Or So it Seems … The List

If you entered Mom’s kitchen, you’d see it on the fridge.

The List.

It was long. It was yellow. It was required reading, and it contained Mom’s marching orders for the day.

Some folks wait until New Year’s to craft their resolutions, and their January goals are only dim memories come March. But not my Mom. She had a different approach.

Her lists were pasted on our Frigidaire. They were missives of her hopes and expectations. They were repetitive, clear, and often expressed in a single word or phrase.

-Smile

-Take turns

-Read

-Do your share… and a bit more

-Be a friend if you want a friend

-Count to 10 before you talk

Other items were more playful.

-Take another cookie

-Give Mom a hug

-Stay up late

-Eat dessert first

She’d sneak these in to make the mundane fun.

And Mom’s list didn’t end here. She continually expanded to it as she saw fit. So below these succinct directives, Mom would pencil in reminders to buy milk or haul us to the dentist. Actually, her lists were like 3-in-1 oil. They were a blend.

And the best of her list came last.

This part was dashed off in the dead of night when Mom would awake, her head abuzz with thoughts. You could easily spot where the midnight-list kicked in. The ink was different, and it was written with more expansive, expressive script. But more than that, these dream-inspired thoughts were penned in lines oozed enthusiasm and exclamation marks.

These were Mom’s “great ideas.” It included things like:

-Built-in pool, w/cool decking, heater & slide.

-Fish-tank partition

-Please-Don’t-Eat-The-Daisies-Dog

Many of these capers are now part of our family’s folklore: budget-busting home remodeling projects, the great-goldfish-disaster and the million-dollar-mutt all began on the tail-end of her lists. The funny thing is that no matter how nutty the ideas were, they sounded wonderful when she described them. Mom’s enthusiasm knew no single season.

Her explanations were my first introduction to live theater. Some mornings, she’d grab my Dad, pick up the list like a script, throw her arms out, and announce:

“I’ve got an idea!”

This was our cue to take a seat while she began her one-woman show. Once she took the stage, she’d share her dreams, acting them out with big gestures, animated expressions and, if necessary, use her voice to mimic all the characters in her story.

I think I enjoyed these skits more than my Dad—they usually complicated his life.

But it was such fun to see.

At times, though, her ideas had a way of fizzling out, and they’d be quietly dropped from the list as she revised it. Or an item might remain, lurking innocently, waiting for someone to step up to the plate and take it one. And it no one did, then Mom, like the Little Red Hen, would just do it herself.

It’s true her methods could lack refinement. Once, Mom asked Dad to install an electric clock. He never quite got around to it. So she did it herself, nailing the cord to the wall.

It exploded when she plugged it in.

Chastened by this experience, Mom tended to avoid nails. So when the item “install shelves” languished on her list—neither Dad nor I took the hint—she got tired of waiting and, again, installed them herself.

Using only hot glue.

The shelf looked and worked just fine… for a while. Then someone put a 20-pound box of detergent on it, and the shelf collapsed.

We all laughed, but Mom just smiled and shrugged. She was already on to her next project. With Mom, the occasional failure might be inevitable, but life was never dull. Ever the optimist, she never let setbacks slow her down.

The List, like her life, was always a work-in-progress.

So when some ideas didn’t pan out, they were dropped. But other times items were crossed off with a great flourish to celebrate an accomplishment. If we’d done something particularly exceptional, difficult or thoughtful, then it might get a star—or lots of them—pasted next to it.

We never outgrew gold stars at our house.

Over time, I’ve picked up Mom’s habit. I’m a great maker of lists. I have stacks and stacks of yellow paper about my house, many bearing my own not-so-great ideas.

I lack my mother’s flair for ensnaring others in the project-de-jour, probably because she had better stage presence. And that’s too bad because even if she didn’t pull it off, Mom’s efforts brought out the best in those around her. She was always willing to give even the most outrageous ideas a great try, and those provided the most cherished of my memories. My childhood home crackled with her energy, irrepressible optimism and willingness to think big.

We had our share of disasters, but we also ate a lot of cookies. It was a fair deal all around.

The lists were her handwritten testament of faith. She believed in herself, in her family, and in a world where “all things are possible.” I still have a few of those yellow notes. I find them from time to time in old papers, or tucked into a book when I used one for a place marker.

They make me laugh, shake my head, and shed an occasional tear.

I wish I had each and every one of them; they documented the history of our family. But even though they’re mostly gone, they all exist in my mind’s eye.

They’re posted on the front of Mom’s fridge, and I can still tell you her messages:

-Smile

-Take turns

-Read

-Do your share…and a bit more

-Be a friend if you want a friend

-Count to 10 before you talk

So, if you’re looking for some resolutions, I’d recommend these. Try to remember to do them the year ‘round.

Also, if you can, give your mom a hug.

And at least once, wake up from an odd dream, write it down, and give something nutty a whirl. It could make for a great adventure.
Just don’t get a sheepdog.

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. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County.

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Robb Lightfoot is a humorist, author and educator. He and his wife raised a family of four kids, a dozen or more dogs and a zillion cats. He 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 teaching at Shasta Community College, and his former 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 in national competitions. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-10 finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives and writes in Chico where he manages ThinkingFunny.com. He also hates referring to himself in the third person, and will stop doing so immediately. I can be reached in the following ways: Robb@thinkingfunny.com PO Box 5286 Chico, CA 95928 @_thinking_funny on Twitter
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5 Responses

  1. Avatar EasternCounty says:

    What a lovely tribute to your exceptional Mother.

  2. Thanks for the uplifting story, perfect for the after-holiday blues.

  3. Love your Mom's lists. Sounds like a terrific home to grow up in.

  4. ajac37 ajac37 says:

    Moms, in all their infinite variety, if they care at all, are magic. I have no doubt that yours enjoys top billing among Moms.

  5. Avatar Elaine says:

    Beautiful and lovely. Thank you!!!