“Don’t kiss a girl without being prepared to give her your last name.”
My granny said that.
My father gave me this one: “If you so much as touch a cigarette, you might as well tear up half your paychecks from now on.”
My mother’s axiom, however, is my all-time favorite: “It’ll be okay.”
It might sound like a simple phrase, but my mother said this often. Whenever things were running off the rails. Whenever a girl broke my heart. Whenever I lost my job. Whenever I cried. Whenever I had a common cold that I believed to be, for example, tuberculosis, she said these words. I needed her to say them.
She also said: “Cleaning your plate means ‘I love you.’”
And this is why I was an overweight child.
I could keep going all day.
“Don’t answer the phone when you got company over,” my uncle once said. “It’s just flat rude.”
This one is from my elderly friend, Mister Boots: “That smartphone is making you stupid.”
My grandfather said: “Anything worth doing is worth waiting until next week to do.” Then he’d crack open another cold one.
My wife’s mother once said: “Always carry deodorant in your truck. You don’t want to smell like you’ve been out roping billy goats when you bump into the pastor.”
Said the man named Bill Bonners, in a nursing home, from his wheelchair during an interview: “I never wanted to be a husband, I really didn’t want that. But I just couldn’t breathe without her around me.”
Mister Bill died only four days after his wife passed.
And one childhood evening, I was on a porch with my friend’s father, Mister Allen James who was whittling a stick, and he said: “Boys, if you marry ‘up,’ you’ll have to attend a lotta parties you don’t wanna go to. You wanna be happy, marry someone who knows her way around a supermarket.” I never forgot it.
On the day of my father’s funeral, a preacher came through the visitation line and said: “No man ever truly dies. Not really.”
I’ve said this at a few funerals myself because I believe it.
Said the seventh-grade teacher named Miss Rhonda, who was passing around a basket for students to place cellphones into during an presentation I was doing at a public school:
“Playing on your phone in public is like peeing in a parking garage; unless it’s a life-or-death emergency, it’s gross.”
From my pal’s father, Mister Jimmy: “When you’ve loved a good woman, all poetry starts to make sense.”
From my father: “A man is ugliest when he’s jealous.”
My uncle said: “Don’t fall in love with her hair-color, eye-color, or figure. Fall in love with her mama, her brother, and her sisters.”
And I love this one, from my uncle, the Missionary Baptist preacher. “The secret to happiness is to not want anything.”
And this one: “When you’re older, you’ll realize that being right ain’t nearly as fun as getting along is.” Elderly Mister Tommy said that while we were fishing.
My father’s friend, Dale, once said: “Don’t ever make the mistake of being seventy-two. Nobody forgives you for that. Go straight to being seventy-three instead.”
Said my friend Louis: “I like cats better than dogs. Dogs don’t judge you, or hold things against you. A guy can be a real jerk and still be a dog guy. But if you’re not nice to a cat, he’ll burn your house down while you sleep.”
My aunt’s immortal words: “I can tolerate a lot of things, but ignorance ain’t one of them.”
And my friend, the hospital chaplain, who died last year: “I never met a man who was dying that wasn’t at peace with it. There’s something mysterious that happens, I can’t explain it. That’s why, even if I were an atheist, I’d still have to believe in Heaven. Not because I’ve seen it myself, but because I’ve seen the people who’ve seen it.”
And my friend, the author, who once told me: “To be a writer is to be a homeless guy who can type really fast.”
My friend, Lyle: “Don’t try to hit a home run, just sit down, eat a hotdog, and let someone else strike out.”
From my old boss: “When you’re a kid, you wanna be an adult so bad you can taste it. But when you’re an adult, all you are is fat.”
A deacon once told me: “Biloxi, Mississippi, was invented by Episcopalians for Baptists.”
My granddaddy once spoke about choosing friends: “Don’t ever go fishing with anyone who you wouldn’t let marry your sister.”
And this one’s from me:
I hope you never forget the people who made you the person you are today. I hope their words stick with you. And may I forever remember my mother’s gentle wisdom, no matter how bad life seems, no matter what kind of sadness surrounds me.
“It’ll be okay.”
Because I believe it will.