My mother's 10 rules to live by

Take them with a grain of salt, but just one grain or you'll bloat.

Published May 12, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

1. Never apologize for your cooking.

Simply say, if your guests inquire about the intriguing blue-gray puddle beneath their pork chops, or the haystack quality of your turkey tetrazzini, "That's how they do it in France."

2. Sex is only good if it's with someone you love.

This, as far as I know, is the only lie my mother has ever told me.

3. Go out with him; you never know whom you will meet. Who knows, he might have nice friends.

Meaning: Go out with him, maybe after a six-pack of wine coolers, he won't seem like such a crashing bore.

4. Put a quarter in your shoe. No matter what, you can always call me and I'll come get you. No questions asked.

No questions were necessary when my mother brought me home roaring drunk from an ugly debutante function -- there were always a few of us public school girls invited for local color -- and I chased an imaginary lobster around the kitchen. Punishment -- pulling weeds at 8 a.m. with a ripping hangover -- was necessary.

5. Don't worry, it will be dark.

This is said when my eyeliner is crookedly applied, making me look like a stroke victim, or when I've just noticed that my dress sports a mysterious stain, possibly wine, mud or barbecue sauce. A garden party? "Don't worry," my mother chants, "it will be dark!" Translated, that means: "Daughter, you are a blazing little sun; no one will care what you are wearing! All around you is darkness!"

6. Are you going out in that?

I realize this is a classic mom line, but it reminds me of a funny story.

In the '70s, my mother was, to my preppy wrap-skirt and docksiders horror, wild about long, slinky halter dresses. She and my father once were invited to a dinner party thrown by some stuffy, conservative folks. My mother decided to buy a new dress for the occasion. Thing was, the dress she fell in love with wasn't a dress at all, it was a nightgown. A long, silky, midnight-blue nightgown with spaghetti straps and a plunging back.

She was mad about it, so she wore it to the party. Perhaps there were stares, or whispers, but according to my mother, it dawned on her, somewhere around the salad course, that it really did appear as though she was wearing a nightgown and she was mortified.

Instead of feigning malaria or a chill and commandeering my father's suit coat (always a cunning look), my mother just acted as if nothing was wrong. In the car on the way home, she asked my father, "How could you let me go out in a nightgown?" To which he replied, "You really seemed to want to wear it."

As if anybody could have stopped her.

7. You can freeze that and serve it again if company should happen to drop by.

This happens. Unearthed from the back of my mother's freezer, I have seen mysterious blocks of ice defrost into surreal banquets of crab cream, sausage tarts, pecan pie, chocolate decadence and nameless casseroles of undetermined origins. Thing is, people keep coming back.

8. When someone asks you to dance, say yes; you never know if you'll be asked again.

My mother is a dancer. Not a professional Arthur Murray type, but a "dancing to the Cowboy Junkies while folding laundry" kind of dancer. (Not to mention a sickeningly limber and strong yoga person who can contort in ways that ought to make her a shoo-in should she ever pursue a second life in the circus.)

In the '50s, while ensconced at a girls boarding school, my mother and her roommates used to sneak down to the kitchen after lights out, where the kitchen staff, all black men, were listening to the radio. These gentlemen taught my mother and her friends to dance.

I can just see my mother in a cardigan that my grandmother knitted for her, in loafers with no socks, her blond pageboy hair pinned away from her face, dancing with a bemused gentleman beside a six-burner stove and a giant stainless steel sink, a gleaming assortment of pots and pans hanging overhead like a chandelier.

9. Don't say "hate." Hate is a very strong word.

But it is OK to hate Hitler.

10. Never blow your own horn.

As in, I'll do it for you.

By Elissa Schappell

Elissa Schappell is the author of, most recently, the short-story collection "Blueprints for Building Better Girls."

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