Thursday, February 08, 2007

Mom always taught us to put the interest of others ahead of our own

Photo taken a two weeks ago at sunset. It has nothing to do with the story below, which took place when I was probably 12 or 13, although I don't remember the exact year.

“Was it you?” Mom asked as I walked through the door.

“Was what me?

“Did you sign your brother up for old age insurance?”

“Uh,” I hummed thinking.

“Oh yeah, I did.” Smirking, I asked, “Did he get a letter?”

“No, a man came by today. You should be ashamed of yourself. He wanted to talk to W. I couldn’t understand what was going on until he said that he’d received a referral that your brother was interested in insurance. He thought your brother was an old man, not a fifth grader.”

I snickered.

“It’s not funny,” my mother raised her voice a bit. “This guy had a thread-bare coat and drove a rusted out car that smoked and barely ran.”

I tried to wipe the grin off my face as I braced myself for a guilt trip. She continued, telling me how he’d wasted part of his day and his gas in an attempt to sell my brother insurance. She told me how he was just trying to take care of his family and even mentioned his crumpled hat that he held in his hand as he waited at the door. Why did she have to tell me about the hat? I started to feel bad. But not too bad. It takes a while for guilt to set in. It was a good thing I didn’t know anything about insurance as a sixth grader or I’d liable to have told her I was looking out for W best interest as he could get a better rate on old age insurance as an eleven year old.

For just pennies a day, you could get this insurance, the ad promised. I could imagine my brother opening up the package of information, telling about insurance for someone 65 or older. It seemed like such a good idea when I saw the flyer in the Sunday paper. Now I wasn’t so sure. I was expecting some form of punishment but none was forthcoming. Punishment wasn't necessary as guilt washed over me and I suddenly felt responsible for burdening this insurance salesman. Heck, I probably even caused his family to go without dinner that evening. Although I’d never seen any such kids, I’d heard stories from the depression from my grandparents and was sure his kids went to school without shoes. I retreated to my room, did my homework, then headed out to play ball with the guys, hoping to forgot about the man. But occasionally, he continues to haunt me. I never saw him, however I still see him as a lean man in a worn overcoat, standing at our porch. As he waits for the door to open, his hands nervously wring that crumpled hat.


  1. That is truly beautiful Sage

    Your mother knew exactly how you would feel and that was more than enough punishment for doing something you thought was good.

    It's also quite funny. Thanks for the picture also

  2. Whomever got you that digital camera made a wise investment. That picture looks like something you would see in a calendar.

    When you picture the old man, can you also hear him bad mouth you to his wife when he got home that night?

  3. mama-sage advice indeed.

    i hate that guilty feeling. i get that when i see men like that even if i've done nothing. and people selling roses 'n stuff in bars break my flippin heart.


  4. I can't believe you'd pull that on Willy Loman... For shame.

    I like your mom's style... though that was more my dad's forte. My mom just handled responsibility and discipline.


  5. Hmmm, maybe there should be some guilt placed upon insurance companies who would pay their employees so little...

  6. That story made ME feel guilty.
    And I didn't do anything!
    Your mom sure knew how to deal with you.

    You should have done what I did.
    I called Tampax and had them send my brother tampon samples.

  7. Well I hope you learned your lesson, Sage! LOL

  8. those are the lessons we learn as kids that stick with us for life and make us better and more thoughtful adults.

  9. Pia--yeah, guilt, the great punishment!

    Murf, I haven't thought of that, now I will!

    Gautami, yes, they do.

    David, thanks for stopping by

    Pergo, Southern mothers are great with guilt. When I first heard people describing Jewish mothers, I thought they were mistakening them for Southern moms.

    Anon. I'm sure his salary was tied to this sales. On the other hand, maybe he dressed like that to get sympathy and to make sales.

    Meghan, nothing like sharing the guilt around, but if you did that to your brother, I don't feel guilty sharing it :)

    Kenju, I've learned so many lessons that I've started forgetting and am having to relearn!

    Diane, in light of what I just said to Kenju-you're right, the lessons do stick!

  10. Your story struck me as I find myself contemplating old wrongs I have committed all the time. Sometimes, when I lay in my bed at night, I toss and turn while pondering how I might have acted differently. Some childhood lessons stay with us indefinitely.

  11. about a lesson learned the hard way. Thanks for sharing this.

    Michele sent me...I'm gonna have a look around!

  12. My mother told me this story when I was little! The Kid Who Caused The Insurance Salesman To Starve!

    That was you???

    Well-told story, Sage.

  13. Marina, I hope this story doesn't keep you up tonight pondering more misdeeds.

    Linda, don't know if it was the hard way--that would have been what would have happened if they'd resorted to phyiscal punishment (remember, this was back in the 60s). Thanks for stopping by

    Bone, Let's see if you can pour some more salt into the guilt wound, okay? I've always lived in fear that I'd be infamous--now you've proved it by bring up that book! :)

  14. not all the time .. based on best judgment though

  15. It is no surprise your mother knew just what to say to paint the entire picture of your (understandably) immature action. She sounds like a wonderful matriarch. Someone who raised honest, decent, good folk. The type of mother any child would want.

    And the tale of your guilt and lesson learned was simply wonderful to read. Great post Sage.

    And equally wonderful photograph.

  16. I gave up guilt at the age of forty nine. Funny how when you are a child advertisements seem magical. I remember telling Grandad if only he would use Zambuk on his feet his troubles woudl be over. You've got snow - in the UK we aint!
    We share the same blog design - it's nice isn't it?
    Michele sent me.

  17. Michele sent me back, Sage - good story!

  18. Sounds like you were blessed with a very wise mother....