Monday, April 11, 2022

A Personal Aside -- Lessons Learned -- In Honor of Rebecca Jeffers Guthrie (July 21, 1925 to April 11, 2005)


Lessons Taught; Lessons Learned

Reflections of a Daughter

Presented April 15, 2005, at the Celebration of Life for Rebecca Jeffers Guthrie by Claire Guthrie GastaƱaga with able assistance from her buddy, Peter Blair Guthrie

My mom was her own woman. 

She came from strong stock … not a  magnolia in any sense of the word, but down to earth and forged from Wheeling steel. 

My mom was extraordinarily talented. 

She could draw and paint. 

She played the piano by ear. 

And, she loved to sing.

But, most of all my mom was “real.”

Her greatest talent was her common sense.

My mom was about “not sweating the small stuff” long before anyone wrote a book advising others to adopt her natural way of being in the world. 

I learned a lot about life and people from my mom.

Here are just some of the lessons I think she taught us along the way…

First, about being a “housewife” and mother:

My mother showed us that there’s always room for one more; advance reservations were never required at our house.

  • She might have planned dinner for 8, but, if 19 people showed up, she rolled with it. 
  • Our house was always a place where anyone could show up unannounced and feel welcome.
  •  Our house was the place we all gathered as generations of children and teens under the protective wing of Mrs. G, Mama G, Zama Mama, the Bupster.
  •  Our house was the house where a little blood on the carpet after a fierce knee football game would hardly be noticed.
  • Our house was a house where you could bring home a guy you thought you liked and fifteen minutes later you’d find the guy and your mom out on the deck, talking in Spanish about skinny-dipping.

My mother exemplified the difference between gourmet cooks and good cooks. 

  • Gourmet cooks slave for hours to produce a meal presented elegantly that is full of subtle flavors.
  • Good cooks can make dinner in 15 minutes from whatever happens to be in your fridge at the time. 
  • My mom was a good cook. 
  • Grandchildren and generals alike loved mom’s chicken and dumplings.

 My mother understood her role as a parent.  Her favorite warning was, “Don’t think that you can get away with anything, because, whatever it is you’re planning, I’ve already done it.”

  • If you snuck in the basement door thinking that you’d gotten away with violating the curfew, you’d be likely to find mom asleep in your bed.
  •  If you said for the third time you were late because you went to see Dr. Zhivago (and it was a lie), you’d find out that she went to the matinee that afternoon and had some pretty picky questions about the plot.           

My mother also offered lots of lessons about what it takes to be a good person:

 She taught us that every person deserves your respect.

  •  Treat everyone like you would want to be treated, whether she’s the waitress, your secretary, or the president of the United States.
  •  Meet intolerance with tolerance. 
  •  Be fearless about confronting injustice or discrimination where you see it.
  •  All I have to do is look out at the cross cultural extended American family gathered here to know she lived this lesson well.

Mom made sure that we understood that big kids take care of the little kids.

  • Taught in the microcosm of our family … when we were growing up, the 3 big kids always had one of the 3 little kids as their buddy … Pete was my buddy then.  Today, he’s my buddy.
  • The larger lesson was that if you are strong enough, rich enough, able enough to help someone weaker, poorer or less able, you have a solemn duty to do it.

 Mom worked hard to keep us from getting too big for our britches.

  • Your father may be wearing four stars, but in the dispensary what counts is how sick you are. 
  •  Just because there is a formal dining room in the general’s quarters doesn’t mean that you get to sit in it and be served breakfast.

She was determined not to let anyone take themselves too seriously.

  • If you were visiting a family, like ours, that dressed out of the dryer, you couldn’t get upset if everyone in the family ended up wearing your underwear.

Finally, my mother was clear that the only thing that matters ultimately is what you think of yourself … not what others think of you.

 If the Japanese brass are coming to dinner at Camp Zama, serve fried chicken and sweet potato pie fixed by Junious Spot because that’s who you are;

 don’t try to be something that you aren’t… you’ll only end up serving bad Japanese food.

 My mother looked at me once and said… “why do you spend so much time worrying about what others think? You are who you are, if you don't love yourself no one else can.”

 Like most of us, my mother wasn’t always good about following her own advice. 

 But, her life, and your presence to celebrate it, proves one truth that is absolute:

 Love is infinite. 

 The more you give away, the more you get back.  

I know that my mother would want each of us to take some of the good karma present here today and give it away to others as we go forward from today with her as our ever-present guide.