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Incidental Wisdom


by Kathy Hendricks and Barbara Anne Radtke


As we plan out this blog, we spend quite a bit of time chatting over lengthy Zoom calls. In one of these we began to share pieces of “incidental wisdom” we learned from our mothers. These are pieces of advice, perhaps not pre-meditated on our mothers’ part, that have become gems. We may not have appreciated them at the time, but they have stayed with us as useful, valuable, if sometimes amusing, insights.


Kathy’s mother, for example, taught her to crochet and then noted how it would remain a useful skill even if she should one day lose her eyesight! While it seemed a rather dire introduction to a lovely handicraft, she has found her mother’s advice to apply to the ease of stitching together a blanket while chatting with her grandchildren or listening to music.


Another piece of advice was given to Kathy by a great friend and mentor – Sister Helen Flaherty. After expressing her regret at not being more forceful in advocating for social justice, Sister Helen offered this sage observation: “Some people are meant to charm and others are meant to alarm. You, dear Kathy, were meant to charm.”


On a light note, Barbara’s grandmother gave her advice about taking care to present herself in public even if it is a momentary appearance in the neighborhood. One day in the 1960s, while visiting her, Barbara, in shorts and flip flops, took out her grandmother’s trash to the barrel outside. Ever a well-groomed woman, trained in the propriety of the early 20th century, her grandmother remarked: “A true lady always takes out the trash in hose and heels.” While Barbara does not follow the specifics of this advice, it is a tape that plays inside her head each time she runs out in old jeans and a worn hoodie with a bag of trash to toss in the compactor, especially now that she lives in an apartment building.

On a more serious note, Barbara’s mother had a saying that rivaled the broadcaster Paul Harvey’s signature phrase “the rest of the story.” When she finally learned the rest of some story, her mother often would say: “If you wait long enough, the whole story comes out.” Barbara thinks of this saying often because it represents to her a lesson in a balance desired in the art of communication. Her mother struck that equilibrium when she asked questions of her children but did not interrogate them.

In anticipation of celebrating Mother’s Day, we thought we would share a few examples of these insights from influential women in our lives that have stuck with us through the years. We invite you, dear reader, to consider sharing a strand of incidental wisdom you gained from your mom, grandmother, aunt, or person you honor on Mother’s Day.


6 Comments


My mother never ceased to amaze me -- she always knew what was going on in my life even though we were hundreds of miles apart. And her subtle hints of advice or encouragement were proof of her understanding.

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My Mother said about my, much older, brother, "You'd need a cattle prod to get him out of bed".


My family belonged to a small country church. It was, and still is St. Patrick's Catholic Church in West Albany, Minnesota. My Mother's maiden name was Shea (O'Shea). Helen (Shea) Appel. In about 1954 Fr. Cawley, the priest of said church, became unhappy because there was not an organist for his fine congregation, so he asked my mother if she would take piano lessons from the Dominican Sisters in Plainview, a small town a few miles away. There were three Sisters living in this next small town that had come from Switzerland to help throughout the communities in the area.…


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kmhendricks11
kmhendricks11
May 12, 2023
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Thank you for sharing this lovely story about your mother. It is heartening to read how open she was to learning something so new and challenging. She was indeed a woman of faith and courage!


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My mother could not let something in the community that needed to be done sit. So she would get out and organize and get it done. By example I intuited that skill, and it became a core part of the work I did in education, healthcare and social work.

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And what a great gift this has been to all of us, Len. Thanks for giving us this glimpse of your mother's commitment.

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