When the favors run out

One of the recurring themes Mama has tried to instill in my life is how to treat people.

Kindness, of course, is tantamount.

Saying ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ along with other pleasantries should always be offered.

And maybe even more importantly, was Mama’s preaching about how people should not be used.

Perhaps the reason that lesson was so essential to Mama was it was something she learned firsthand when she was a child.

Mama was enjoying a bag of animal crackers one day, something she probably was just tickled that my uncle, Bobby, hadn’t hoodwinked her out of. His little cunning self normally tricked her into paying him for something she already owned outright.

So, there she was, enjoying her little cookies when the other kids came up asking her to share.

Mama, being the kind-hearted person she has always been, agreed.

The other kids were nice to her and wanted to play with her, as long as she had the cookies.

Once the cookies were gone, so were they.

When she asked them to play the next day, they asked if she had more cookies. She told them no. They didn’t want to play.

“That was awful,” I said when she recounted the story to me.

“It was,” she began. “But it taught me an important lesson. Some people are only nice to you as long as you can do things for them. Once you no longer can, they are gone.”

It pained me to think my Mama had been treated like that.

Even more painful is the realization that its not just kids wanting cookies that behave that way.

The morale of Mama’s story has played out quite repeatedly in my life and more frequently as an adult.

It’s a bit off-putting to have people only think of you when they need something.

There have been several times that people have contacted me out of the blue and free of preamble requesting advice, time, and other assorted favors that haven’t spoken to me in years.

A few even skip the fake pleasantries of “How have you been?” and launch right into what they want me to do for them.

As Granny would say, “If you can’t say boo to me the rest of the time, don’t come a-calling when you need me.”

Actually, she would say something a heck of a lot harsher and more vulgar, but I can’t put that here; I am sure you catch the drift of it though.

It has made me highly aware of who filters into my life only when they need something and who is always around, even if just in the background to pop in to say hey from time to time.

What can be the most shocking is the people that I haven’t spoken to in years – years, mind you – seem to have no hesitation in asking for favors.

“Is it something you are able to do?” Mama asked.

“Yeah,” I sighed.

“Then why do you not want to?”

I sighed again. Didn’t she get it? She remembered how she was treated when the cookies ran out. Kind of the same situation, in my opinion.

Mama weighed my complaint and told me I had a legitimate one. “But don’t be so quick to dismiss someone, Kitten,” she said. “If you can help them, do so. We’re supposed to be good to each other.”

I hate it when she does that – she always has a way of reminding me to be the bigger person, and sometimes, I just don’t want to.

Much like Granny would, I think that kind of behavior shouldn’t be rewarded by taking the high road but by telling the person they are a jerk.

“Mama, I am not dismissing them; I am just tired of people only contacting me when I can do something for them. That’s not friendship. It’s usery.”

Usery isn’t a real word but it should be. Especially in this situation.

“I am just saying if you can help someone, if it is in your power to do so, you should. We’re supposed to help one another. If you don’t want to be friends with this person, then you should tell them that as well.”

I didn’t consider the person a friend; more like an acquaintance with no boundaries.

“Well, if you don’t want to help them, maybe send them to someone who can. Just don’t be mean to them; there’s enough meanness in the world anyway and they evidently consider you a friend.”

“But, Mama,” I began weakly.

I really had no argument.

There are just different types of people in the world.

Those who are made by their Mamas to be good, decent people. And those who will use those people up until the favors run out.

A revised lesson in karma (3/26/2014)

Mama doesn’t care for the notion of karma.

I, on the other hand, love karma ­- when it works in my favor. As long as she’s not biting my tater, karma can be wonderful.

Mama tells me that is not the way I need to be.

Of course, I disagree with her. That’s my duty as a daughter – I am supposed to disagree with the one who birthed me.

I recounted my frustrations to her on the phone one afternoon, telling her the improprieties and transgressions that I felt were insidious beyond reproach. Mama listened gently, offering her suggestions of why maybe someone had committed said offense, playing devil’s advocate for the guilty.

I announced I was done with said transgressors. I said a few other choice words that Mama swears she never taught me.

“Kitten, I don’t think it’s wise to burn any bridge,” was Mama’s gentle advice on the matter.

“Mama, you have always said I was like Granny. You know what Granny would say? She would say make sure they were in the middle of the cussed bridge before you set fire to both ends.”

Mama had no reply for that. It was a Granny truism.

“Well, I think it is wrong to want to see people get that come uppance, Kitten. That is your karma if you do. Even the Bible tells us we won’t see what befalls our enemies or when but God’s judgment never fails. It is not your place to sit around waiting for bad to fall on someone in the meantime. You know better.”

In a lot of ways, Mama’s right. I didn’t tell her that fact, and hope you won’t tell her either. But I know I shouldn’t want to see the wrongs righted, my personal perpetrators shamed and under fire for their injustices. Am I the only one who remembers their raisin’?

Granted, the offenses had not broken any laws other than social ones, and given the lack of social decorum in many ways, a few of the people were probably innocent by way of ignorance.

“I think you may get frustrated when people don’t handle situations the way you would or do things in the way you would – you have always been quite aware of those social rules that should be followed, much like Granny, and remember when someone has slighted you regarding them.”

“So what are you saying, Mama?” I asked.

“I am saying you are going to have to let some of that go,” was her simple reply.

But I can’t. I am trying, but it’s hard. I ruminate on these discretions sometimes and then wonder why karma hasn’t infested some people with fleas in their nether regions.

“Stop that,” Mama will caution.

“You don’t want karma coming after you.”

No, I don’t. However, I also think I try to weigh my actions beforehand.

I get tired of being the one who takes that proverbial higher road Mama always talked about; I have had plenty of instances where undeserved karma ­-or maybe something else, bovine waste perhaps? – was delivered to my doorstep and I had to deal with it.

I think I am a halfway good person most of the time. I follow that “do unto others” and turn the other cheek. I do all those things I was taught to do, both from Mama and Granny and sometimes, the reward is less than pleasant. If anything, it makes me wonder how that well worn road is, the one that didn’t make all the dingdang difference but gave an easier albeit wickeder path.

I expressed all this to Mama, tired of being the “good” person all the time.

Forget Glinda the good witch; I wanted to be Elphaba, the rightful heir to the ruby red slippers.

“So why do I have to be the good one, Mama, and what difference does it make, if karma doesn’t come back and right the wrongs like she should?”

Mama was quiet. I thought maybe her phone had died or maybe in the midst of my diatribe she had put the phone down and went to make some coffee. She was there though, listening.

“I don’t know, Kitten,” she finally began. “But I do know this: One day, we all will have to answer for what we’ve done, good and bad. These people you’re telling me about, they may not be able to sleep at night. You do. And they have to live with themselves too. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing or what karma’s got lined up for them. You just keep focusing on doing what you know you are supposed to do.”

“But why, Mama? I don’t get it.” I whined, I admit it. It was a pure, unadulterated juvenile whine.

“Because,” Mama began. “Their karma or whatever penance, punishment, etcetera, is really none of your business.”

May not have been the answer I wanted, or what I wanted to hear, but Mama, as usual, spoke the absolute truth.