I wanted to hear how she fessed-up to Grandpa. I imagined her as a contrite little George Washington, hatchet-in-hand. So I sat there, waiting for the final chapter, the blow of justice raining down on Mom and the proper moral order restored. But she just washed the dishes, dried her hands, and then removed her apron.
Finally, I could take it no longer.
“So,” I leaned in and whispered, “what did Grandpa say when you told him?”
“Oh,” she smiled, “I didn’t.”
“YOU DIDN’T?” I sputtered, “WHY NOT?”
She reached over and patted my shoulder.
“Oh son…” she nodded and smiled, “that’s another story.”
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. He has two humor books in print, The Doggone Christmas List and The Stupid Minivan. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County, Northern California.