Professional women’s basketball player Lisa Leslie was tall from a very early age. In fact, in the second grade, she was already the tallest student in her class; she was even taller than her five-foot-two teacher. Of course, her height—and that of her older sister Dionne—was no surprise. Their parents were both tall. Their father, Walter, was six-foot-five, and their mother, Christine, was six-foot-three. (Lisa’s adult height was six-foot-five.) Their mother wanted the two sisters not to feel conscious about their height and often told them, “Being tall is nothing to be ashamed of.” She also told them that being tall was a sign that they were descended from African royalty. One of the things that their mother did to make them feel good about their height was to hold an at-home fashion show at the end of each summer when she bought them their school clothes for the upcoming academic year. Both sisters would take turns modeling their outfits. The training their mother gave them paid off—Lisa later did some professional modeling in addition to playing in the WNBA.
Jewish comedian Sam Levenson’s mother had to drive a sharp bargain when he was growing up because money was scarce. She would go into a grocer’s, hold up two cucumbers, and ask how much they were. When the grocer replied, “Five cents,” she would hold up one cucumber, and ask how much it was. When the grocer replied, “Three cents,” she would say, “All right, I’ll take the other one.” Once, young Sam needed a tie, so she took him to a tie salesman. The tie salesman said that the price for the tie she wanted to buy was 50 cents, and she immediately agreed to pay the full price, astonishing young Sam. When he asked her about it later, she replied that she had never liked the tie salesman, and “Tonight he will kill himself because he didn’t ask me for a dollar.”
When Olympic gold-medal-winning gymnast Kerri Strug was in the fourth grade, she spent six months working on a science project: a biosphere in a large aquarium. Unfortunately, when her brother drove her and her science project to school, he had to hit his brakes to avoid a collision with another car. The aquarium shattered, destroying six months of work, with dirt, water, frogs, and fish scattered everywhere. Fortunately, her mother was able to bring Kerri another aquarium, and they put the science project back together. However, Kerri told her mother, “This is the worst day of my life.” Her mother then said something wise and wonderful: “I’ll be happy if this is your worst day.” (For the worst day, it wasn’t so bad — Kerri’s science project won second prize.)
In April of 1993 at Washington D.C., Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel spoke at the dedication of the Holocaust Memorial Museum. He told the story of a woman in the Carpathian Mountains 50 years previously who had heard about the rebellion of the Jews in Warsaw, Poland, and who could not understand why they were fighting. She asked, “Why are our Jews in Warsaw behaving like this? Why are they fighting? Couldn’t they have waited patiently until the end of the war?” This woman was unaware of the concentration camps and of why the Jews were fighting. One year passed, and then she and her family were forced onto cattle cars and taken to Auschwitz. Mr. Wiesel then told the crowd, “She was my mother.” She did not survive the Holocaust.
The mother of Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, was very encouraging to her son. He once showed her a drawing he had made of an animal with enormous ears. He told her that the animal was called a “Wynnmph,” and his mother said that of course that was the animal’s name and that his drawing of it was wonderful. In addition, his mother encouraged him to read and play piano as well as draw and actually used his love of reading to bribe him to practice his piano lessons. When he played well, she took him to a bookstore and let him pick out a book for her to buy for him.
When world-famous window dresser Simon Doonan was four years old, he threw his mother’s bras out the window. When she asked him why he had done that, he replied. “Because they flutter.” (Young Simon was effeminate and gay and interested in fabulous fashion. At the circus, he saw some ladies wearing fabulous costumes with plumes and asked his mother, “Why can’t you dress like that?”)
Miriam gave birth to seven sons, all of whom were martyred because they declined to worship idols, even when doing so could save their lives. When her final son was about to be executed, she kissed him and told him to give a message to Abraham, “Say to him: do not be proud because you were willing to sacrifice your only son—I have sacrificed all my seven sons.”
Some of the comedy routines of Mike Nichols and Elaine May started with a line from real life. For example, Mr. Nichols’ mother once telephoned him and said, “Hello, Michael, this is your mother — do you remember me?” Mr. Nichols had to ask her to hang up so he could call Ms. May and tell her about the new comedy line they would improvise around that night.
In the 1970s, actor Donald Sutherland, star of M*A*S*H, was both a cinematic icon and a sex symbol; however, some people may consider him an unlikely sex symbol. When he was in his teens, he asked his mother if he was handsome. She replied, “Donald, to be perfectly truthful, no. But your face has a lot of character.”
The mother of New Yorker cartoonist George Booth gave him good advice: “Always stand upright. Act like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. Finally, no matter what you’re getting paid, give it plenty of oomph!”
Conductor George Szell’s ear was developed at an early age. As a child, he used to listen to his mother play the piano. Whenever she played a wrong note, he slapped her wrist.
“Just when a mother thinks her job is done, she becomes a grandmother.” — Anonymous.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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