A lot of what we do – the way we behave, the way we misbehave, our good habits and our bad habits – we learned from our parents. Blame it all on dad and mom, which is what some of us have been doing since we were kids.
My father smoked. I smoked. My mother joked. I joke. My father drank Scotch. I drank Scotch. My mother was forgiving. I – well, I try.
My mother taught me a lot of things. She even taught me how to cook. Back in the olden days, that meant I could make a fried pepperoni sandwich, which for purposes of good health, I wouldn’t even attempt today because the very thought of it pushes my cholesterol to 300.
My mother also taught me a few other things you seldom see anymore in civil society, which to my thinking is a lot less civilized than it once was and getting worse.
She taught me to get up and give my seat to a woman, which I’ve done throughout my life but do less frequently now because the women are generally a lot younger than I am and more capable of standing on the train. Sorry, Mom. I’ll try harder next time.
She taught me always to say "please" and "thank you" and "pardon me." And she taught me always to walk on the outside of the sidewalk when I was accompanying a woman. Once upon a time, gentlemen routinely did this because, as mom explained, if a runaway car comes careening onto the sidewalk, you want to make sure the lady is protected. As for you, well, things happen.
I still walk on the outside and it causes confusion, especially when I’m with a younger woman. If we change direction, and I have to move to the other side, she’ll wonder what the heck I’m doing and look at me quizzically as if I have some sort of nervous disorder.
After I explain what I’m doing, she’ll say something like, "Oh, that’s an unusual custom," which translated means, "You’re really an antique." That, however, doesn’t deter me from the cause of chivalry.
The other day at Mass, I did something else mom taught me when I was 7. While we were reciting the creed and the name of Jesus was mentioned, I bowed my head in respect, as I always do. Sometimes I do it habitually and don’t think about what I’m doing. More often, I’ve been trying to do it with conscious reverence.
Looking around the church, it was apparent a lot of people didn’t have a mother like mine or never understood the meaning of those verses in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians where he says, "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
Reverence for the holy name of Jesus is so important in a culture that is given over to darkness, and a simple bow of the head doesn’t take a great deal of effort. And how utterly offensive is it when people – believers and not just militant atheists – use his name as a common curse word, uttering it in ridicule or anger. I have to say that my mother, who certainly did her share of swearing, never included Jesus’ name in her repertoire.
She taught me a lot of other things that mothers today don’t usually teach their children. She taught me my morning and evening prayers and how to say the rosary. She taught me to genuflect on two knees before the exposed Blessed Sacrament.
She taught me 100 other expressions of faith that the nuns probably taught her at St. Augustine’s grammar school in Bridgeport, which was her only education because during World War II, she had to quit school to work at Kresge’s and later at Remington Arms to help support her family.
But even during the last days of her life, when her memory had deteriorated from Alzheimer’s – and she could only remember who I was after I reminded her – she still remembered all her prayers and the responses during Mass.
Most important of all, she remembered to bow her head at the mention of the name of Jesus.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.