A few weekends ago, I was hanging out with Mama working on the book of O.G. I asked her what her best words of wisdom for her kids, grand-kids, and great grand-kids were. At the time, she declined to answer, telling me she would have to think about it.
Today, I asked her again if she had any specific words of wisdom for her family. She sat quiet for a few minutes, her head cocked to the right–which is what she always does when she’s thinking–and finally answered.
“The best advice I can give anyone, I think, is don’t play in cheat grass.”
“Don’t pay in cheat grass.”
Now I have to insert here, Mama is almost 92 years-old. So far, her mind seems to be holding up pretty good. Her eye-sight and hearing–not so much. For a moment, I wondered if perhaps her mind was slipping.
“Mama, I’m being serious here,” I said. “The book of O.G. is for the people you love most you know.”
“I do know,” she answered. “And I am telling you my best advice is DO NOT play in cheat grass.”
I’m a bit ashamed to admit I thought she was just being cheeky. So, I sighed impatiently, put down my notebook, and left her sitting on the deck while I went and pulled some weeds in the flower bed.
As I was yanking weeds, I was muttering to myself that it would really be great if she would take my little project seriously because it meant something to me and I know it will mean something to the rest of her family.
After about an hour, I took a break and sat down with her again. I was determined not to ask her any questions–unless I could determine she was going to take me seriously–when she said: “Are you done pouting now?”
“I was not pouting,” I said, somewhat indignantly.
“Yes. You were,” she said.
Before I could say anything else, Mama put her hand up, and glared at me.
“Do you know what cheat grass is?” she asked.
At that point I did get indignant, and possibly a little snarky, and answered: “Gosh, Mama, I have no idea. What is cheat-grass?”
I’m pretty sure if I had used that tone of voice on her in my childhood I would have gotten a well deserved swat on the backside. Instead, Mama in her infinite patience, sat back in her chair and waited for me to change my tone.
Knowing Mama wouldn’t say another word until I ‘dropped my attitude,’ I waited a minute and said in a much more conciliatory tone, “Sorry, Mama, explain what you mean…please.”
Mama gave me her mama-knows-best smile.
“Cheat grass seed heads are called awns,” she said. “When you walk through cheat grass what happens?”
“You spend a lot of time pulling the nasty little things out of your socks, your shoe laces, and any other part of your clothing the stinking things get in,” I said.
“That’s right,” she said. “So don’t you think it makes sense not to play in cheat grass?”
“Well of course it does, but everyone already knows that so I’m sorry, but I’m a bit lost on how this translates into great words of wisdom, Mama.”
Now it was Mama’s turn to sigh.
Looking back on our conversation, I’m sure at that point she came to the conclusion I was a best dense, at worst, somewhat stupid.
“There are a million different paths a person can take in life,” she said. “My advice is avoid those paths that leave nasty things, like cheat grass awns, sticking to you. Sometimes, it may only take an small amount of time to pull off the awns. Sometimes it may take hours upon hours to pull off the awns. If you avoid the nasty things, or awns so to speak, that can stick to you, you don’t have to waste any part of your life picking them off.”
I swear it took a full two minutes for her incredible words of wisdom to really sink in. I was actually so dumbfounded by the simple beauty of her wisdom it took me a couple of more minutes before I could respond in my own very profound way.
“Huh. Wow,” I said. (forgive me, but I was a bit gob smacked).
My Mama, you must understand, will be the first to admit she has made many, many, mistakes in her life. She has often said if she had a penny for every mistake she’s made, she would be a billionaire.
We sat quietly for a bit longer, and Mama finally said: “Tell them to do the best they can to avoid the nasty things in life. Tell them the nasty things can take a very long time to pick off. Tell them to learn from me, because I know what I’m talking about.”
Completely humbled, it took my Mama’s fragile hand and gave it a squeeze.
“I will tell them, Mama. I promise.”
“Good!” she said, with a hearty giggle. “Because I’m here to tell you pulling cheat grass out of your socks really, really sucks. Finding they’ve infiltrated your underwear is torture!”