Lessons From Babe

One day Babe and I were discussing why some people we knew were so unhappy and cranky. I asked her, “Why do you think I turned out so happy?”

“Because you take after me,” she said.

That’s when the idea of Lessons from Babe was born. I’d been a 70’s bell-bottom-wearing, Ms.-magazine-writing daughter who was sorely disappointed with my stay-at-home, housewife mom. She seemed so behind the times. I’d look at her and think, Lord, I do not want to turn out like that!

But half a century later, I’ve lived long enough to realize how seriously I underestimated her. Maybe we weren’t members of such different generations after all. She might have had stewed rhubarb and tomato aspic salad in her fridge while I had organic kale and soy milk in mine, but maybe in more important ways we were much closer in spirit than I’d thought. And at ninety-five and a half, she’d put up with me long enough to hear me start singing her praises publicly in a Houston magazine.

I called Mom Babe, because she asked me to—she disliked her given name, Gladys. Besides, Babe was fun to say, and it suited her. She was the youngest in her family, the baby. But even after she’d outlived three sisters, her husband, and everybody else, the name still fit. She was some Babe.

I’m especially delighted that in this modern world, a woman who never touched a computer or owned a cell phone or played on an iPad had the wisdom earned from a lifetime of living that has turned out to be timeless. Wisdom from a woman of the 20th century for a daughter in the 21st..

Probably nobody is more surprised than I am that stitch by stitch I embroidered Babe’s pronouncements into life lessons. And many of these lessons weren’t necessarily even spoken until we sat down together, and I asked about all that dancing she and Dad had done. That’s when she blurted out, “Never sit if you can dance.”

If I’ve been successful, I’ve communicated her grace, her wit, and her playfulness. (“Let’s goof off today” was one of her favorite sayings.) Taken together, these lessons show there’s a celebratory life waiting for each of us—if we embrace it.

As you come to know Babe, you’ll see that she was no goodie two shoes: She drank, danced, and stayed up very late. She was so much livelier than most mothers I’ve known. And since I frown on manuals telling me which fork or word to use, this is not that. Instead, these lessons, defined by love rather than prohibition, are stories about what worked pretty well for Babe. They are about the simplest, most ordinary things: how to get along with other people, how to make a marriage work, how to make life more agreeable.

I got such a kick out of focusing on Babe that I had no intention of having much of a presence in these pages myself. But as her stories unfolded, they naturally evolved into mother-daughter stories. How could they not? And, again, why should I have been so surprised? Because Babe’s lessons show not just how she lived, but the impact her attitudes and ideas had on me and the others lucky enough to know her.

It’s been said that our gifts are not fully ours until we give them away. This collection was written as a gift for Babe and for all mothers everywhere who laid the groundwork that shaped us, even if we didn’t exactly recognize it, or appreciate it–or them–at the time. Babe gave me these gifts, and in this book, I’m giving them to you.