This story was originally preformed as a stand-up routine at the 2020 Erma Bombeck Writer’s Conference, seen only by the 600+ in attendance. Here is the story, shared for newsletter subscribers. To see it, please subscribe to the Robb’s newsletter.
Mothers are our first teachers, right? And they have a tough job!
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Take table manners, for instance.
Just look around in any restaurant. A mother’s work is never done.
“Keep your elbows off the table!”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full!”
“Don’t’ hide food in your napkin… That is food, right?”
All this is standard stuff, but at age 10, I got an advanced lesson in extreme table manners.
We’d just moved to a new neighborhood. Late one afternoon, Dad was out back BBQing steaks and Mom was sitting the table. There was a knock on the door, and when I opened it, a kid, maybe 4, blew by me and installed himself at our dinner table.
Mom didn’t miss a beat, she put a plate in front of him and we ended up feeding him.
But that’s not the weird thing.
Next night, he was back with two older siblings. And Mom fed them all….
And this went on for weeks.
So, steak night became half-rations. Chocolate cake night? No leftovers for lunch, and Ice Cream Sunday? Forget getting any toppings. The locust-boys scarfed them all up before they made their way around the table.
This was the new normal, and I was not happy. So, I complained … a lot. And all I got was Mom’s homily. “There’s always room at our table.”
How weird is this? I though, and I fumed.
I suffered for months, years, or centuries, maybe. It felt like forever. Whenever I had an unkind thought, Mom would read my mind and give me “that look.” And I kept quiet.
Then, in a flash, the trio vanished!
Word on the street was that the whole family had suddenly disappeared in a station wagon and a fleet of battered pickups.
I was thrilled. And the more I jumped up and down, whistled, smiled and laughed with joy, the madder my mother got. Finally, she grabbed me by the shoulders and sat me down.
“Look,” she growled. “I know hunger when I see it. My parents didn’t always have dinner on our table, and when I was 12, I got a job at a movie theater and lived on stale popcorn.”
I sat there in silence, stunned.
“So, buster, you have a choice. You can live in a world where you close your door to suffering, or you can open the door, open your heart, and make room at the table.” She paused for effect. “The question is which world do you want to live in?”
I looked at her, and as I’d been taught, answered honestly.
“The one with leftover chocolate cake?”
Mom threw her arms up and turned red in the face.
“Fine. Go to your room, and think about that answer.”
So, I trudged down the hall and spent the afternoon in deep reflection.
And I did learn an important lesson that day. One that I still practice today.
BEWARE THE RHETORICAL QUESTION!
Yeah, mothers, they have a tough job.