The moms of our own childhoods were not much different from us, but they DID have one important tool for child rearing that we in the 21st century have dropped. And sold. And thrown away.
Growing up, my house had a special room that provided words of wisdom and sage advice on every topic of moral importance. All I had to do was walk inside this loud, multi-colored area and my eyes were assaulted by more verbiage than that of a long-winded preacher at a summer revival.
I was lucky. I lived in a home with a KITSCH-en. Our kitchen walls held every porcelain plate, plaque, and knick-knack Asian factories ever exported. Some were chipped, most were ugly, and all of them were carefully arranged in artful disarray. But these decorations weren’t just eye candy. They had a noble purpose.
Walking into the kitchen was an adventure in learning. I was surrounded by advice as to how a sensible life should be led. All I had to do was read the walls.
Breakfast time. Cheery greetings and prophetic pronouncements for the day surrounded my bowl of cereal.
“TODAY IS THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!” beamed its optimism from a dusty spoon rest hanging over the stove. An impish pixie sneered another wise message from a plaque near the icebox. He had words for teeth: “SMILE—IT INCREASES YOUR FACE VALUE”. (Gulp.) His creepiness and painfully chipped left ear forced me to comply.
A garishly painted chalkware rooster crowed and strutted across the pale wall next to the clock, threatening to peck at the electric cord running to the outlet below. A rainbow of words crowned his head, giving me a glimpse of Mom’s progressive, Women’s Lib side.
“THE ROOSTER MAY CROW, BUT THE HEN DELIVERS THE GOODS”. Right on. I carried my bowl to the sink and toddled off to school, full of Cheerios and subliminal ceramic teachings.
The musings of the ages were molded into those plaques. Messages of morality clobbered me at every meal, bruising Bible verses against my brain. In our “kitsch” -en, I learned that “THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD” and, as a bonus, how to spell the word “shepherd” before most of my friends could.
Another verse hovered above the table (on a black cast iron horseshoe) and kept me entertained through countless meals. Its words inspired calm reflection for the grownups, but I loved it for its tongue-twisting quality.
The “PEACE THAT PASSETH ALL UNDERSTANDING” was just fun to say. Real fast. Ten times. And even though I had no clue as to its meaning at the time, the words p-p-puttered their way into my memory, ready to surface when I was old enough to understand.
“MOTHER IS ANOTHER WORD FOR LOVE”. Hard to believe when your mother was scowling or yelling about mud tracks through the room, but the message hung in the “kitsch” -en, so it had to be true. I was warned not to “COUNT YOUR CHICKENS BEFORE THEY HATCH”. Reminded to “TAKE ONE DAY AT A TIME”.
The messages that pelted me from our kitchen walls stick with me to this day, like the yellow filmy buildup on an old linoleum floor. And, oddly, I’ve come to enjoy the tackiness.
Today’s kitchens are not the garish places of our childhoods. They are tastefully decorated, subtly accented, and woefully devoid of “kitsch”-en wisdom.
Maybe we should take a tip from the millions of moms who, while lacking subtlety, were clever enough to inject humor, education, and unforgettable memories into young lives with little more than walls and time-tested words of wisdom.
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