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.

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A cautionary tale

The other day, I was reminded of the importance of one little word.

A word with only three letters but a big impact.

The word is ‘but.’

It wasn’t a word I have thought much about in a while but when it was brought to my attention, I realized it is a word I needed to pay attention to.

This one little word may have been the redheaded duo’s favorite word.

“Your biscuits were good,” Granny began, “But, they were too big.”

“How can a biscuit being too big be a bad thing?” I demanded to know.

She looked at me with disgust. How dare I defy anything she declared as fact?
“Because they are. Your sausage patty is only so big. What are you going to do with the leftover biscuit?”

“I make my biscuits for butter and honey,” I said.

She snorted. “Of course you do. But, normal folks like sausage and none of that vegetarian nonsense.”

I wanted to tell her I wasn’t even a vegetarian anymore, but it wouldn’t have mattered.

“You did good on that test, but,” –

“I like your new haircut, but,” –

“Your house looks nice, but,” –

I have learned to not only dread but wait for the but.

The but that comes to let me know that whatever compliment had been previously given was about to be taken away.

Granny was famous for it.

Mama, as kind hearted as she is, is much more subtle with her but.

And even though I am 45, I want Mama’s approval.

Some things, she is easy to please.

Others, she can hold me to task more than Granny and would probably impress the old gal.

Where Granny was critical about cooking, Mama reserves her negating for things I do to my hair.

“Your hair is cute,” she began one day. “But why did you want to color it red.”

“I was paying homage to the crazy redheads in my family,” I replied.
“Hmmm,” she demurred. “But, difference is, we are natural redheads, Kitten. You are a natural brunette. Stick with what God gave you.”

“If that was the case, I would be bald, Mama. And so would you.”

She also doesn’t understand some of my other life choices.

“It’s wonderful you went back to school, but,” – here it comes – “I don’t know why you didn’t go to law school. Probably because I wanted you to.”

I sighed. It was hard to endure the buts. I was given a compliment only to be followed by something that completely wiped out the previous praise.

I cringe when I hear that word, so I cringe a lot; it’s said by everyone.

Including myself.

I didn’t notice how much I said it until I realized how much I hated it – kind of ironic, isn’t it?

I would thank my husband for doing something and throw a ‘but’ in there.
Mama would ask me if I liked whatever she got me, and I had something to undercut it.

‘But’ was everywhere.

I wondered how different our perspective would be if instead of trying to find flaw with something, we just focused on the positives of a situation.

I know when I hear the but, I immediately anticipate some criticism coming. And after the but is uttered, I don’t focus on the things I did right or the praises; instead, I focus on the one thing that I did wrong.

The but is a great big minus sign, taking away any good we may have done and tend to put us on the defensive.

I decided I needed to try to limit my buts unless they were absolutely necessary.

Cole decided to help clean one day.

I hadn’t asked him, he just did it because he knew I had so much to do.

So, he washed the dishes and folded laundry.

“Mama, I wanted to help. Did I do it OK?” he asked when he finished.

The laundry was not folded the way I like. I have always had a thing about how my towels are folded.

I prefer the dishes to be stacked a certain way to air dry.

“Yeah, but,” – I caught myself.

“But what?” he asked. The minute he heard the but, his expression fell a little.
“I don’t have any cash to give you for helping,” I said.

He hugged me. “I didn’t want anything, Mama, I just wanted to help.”

“You did great,” I said.

And I left the but out of it.