Elders Leave Traces Behind

04/07/2016 12:46 | Updated 04 July 2016

I really believe people live on in a very real way through what they teach us in their lifetime, and what they leave behind in little traces. Maybe you can think about all the little traces your mum has left here and she won't feel so far away.

This quote from an associate offering her condolences on the death of my mother earlier this year got me thinking about how our parents, guardians, elders affect us forever, especially after they are gone.

How many times have you said or heard someone declare: 'Like Momma used to say ...'; or 'My mother told me...' I don't know about you, but I've already lost count, not to mention replacing the proper noun with Grandma, Grandpa, Papa and even Aunt.

Still, mothers in particular seem to wield the words of wisdom that are repeated time and again in both serious and in trivial situations. For example, years ago when I was out at a fine restaurant with a close girlfriend and my husband -- then fiancé -- he literally blew his top with the waiter, which was most uncharacteristic of him. This guy is as cool as a summer breeze in the hottest situations. Usually, I'm the steamy one.

Anyhow, as soon as my fiancé left the table, perhaps to let off some steam, my girlfriend leaned in and explained that what had transpired was a good thing ... really. Then she said: 'My mother always told me to try to make a man as angry as I could get him before I married him. You don't want any nasty surprises!'

There, someone else did the job done for me. Smiling, I stored this one in my mind's Book of Elder Words like I have so many other wise words, such as. 'If you go looking for trouble, you'll likely find it', and 'Stop wishing your life away', and so on.

In a more trivial situation recently, while returning a bright pink designer make-up pouch to a department store, I explained to the young and trendy shop assistant that there was nothing wrong with it, except it was too bright.

'It's a gorgeous colour,' she said.

'Not sure why I bought it,' I said. 'Is the black one available?'

Suddenly, she quoted from that elusive book: 'My mum always told me that a bright wallet or make-up bag is preferable to a bland one, especially if your handbag has a black lining.'

Weakening under her words, I looked down at my camel-coloured tote, renewed my strength and completed the transaction respectfully. Admittedly, however, I might consider her mum's advice in the future.

Certainly, elders, even when they are not officially elderly, have a way of using words that strike us as wise and therefore lawful.

Much of the instinctive advice, for instance, that I received from my parents also came when I was young. Every now and then when I'm having a good old chat with my father, trying to decide something important, I roll out his or my mother's advice. 'Remember, you used to say...?' or 'You always said ...' And he then scratches his head, as if to wonder if this view should be attributed to his father or mother.

Probably yes, I think, since that is most likely where he first heard it, even if it has taken on a more contemporary twist. Come to think of it, my friend's mother would have been somewhere between fifty-five and sixty when my friend shared her tip at the restaurant. And the shop assistant's mum most likely isn't any older than I am.

That's not old is it, is it? Never mind! But as my mother said to one of her longest-standing friends when they were in their fifties: 'We don't get advice from the old folks nowadays like we used to.' And then it dawned on her: 'We are the old folks!'

What does this mean? It doesn't bear trying to answer, but what has become clear is that the traces of our ancestors that we carry throughout our lives do not always manifest in words. They show up in actions, too.

There are times when I find myself doing something in a precise way. For example, there is something about making the bed before I leave the house daily that is inexplicable. Often running late, I wonder what would happen if I left it. And then I remember that my mother never left the bed unmade. Hardly ever! And on the odd occasion when I have left it, I rush into the house, no matter what time it is, and make the bed, even if I'll be crawling into it soon.

Although this awareness of my mother in me has magnified since she died, an acquaintance, whose mother is very much alive, confessed that she operates instinctively too, according to the way her mother did things when she was a child.

No matter how tired her mother was after a hard day's work teaching at school, she would change her clothes into something more comfy, cook and clean up straight away after the meal. And lo and behold, my associate has the same pattern, even if she is exhausted. Even when someone else cooks, she cleans up, unable to bear looking at the dirty dishes. I know the feeling.

Early on in my marriage, I recall my husband pointing out that his mother always said that when hosting a dinner party, the hostess should finish her meal last. Immediately, I took this on board and have been minding my manners accordingly ever since.

Still, before my mother passed, I rather took the Book of Elder Words lightly, but in her absence I have come to understand that these little things are the big things that will trace her into my person, my mind, my heart, forever.

As for aunties contributing to this mysterious mind book ... You'd better catch up with my nieces and nephews on that one; I'm sure they'll have a few choice words on the matter.