Beginning with earliest infancy:
\”Chew your food well.\” I\’ve always bolted my food, probably as a result of the neonatal deprivations with which I may regale you some day. Turns out my mother was right. Digestion begins in the mouth (saliva and all that sort of thing) and you get more nourishment from food if you chew it thoroughly. Plus, you can lose weight that way, as it slows everything down and gives your stomach a chance to send fullness signals to your brain.
\”Never leave the house without gloves on your hands and bows on your braids.\” My mother again. This was less a protection against the weather in (mostly) balmy Barcelona than a desire to have me look 1950s proper at all times. Misplaced gloves and hair ribbons were the bane of my childhood.
\”Never read after a meal.\” Darn! That meant I had to actually sleep at nap time. My mother was referring to the phenomenon, otherwise known as \”post-prandial torpor,\” whereby the blood leaves the brain and rushes to the stomach to help with digestion. Forcing the brain to work might interfere with the latter.
\”When you go to bed, lie down on your back, with your arms alongside your body and your hands not all over the place.\” The German nuns who presided over my childhood. I took this so much to heart that my college roommate said that when I lay down to sleep I reminded her of a cadaver laid out in its coffin.
\”Do not do ugly things.\” The German nuns again. This was repeated over and over, but at six, seven, or eight years old I had no idea what it meant.
\”Always be pure, always be chaste.\” My paternal grandmother, pulling my uniform skirt over my knees. Again, no idea what she was talking about. But I did begin to learn certain principles of how to sit when wearing a skirt.
\”Never meet a man\’s eye on the street.\” This was never actually verbalized, but it was ingrained in me from the time I could toddle along on errands. My mother never looked a man in the eye when we went to the fish market; my aunts never looked a man in the eye when they picked me up from school; needless to say, my grandmother never looked a man in the eye….
\”Strapless gowns are an occasion of sin.\” Father McCarthy, my Irish religion teacher. No worries there. It was my high school\’s policy not to allow strapless gowns at school dances. We girls were told that if we wore provocative clothes, we would be culpable not only of our own sins, but of those of the boy we inflamed as well.
\”Boys are like light bulbs, girls are like irons.\” Father McCarthy again. Not an inaccurate description of the sexual response in each gender. He said this to us in our annual day of \”love and marriage\” instruction, when boys and girls were separated. He added that an iron eventually gets as hot as a light bulb, so we should be very, very careful.
\”Never trust a man who has a nose on his face.\” My maternal grandmother. But she said it with a twinkle in her eye.
\”Remember, when you are on one of your famous dates, that God is watching you.\” A letter from my father.
\”It\’s better to be loved than to be right.\” My mother in law. She was told this tidbit upon her marriage in the 1940s, and passed it on, with the best intentions, to me in 1967. It did not sit at all well with me–in fact I was outraged–and I\’m afraid I told her so….
\”No man will stay with you if you don\’t stop being so moody.\” My mother. But, amazingly, he did.