Bringing it Back: Who Needs June Cleaver?

Florita Oberiano, Mom Extraordinaire

In honor of my mom’s birth month, it seemed fitting to bring back a Mother’s Day tribute I’d posted last year – mainly because I’ve got my hands tied with the business side of writing this week (who knew?). 🙂

Don’t misunderstand. There isn’t a darned thing wrong with June Cleaver, so if you grew up with one as a mom, please know that as a kid, I envied you!

I, on the other hand was raised by a (ahem) unique mother. From her I’ve learned all sorts of things about life, the top five of which are listed here, just in time for Mother’s Day. (For all my family and friends who decide to tattle on me like a bunch of pre-schoolers – and YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE – at least take the time to read through the whole post first!)

*Clearing throat*

The Top Five Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Mom:

Life Lesson #5 – Screw Social Graces.
The event: my college graduation. Mom and two of my siblings were high up in the stands. Heat rises, you know, which meant in a basketball stadium full of graduates and a few thousand of our closest family and friends, it got REALLY HOT during the ceremony.

Completely unaware that she might embarrass my siblings, Mom hiked up her skirt and pulled her thigh-high nylons off, non-striptease style. All this while seated beside a distinguished-looking gentleman who apparently got an eyeful. And then some.

My sister gave her “the look.”

Mom grinned back. “What? I’m hot.”

“You could’ve done that in the restroom,” Sis muttered.

Mom shook her head and stuffed the nylons in her purse. “It’s too far.”

Well, okay then. . ..

Life Lesson #4 – Priorities: It’s All About the Shoes.
When my father passed away, Mom struggled with what clothes he should wear. A traditional Barong Tagalog from the Philippines or a suit? As she vacillated between them I got more and more uncomfortable, mainly because I could see myself agonizing over the same thing when it was her turn to go.

“I hope you pick out what you’ll want to be buried in,” I finally said. “If you don’t, I swear I’ll put a bra on you.” (Mom HATES bras.)

She shook her head and shrugged. “It’s okay.” Then she stared at me, eyes narrowed, clearly reconsidering. In a firm, no-nonsense, former-school teacher voice she added, “Just don’t put me in high heels. They hurt my feet.”

Right. No high-heels. On the list, Mom.

Life Lesson #3 – Boas, Tiaras, and Beer Pong. . .. Oh, My!
Mom recently turned 80. She wanted a birthday party. At a hotel. With all her friends, not just family and the Parish Priest. (Would you say “no” to that request?)

So, we girls got together and planned the event. One sister suggested a “coming out” theme, complete with boas and a make-over station.

I came up with Beer Pong – one of my most brilliant ideas to date, if I do say so myself. Picture it: a bunch of octogenarians with golf balls instead of ping pong balls standing as close to the Dixie cups as possible – how fun is that?

Unfortunately, it got nixed by a yet more sensible sister who argued that Mom and all her friends were on medication that could get messed up by the beer. Rats.

Note to my nieces and nephews: I WANT BEER PONG AT MY 80TH BIRTHDAY PARTY. Throw in a really hot male stripper and you’ll make one old lady and a bunch of her friends extremely happy! Just sayin’. . ..

Life Lesson #2 – It’s All a Matter of Perspective.
At an extended-family gathering we were all seated around the dinner table. As is typical in a Filipino home, there’s a variety of food – and lots of it – when visitors are invited over, so by the time we were done with the meal we pretty much felt like beached whales.

Leaning back in her chair, Mom rubbed her stomach. Granted, she’s not a very tall woman, but she’s rather rotund. She looked around at us and, pointing at her protruding belly declared, “I’m not fat, you know. It’s just air.”

Two thumbs up, Mom!

(*Drum roll*)

And the #1 Life Lesson Courtesy of Mom – Rolling Tobacco Leaves Into Perfect Cigars is a Lot Like Being a Writer.
Most women use their dresser drawers for, oh, I don’t know. . .. clothes? Not Mom. Oh, sure, most of the drawers had clothes in them, but the bottom one was special. Uber-special. You-didn’t-dare-open-it-without-permission special. In it were her prized tobacco leaves. Full grown, dried tobacco leaves flown in for her and packaged with loving care.

I was about seven or eight when she first taught me how to roll her cigars. That’s not a typo – Mom smoked cigars. (In case you need to be reminded, please let me take a moment to reiterate that my mom is UNIQUE.) There’s an art to rolling these suckers so just the right amount of air can be drawn through them. It’s an art that took several years for me to finally get right. And as she demonstrated technique, she encouraged my progress, and she also had to re-do a few of them. (Hey, I was just a kid! What did you expect?)

Like rolling cigars, being a writer takes a certain amount of skill and a whole lot of perseverance. It takes the ability to see beyond the pages to the finished story. And it takes a willingness to continue to do it even when your cigars. . . ummm. . . I mean, manuscripts, are rejected.

Okay, it’s true, Mom’s no June Cleaver. Dinners at the table were hit-and-miss while we were growing up. The house was a wreck more times than not, and five kids worth of laundry always seemed to pile up by the washer.

Big deal. We had a heck of a childhood! She taught us how to play a mean game of Mah-jong so that before I was a teen, I could sub for her if she had to use the restroom. (Mah-jong waits for no one!) Cookies for breakfast were okay. So was Coke. And then there were tromps through the jungle by our house, Mom in the lead. How many kids could say that?

From this incredible woman I learned to cultivate what I believe is one of the most important ingredients for a fulfilling life: you gotta stay true to who you are and never, ever apologize for it.

So, this Mother’s Day Mom’s Birth Month I again raise my champagne glass to you, Mom. Thank you for the beautiful memories – some of which have made it into my novels 🙂 – and for the craziness that somehow seems to follow you around. (Remember the colonoscopy episode?) But mostly, thank you so much for helping to shape me into the person I am today.

I love you forever.

8 thoughts on “Bringing it Back: Who Needs June Cleaver?

  1. I love that you had such a unique childhood, and that your mom is true to herself! What amazing stories you must be able to pull out and tell. Thinking about the food has me remembering my years in Hawaii with my inlaws and all the wonderful Filipino food we’d inhale – ahem – enjoy. I hope we can talk you into blogging about more of these memories! ~ Viola

  2. Beautiful post. You mom is wonderful and shares similar values with my Ukrainian mom. We rolled holupchi (cabbage rolls) instead of cigars and have “food babies,” not fat 🙂 Thanks for making my morning.

  3. “Food babies” — I love it! Can’t wait to read a few of your memories growing up with a unique mom, too. (Hint!)

    Thanks so much for stopping by!


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