Words of Wisdom from Mama and Hank Williams


I am of that bridge generation. I remember when lives were private matters, when the only persons who knew the latest news and most of the town’s gossip were the Baptist preacher and the party-line operator.

But that was another life-time ago. A time before 24-7 news. A time before the yapping heads of talk shows. A time before technology. A time before Twitter, Instagram and MeBook. A time when it was considered the height of vulgarity to get all up in somebody’s business.

I was raised by a private woman. Mama did not live her life out loud. She lived a quiet life, kept to herself, never participated in gossip of any sort. I honestly never heard my mother talk bad about anybody, ever. She did not say bad things about relatives, or neighbors, or co-workers. Whatever battles she had – and she worked as a prison nurse, she must have had some – she kept them to herself. It wasn’t until she was on her dying bed that Mama talked at all about the patients she had served over the years.

Mama grew up during that World War II era, raised up by a police officer and his wife. The youngest and only girl of five brothers, Mama was more tomboy than twittering girl. She could spend hours in absolute solitude on a riverbank, thinking her private thoughts and occasionally cussing the lack of bites. If I heard her say it once I heard her say a thousand times: “If you can’t say something nice about somebody, don’t say anything at all.” Which leads me to wonder: Did Mama just never have anything nice to say about other people? Because, I’m telling you, she never talked about others.

No matter how mad a person made her, Mama would not say anything disrespectful about them. She never spoke ill of any of us children or our spouses. If she didn’t agree with something we were doing, she’d tell us. She’d even tell our spouses. But she wouldn’t talk about a person behind their backs. Or at least, if she did, I never heard her.

Mama was not the most affirmative of people. She wouldn’t go around falsely praising others. Even if one of us had done something worth praising, Mama would not brag on us to others. And she certainly wouldn’t tell us for fear we’d get what she called “the big head.”

Seems our culture is comprised of people with nothing but the “Big Head”. People are encouraged to go on Social Media and broadcast their entire lives. We become “friends” with “Big Head” people because it makes us feel like we are somebody. We “follow Big-Headed” people because, well, I don’t know why. Do you?

Because I am of that bridge generation, I remember when the person most respected in a community, most respected anywhere was the humble man and/or woman. The person who lived in a modest home and gave their monies – sometimes millions of dollars – to local libraries or schools or hospitals.   The person who didn’t broadcast their business, or tolerate those who did.

I remember a time when it was considered crass to ask personal questions of one another, particularly in public forums. Nowadays people think nothing of asking others the most intimate details of their lives. Lordy, some people are famous just for posting their most intimate business online.

There was a time when it was considered uncouth to ask another person how much money they made, or where they lived, or when they planned to move and/or retire.

Seems with this “Big-Headed” culture in which we now find ourselves, people don’t think twice about being crass. Even the most professional people will ask the most inappropriate questions in public forums.

All this vulgarity makes me miss my mama. She always had a ready answer for people who dared ask her rude questions.

“Mind your own business,” Mama would reply, smiling sweetly as she said it, of course.



Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.


Jack Riston

about 7 years ago

The thing that perplexes me is the seemingly lack of awareness of the swinging of the pendulum from the religious Right minding everyone's business, to the religious Left minding everyone's business. Similarly to your comment, I grew up in the era when it was considered uncouth, or certainly becoming so, to question the intimate details of someone's life. We moved from the era of judging people on their perceived moral failings, their appearance, their musical tastes, their tats, and I thought that to be a relatively good thing. Having grown up in a strongly religious household, I knew well what I had been taught about right and wrong. Thankfully, I escaped the more orthodox teachings that considered everything from dancing to a sip of wine as hell-worthy lapses. it seemed that the world was quite large enough for people who thought differently. But, now, we've gravitated to a world where we are not only asked to be tolerant to different beliefs and ideologies, but literally forced (read: shamed) to celebrate those different beliefs. And, it doesn't stop there. The minding of other's business is quickly extending to the monitoring, and eventually the dictation of what one eats, drinks, and even breathes. It's no longer a world of chastising or shunning someone who has an affair. Instead, it is a world of chastising, shaming, and even eliminating the business and earning power of someone who dares speak of multi-thousand year old moral values, or someone who wants to question and debate whether mankind's pitiful activities actually have the power to change the climate of the earth. I'm still conflicted on that issue. However, if the question cannot even be posed; if facts cannot be presented and discussed, then how will we ever know? In the same vein, we have the proof and verified death records of political systems that have risen, proven to be unsustainable, and have failed. Yet, we ignore that history and seem to rush headlong, to the vociferous and extreme beat-down of those who seem to think that this time the results will be different. Those who are still alive, who have witnessed hundreds of millions of lives snuffed out, are dismissed as befuddled elders, who are tied to a system that was, and continues to be good to themselves, but is good for no one else. And, history books are revised to support the agenda of the younger, loudest, and current crop of "leaders". I always thought we were to learn from history. However, it looks like history is inconvenient. Thus, it is dismissed. So, while I appreciate your blog today, and I applaud your mother's mindset of quietly minding her own business, there were plenty of people minding the business of others, even in those days. And, there are plenty of people who are doing that today. However, today, instead of a glance, a whisper, a bit of over-the-fence gossip, it seems that the business-minders are willing to use the power of social media, boycotts, the courts, incarceration, and even guns to get their way and force compliance. As Richard Trumka is quoted as saying, 'We will first use the poweer of persuasion. If that doesn't work, then we will use the persuasion of power.'


Karen Spears Zacharias

about 7 years ago

Good observations, Jack. Thank you for sharing. I , too, have been bothered by the insistence of Social Media upon shaming others, taking their jobs from them, forcing them to conform. (This by people who see themselves as non-conformists). Self-righteousness it seems abounds far beyond the doors of the church.



about 7 years ago

I chuckled listening to the Hank Williams lyrics, wondering how many people understood the party line telephone bits: " she picks up her receiver when she knows it's my ring." When I was a kid, the hand crank phone on the wall had big dry cell batteries that needed to be replaced every few months. You cranked the generator vigorously to signal the operator ("central") to connect and say, "Number please." Then she connected you to that line and rang for you, a series of long and short rings as appropriate. The bells of every phone on the party line all rang, so everybody knew who was getting a call and could "rubberneck". Many did. It wasn't strangers, though. It was your neighbors. The companion piece to not minding everyone else's business is to actually "mind" our own. Self discipline. Humility. Character, not fame, publicity and image... Back to the phone. For years my family's number was 20F2. Line 20, farm line, 2 short rings. "Two shorts," as we said. Text was what the pastor read in church on Sunday. Somehow, we survived without a single selfie to our names!


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