Tuesday, July 17, 2012


This weekend, I read the latest issue of Real Simple magazine, which has several stories of conversations that changed people in some way, stories of times when someone's words had a vital influence on another person's life and perceptions.

Funny how I was reminded of this very thing a few weeks ago while on Kaua'i.

Jack, Eli, and Barbara on the pier at Hanalei Bay last month

You see, while we sat by the pool enjoying a sweet ocean breeze rippling through the palm trees, my nephew Eli shared a memory with me, one that left me reeling with shock and of which I have no memory at all.

Matt, Me, and Eli reading a book together many years ago
before my hair turned gray

When he was young, the family had gathered at my parents-in-law's home in Boulder, Colorado. We decided to go to a movie, but it wasn't the movie Eli wanted to see, so he whined and cried on the way.

As he remembers it, during the drive to the theater, I told him, "Eli, you're acting like a brat."

For the record, I officially deny ever saying such a sentence to any child, much less a beloved nephew. I have told my own children they were "not behaving nicely," which is an example of the rhetorical trope of litotes and sounds much better than "you're acting like a brat" but means exactly the same thing.

Eli, however, actually appreciated my saying this to him, and ever since, when he catches himself whining about not getting his way, he remembers that Aunt Susan, the woman who read books to him and talked to him and spent time with him, and whom he admired and thought "cool," called him out for acting like a brat. Even today, these words resonate with him.

Because if Aunt Susan says it, he needs to listen.

His mother claims that she had told him he was acting like a brat a number of times, but he never listened to her. In fact, she brought up the very good point that our moms are constantly telling us to behave and not pitch fits, but we tune our moms out simply because they are always saying these things.

 Blah, blah, blah, whatever, Mom. *insert rolling eyes here*

When another adult says something, however, we listen much better.

Of course, this aunt never called her nephew a brat, but if it has helped Eli, well, I concede that might be what he heard. But I never said it.

When I'd gotten over the shock of Eli's gratitude for something I never said, I remembered a similar instance in my own early childhood when an adult told me a truth that I actually heard. I was five and our preschool class was outside picking up pecans and eating them. I was far too busy running and playing and having fun to pick up pecans, so when I got hungry, I plopped down next to a random grown-up and said, "I'm ready for some pecans now."

And yes, I said "PEE-cans" because we were in southern Georgia at the time, and that's how they say pecans down South. For the record, I now say "peh-CAHNS" because I don't live in Georgia anymore and people look at me funny if I say it any other way. Unless, of course, I want to annoy George, in which case I say "PEE-cans" really loud and with a pronounced Southern twang that adds an extra syllable so it sounds like "PEE-ca-yuns."

But back to the story. The man replied, very matter-of-factly, "I picked up these. You need to pick up your own."

I was stunned.

You mean to tell me I'm NOT a princess to be waited upon by men?

You mean to tell me that a grown-up isn't going to share with me?

You mean to tell me to get off my ass and get my own?

Well, all righty then. I got up and scavenged my own pecans.

The man helped me crack the pecans since my five-year-old hands weren't yet strong enough to crack them. I remember the lesson and his kindness afterwards.

I wonder if he does.

What words spoken to you influenced your understanding of life? Please share your story!


  1. my mom once told me that my big mouth would get me in trouble. correct correct correct

  2. by the way, i'm so northern it didn't occur to me that pecans fell from trees in shells. duh

  3. Two great stories, Susan. Regardless of what "he heard" you've been a great influence on his life. That's wonderful.

  4. Being the oldest of four children, I must have been a bit bossy. However, when I was one of four roommates in college, it didn't take long for them to "gently" inform me that I was NOT the boss of them and that I might want to consider that my way of doing something may not be the only way. I can remember that light bulb moment just like it was yesterday.....

  5. I started sewing when I was 14 in junior high. When I was in my early twenties; I made myself a bright red skirt and jacket. The jacket had patch pockets on the front. I was so proud of that project. I went over to my mom and stepdad's for some holiday.

    I was modeling my new project when my stepdad commented that one pocket was 3/4" lower.

    I was devastated. But, I learned. I became much more critical of my various craft projects.

    I think that comment had quite a bit of influence on the work I do today. I'm a tool designer/checker for FoMoCo. I don't think I would have gotten as far as I have without it.

    And as for card making and scrapbooking? I can't stand things that are not level and symmetrical. : )

  6. In college, I started to tell a friend something about another friend...the first asked me, "Does she know you are telling me this?"

    I was stunned. OF COURSE SHE DIDN'T KNOW. I was pretty irritated at first, then ashamed. I've never forgotten it. And that was 30+ years ago.

    Now, I ask myself, "Does she know you are telling this?" If she doesn't, its gossip. If you would not repeat it in front of her face, it does not bear repeating. Period.

    Have I failed this test since then? Yes. But rarely, and never without remorse.

  7. In general, I do agree with you. However, I remember the shock when (about 25 years ago) I asked a young niece to please stop kicking me in the head (she was climbing on the back of the couch), and she looked at me and said, "You're not my mother, and you can't tell me what to do." Ugh.


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!