Rules of Engagement

Mama’s rules of behavior were established long ago in the “Old Country.” She was Americanized in speech and dress, but her religious beliefs and practices were established “over there.”

Mama’s rules of engagement were in two areas—meeting people and potential mates for her four boys.  Rules upon meeting people depended on whether you were a stranger or friend/family.

Strangers were approached with caution.  Mama had an uncanny eye for seeing through them.  She said, “It is all in the eyes.” She stared at and watched their reaction.  If the stranger seemed uncomfortable, Mama would see right through him/her.

When Mama met friend/family she always asked about your health.  One never answered Mama with, “okay, fine” or just “good.” She knew of your last or current illness and you had to address it—in detail.  Part of your answer had to be what you did, were doing or needed to do to become “healthy.” Mama had everyone’s “condition” memorized and could spout it off at the drop of a hat.  Likewise, she was a walking health encyclopedia.

Mama’s rules of engagement for “girls” for her four sons, was an entirely different matter.  The first thing to know was that there were no girls good enough, but “We have to get as good as possible.  It is just as easy to marry a rich girl as a poor one” The adage of the apple not falling far from the tree was the first step in the long list for the bases of Mama’s evaluation.

Although Mama married one of those—a Galitsianer, she was determined that none of her four boys would make the same mistake.  Her argument was that in her case she was a poor girl who did not speak much English and worked as a seamstress.  Her sons, however, were college boys.  Any mishpokhe (family) would be very lucky to get such a catch.

Mama seemed to be more disappointed as the boys fell along the line.  “You should have learned from your brother’s mistakes.  I warned you and you would not listen.  A mother knows in her heart what is right, and still you wouldn’t listen to me.  I had no choice, but you—look at you—you are a college boy.  You have everything.  You deserve the best, and look at what you got.  Don’t come crying to me—I told you so and you did not want to listen.  I hope your children will listen to you more than you listened to me.”

Mama’s rules of engagement were instinctive and used to aid in protecting those she loved, especially her four boys.