As a small child I learned many valuable life lessons from my mother — how to brush my teeth, remembering to say "please" and "thank you," and what a really, really ill-advised idea it is to throw a grade school report card laden with D's and F's down the sewer.
Yeah, that was a really, really bad idea. She was not amused. Nor were the Sisters of the Consecrated Thumbscrews.
Time passes. And so, too, do the lessons to be gleaned from a mother over a lifetime. My mother, Ruth Ruth, has chosen to live and lead by example, even if the example from time to time was Eva Perón.
She was a strict, stubborn mother in my childhood and she remains so today at 90, dismissive of all things Democrat, bored by the glacial pace of baseball and descending into a deep gloom with the end of each National Football League season.
But maternal lessons, too, can come from unexpected quarters that sneak up on you before you realize it.
The last year has brought considerable changes to our lives. Both my mother and the 92-year-old Matriarch-In-Law moved from Naples and Chicago, respectively, to Tampa. It was time.
Despite the vicissitudes of the years both women remain remarkably vital, living relatively independent lives without the need of a cane or a walker or a wheelchair. Both women are engaged in the affairs of the day and enjoy social interaction.
One them — ahem — enjoys her daily glass of wine and will not turn down a vodka on the rocks should it be offered.
More important, both women have given us a great gift — a master class on how to age with dignity.
"These aren't the golden years," the Matriarch-In-Law ruminated not too long ago. "These are the rust years." Ah, so much to look forward to.
Still, despite the aches, the pains, the irritations, the frustrations of contending with a body holding a grudge, both women insist on living their lives as best as they can on their own terms.
We are taking copious notes. Isn't that what any good mother should do? Provide a template for how to accept and deal with the inevitable challenges and, yes, joys of the advancing years. What other choice do they have? They are still parents, even if their children are card-carrying AARP members.
We took them both to dinner recently. At first blush this could have been a combustible situation. Ruth Ruth is an archconservative Republican who still believes Richard Nixon was railroaded. The Matriarch-In-Law is a Roosevelt "New Deal" Democrat who voted for Barack Obama.
But as it turned out, the Bombshell of the Balkans and I were treated to our own hilarious Golden Girls episode as the two women dished on life at their respective retirement facilities.
It seems the characters in Grumpy Old Men have been reborn and are in residence in the nation's retirement homes. And if there really is a growing shortage of cod in the ocean's waters it is only because it seems to be served morning, noon, night and for snacks: baked cod, steamed cod, breaded cod, cod on a stick, cod surprise, perhaps even cod a la mode.
And therein lies the secret of enduring the passage of time. Both women have experienced family crises, health problems and the unavoidable ticking of the clock.
But they've never forgotten the healing and sustaining power of laughter, which I could have used a bit more of 50-plus years ago when I tossed that report card down the sewer.