Lessons From My Mother

Mothers have a habit of bestowing advice and rules to live by, often perpetuating old wives' tales or insensible teachings like: "Don't read in the dark. You'll go blind." (I really thought I was going to go blind after my mom caught me reading in the moonlight; I was scarred for many years.) But moms also pass along good life lessons—through words and by example—and my mother taught me many.

Always keep a clean house. Growing up, my mom would always chastise me for leaving clothes in the middle of the floor and for being messy in general. I'd like to think that I'm just one of those "creative types" who thrives in clutter. She, of course, never accepted this excuse, and would often give this hypothetical scenario to illustrate the need to be more cleanly. Suppose something happens, and the police have to come into our home, then they would be tripping over all kinds of stuff, she would say. Now wouldn't that be embarrassing? (She also used this "shame tactic" to illustrate why you should always wear good underwear in case you were admitted to the hospital and a nurse had to change you into a hospital bib.)

"Not really," I would think, being the reluctant smart-ass. Unfortunately I changed my mind the hard way when our house caught on fire my sophomore year in high school. An electric wire in our living room wall overheated and sparked fire, spreading to the attic. And whose room did the firefighters have to enter to get to the attic? That's right, mine. They had to trip over my messy habitation to climb up to the top of the house, and I was indeed embarrassed.

Love God and pray hard. My mom is a godly woman with godly values, which she instilled in me from an early age. She is the quintessential black southern Baptist woman: She prays with women from her church every morning at 6 a.m., and she frequently responds to questions by quoting a verse from the Bible. I remember sitting in the church pews every Sunday next to my mother watching her cry when she heard a particular song or when something touched her in a special way. I could always tell when it was about to start. She'd take a deep breath and audibly exhale, trying to hold it in. Then I'd see a tear roll down her cheek as she quietly began to weep. My sisters and I always jokingly criticized her for so openly wearing her heart on her sleeve. Now that I'm older and understand what she felt, that overwhelming feeling of joy and sense of peace, I respect her more. She has always taught me to put God first, then family, then everything else. Although we part ways on many theological and spiritual matters, I'm incredibly thankful to have her teachings, through her words and her example.

Don't leave cabinet doors open. I don't know if this is one of those pet peeves, or a pointless lesson passed through the generations that no one questions, or if it actually has a practical purpose, but my mother was adamant that no cabinet doors be open. Perhaps growing up, her family often left doors and windows open, and flies and other insects could get into the cabinets. I don't know. What I do know, however, is that when I walk into a house—doesn't matter if its mine—I instinctively walk through the kitchen and close the cabinet doors and turn off the lights in unoccupied rooms. Just as she couldn't stand to see them open, I get a twitch in my eye when I catch one open. Some habits never die, I suppose.

Help others when you can. When my family lived in North Jackson off Azalea Drive, we would often see an elderly man in a uniform walking down Northside Drive. One day, my mom pulled off the main road to him, rolled down her window and asked if he needed a ride. He repeatedly said "no," but it was hot outside, and my mom wouldn't let him refuse. His name was Mr. Sanders, and he was a postal worker with no family and seemingly little to his name. From that day on, my mom picked up Mr. Sanders often, eventually finding out where he lived and going to pick him up. If she hadn't heard from him in a while, she would pull out to Northside Drive looking for him, for he often would walk to avoid what he thought was inconveniencing her. Eventually, we stopped seeing Mr. Sanders. We speculated that he had died, and my mother cried for him. I never will forget Mr. Sanders or my mother's simple kindness toward him.

Sometimes you do things "just because." My mom is a busy body. She always takes on projects—whether to help out a friend or the church—"just because." Sometimes she doesn't really want to do them (she won't say this, but I can tell), and other times her plate is already full. But she says that sometimes you do things you don't want to for the people you love.

"It won't kill you," she says. And she's right. If the world worked on an "only if I feel like it" ethic, we'd be in trouble. That doesn't mean that you can't say "no"; It just means that we sacrifice every now and then for a greater good.

Write, write write. My mom graduated from Ole Miss with a journalism degree and a Spanish minor. She wanted to be a news correspondent in Spain, but more importantly, she wanted to write. After graduating, she moved to Jackson and became a Clarion-Ledger reporter when the odds were against a black female professional in Mississippi.

When I was 12, I discovered some of my mother's writings—Afrocentric poetry she wrote in college, short stories—and although I didn't realize it until much later, her obvious love for the written word influenced me to love it, too.

It's funny that I didn't realize how I was following my mother's path so closely until recently. I graduated with a journalism degree and Spanish minor, and entered the work force as a journalist. I suppose that my father's career in broadcast journalism only added fuel to the fire. My mom is a major influence on who I am today as a journalist, as a writer.

Linda Buford-Burks has taught me so much in my short years, and I'm happy to call her my mother. I look forward to the many other lessons I will glean from her in my lifetime, and to the day when I pass those lessons to my daughter.

Happy Mother's Day!

Previous Comments


Great article, Maggie. You know these mama stories never grow old and the directives given, if followed, had so many positives for a good life. I'm 60 years old and my mother told me not to read in the dark. I am now sighted in only one eye: I wish I had listened. I never read in the "dark" but, I have a long history of reading with dim light. This caused eye strain and over the years, it has taken a severe toll. Your story about the house catching fire was a pretty serious wake up call, also. How about this one: One night I came home after 12 midnight, maybe 15min late. I was a senior in High School. My mother told me that she understood that I didn't understand her concern. She then laid this one on me: "Someday you will be sitting across the table with your son or daughter after walking the floor wondering if something bad has happened." Guess what, I had those experiences raising three sons and I am sure that other mothers who have children can relate. Thanks again for the article!



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