5. Piano Lessons
Oh how she tried. But would I listen? No.
Every week, for a good two years, Mom drove me to Ramona Skaggs’ house in Boyd County for piano lessons. Every week, I’d complain, with (what I realize now) were insufferable comments.
“Do I have to do this?” I would ask, right about the time we approached Boy Scout Road.
“Knowing how to play piano is not something I care about,” I’d make sure to say as we passed the place that used to be Camp Verity.
“None of my other friends have to take piano lessons,” I’d argue as we passed the cattle farm on the left, before the bend in the road that led to Skyline Drive.
And finally: “Why can’t we have McDonald’s for dinner?” (Wait — that’s a different story.)
“When you’re older, you’ll wish you knew how to play piano,” Mom told me.
Once, she even enlisted Grandad in the struggle. “If you know how to play the piano, you’ll be the life of the party,” he said. He was speaking from the heart, but I could tell he was also being coached from the sidelines.
After valiant and steadfast perseverance, Mom finally realized I was going to have to learn this one the hard way.
One day, on Boy Scout Road, between Camp Verity and Skyline Drive, she caved.
“Okay. No more piano lessons.”
As a result, today I can play “Chopsticks” and “Heart and Soul,” and then I’m out. I was always terrible at sports, so piano would have been a great hobby. As a teenager, I picked up guitar pretty easily. If I’d listened to my mom, I’d be able to play two instruments instead of one.
Mom, you were right about piano lessons.
4. High School Yearbooks
As I mentioned in my post about the 1992 UK-Duke game, my teenage rebellion took on peculiar forms, e.g., my decision to briefly wear U-of-L sweatshirts.
What makes teenage boys so angry? What makes them want to listen to angry music? What makes them want to shock their elders? I don’t know, but it’s clear that Moms are a good counterweight to teenage boys' anger (as the “Baltimore Mom” demonstrated recently).
For some reason, my freshman year, I decided I didn’t want a copy of my high school yearbook. This is an especially strange attitude for someone who would later grow up to be a journalism professor who oversees student publications. What was I trying to prove? What statement was I trying to make? I’ll never know. I’ll never remember.
Thankfully, Mom overruled me. “When you’re older, you’ll want it,” she said, and she made sure I got all four yearbooks.
I graduated from high school 20 years ago this year, and nostalgia is running pretty high for me right now. My yearbooks are treasured not only by me, but also by my wife, who finds it endlessly amusing that, in my senior year, I apparently dragged my guitar around with me for picture day. “You were that guy?” Jessica asked me. Yep, I guess I was.
Mom, you were right about high school yearbooks.
3. The Importance of Apologies
Mom probably doesn’t remember this particular moment. When I was about 12, we got a set of nice, new towels. Unable to resist their fluffiness (yes, I said it, and I’m going to own it), I helped myself to a hand towel out of the bathroom closet right as Mom was walking by. “Don’t use the new towels — those are for company,” she said.
Okay, makes sense. I guess we have different towels for company. File it under "things you don't understand but have to obey anyway." Eat your vegetables, don't sit too close to the television, and don't use the new towels to dry your hands. Not a big deal.
But later that day, Mom came up to me and said there was no way for me to know the new towels were off limits, and that I could go ahead and use them. “I’m sorry I got after you,” she said.
Sorry? But she didn’t even do anything wrong. Still, it bothered her that she — well, “snapped at me” isn’t the right phrase. There was no snapping. A furrowed eyebrow at the most. But yet, it bothered her.
This little exchange conveyed a big message to me: It’s a good and positive and mature thing to own up to your mistakes. It takes a big person to admit when you’re wrong, and to say you’re sorry. Some people think when you admit a mistake, you show weakness. But to me, it indicates strength, and that’s due in large part to my mom’s example.
Mom, you were right about apologies.
2. The Importance of “The Little Things”
I was about 10 or 11 when Dad and I went to see EKU play UT-Martin in football. Dad is a big EKU fan, with stacks of VHS tapes of The Roy Kidd Show to prove it. In addition to our trips to Richmond, we would sometimes drive to away games. This particular game was going to be a father-son bonding trip.
At the hotel in Tennessee, Dad was talking to Mom on the phone. When he hung up, he announced that we were not only going to see EKU play, but we were also going to see Ruby Falls, Rock City, and some of the other Eastern Tennessee attractions you see advertised on interstate billboards.
I asked why the trip was suddenly going to include more adventures besides just the EKU game.
“Your mom said I should take you to those things too,” he told me. “She said, ‘It’s the little things he’ll remember.’”
Indeed, that "little thing" happened almost 30 years ago, and I remember it clearly.
I don’t always live up to the goal of doing “the little things” for people. But when I do, I think about that weekend in Tennessee.
Mom, you were right about the little things.
1. The Importance of Putting Others First
Mom is a teacher, not a performer. She avoids the spotlight when possible. But I’ll never forget when she got up in front of dozens of people at my dad’s 70th birthday party and sang her rendition of “Life Is a Highway” for my dad.
She changed the lyrics to tell the story of all the trips they’ve taken together, and changed the chorus to: “Life is a highway / and I’m riding it with Dick Wheeler.”
The next year, my mom, who has an aversion to flying, rode in a World War II airplane with my dad for his birthday (a gift from my creative sister).
Getting out of your comfort zone. Overriding your own personality for someone else's benefit. Putting someone else first. I can’t say I do these things very often, but when I do, it’s because of Mom.
Mom, you were right about putting others first.
Happy Mothers' Day!