My mother occasionally favored little quizzes -- and a bit of humor
-- to make a point. The example I remember best went like this:
"Why do you toss sweetcorn into boiling water the minute you get it
in the house?" Answer: "Because you cannot take the boiling water
to the cornfield." We got the message: The corn was finest when
very, very fresh, and that was the way we had it, brought to table
after only three minutes in boiling water.
Mom offered up other guidelines that were amusing or even
life-changing. Here are the ones I paid the most attention to:Start meal preparation by setting the table. This was to fool
my father by making him think the meal was close to delivery even
if it wasn't. I don't know if he was fooled, but we frequently
relied on this tactic.Party dresses should come in only three colors: white, black or
red. I thought white signified a wedding and black a funeral, so my
first party dress at college was bright red.And for dancing, wear high heels. This makes your high-stepping
on the dance floor look elegant and makes you feel that way, too,
Mom said. She was right.Get a teacher's certificate. My mother -- an English teacher --
figured there would always be kids to teach so I would always have
work. I didn't ignore the advice, but I backed out of this one in
the last semester of college.
Despite early indications, this ramble does have a connection
with journalism and travel. The connection is in these last two
bits of advice:Read books; you cannot write unless you read.Keep a diary when you travel.
I was slow to read without being prodded, but I eventually got
the hang of it and figure my mother knew she had hit home about the
time I kept the house lights on every night till all hours for
however long it took to steam through "The Brothers Karamazov."
Finally, it was Mom who saw to it that our family traveled. For
us, that meant car trips, usually to visit relatives. Beginning
when we were preteens, she equipped my sister and me with
scrapbooks that we used to record trip details. That was the start
of a lifelong habit that has paid off in a variety of unexpected
ways, up to and including writing weekly columns.
An entire bookshelf is now devoted to my collection of 32 soft-
and hardcover notebooks, each containing daily trip reports for one
or more trips, plus a record of hotels used, expenses and names and
addresses of new friends met along the way. It is a fair bet those
diaries will surface in this column from time to time.