You might know what I’m talking about; it’s the finger that wags in the air while some truth, ultimatum or homily is being delivered. With one finger, along with some precious one liners, Mom controlled my behavior very effectively.
When I struggled against eating the crust on the edges of the bread, Mom very seriously told me, finger in action, “Oh, you have to eat the crust; it makes your hair curly.” I took two messages from this:
1.Bread crust has magical, medicinal qualities
2.Curly hair is good
I soon began seeking out the end pieces to eat, looking for more crust. And to this day I long for curly hair. (Ironically, my sister, with her lovely natural curls, has always straightened her hair. Wonder if Mom was somehow behind that development?)
When mom suspected that a fib was in play, she’d whip out the finger and ask, "Now is that a true lie or a false lie?” Stymied, I’d give up and confess. OK, I admit it, I was an easy mark. I suppose deep down I just wanted to tell the truth.
As I got a little bit older and started to rebel a little bit against the true lie/false lie double bind, she added, “Tell the truth and spite the devil!” Our home was by no means a place of hellfire and brimstone, but I was an imaginative tot, so this was another very effective ploy. I saw myself as striking a blow for truth, justice and the American Way simply by being truthful. Little children everywhere were the front line against evil.
Mom reinforced truth-telling by making it clear that I’d always be better off if she found out about bad behavior directly from me rather than finding out on her own. I learned to confess quickly and get it over with. And I still tell on myself today, though not necessarily to Mom. In the long run, this trait not only kept me out of trouble as a kid, but has become the foundation for a good marriage. The Fickle Finger of Fate dealt me a good hand.
I’m not sure just how it happened, but the Fickle Finger of Fate seems to have skipped a generation in our family. Neither of my siblings has it, and I don’t have it either, but Mom continues to employ it regularly, so there is still the possibility that he next generation will take up the tradition.