31: Mom’s Cuss Jar

31: Mom’s Cuss Jar

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

Mom’s Cuss Jar

Pull yourself together and use what you have.

~Betsy Cañas Garmon

With a house full of kids from toddlers to teens, Mom was a full-time homemaker while Dad worked at a local factory. To keep food on the table and a roof over our heads—and most likely to enjoy some peace and quiet—he volunteered for overtime whenever he could.

Dad was a strict disciplinarian and head of our household, but Mom was the heart of our home who lovingly maintained order. She made sure we got to school on time, finished our homework, and stuck to our promises to give up something—usually candy—during Lent.

Then one spring, her orderly world turned upside down. Dad was hospitalized with pneumonia and was unable to work for more than a month. Mom assumed Dad’s role as the breadwinner, but she needed a job that allowed her to stay home during the day. With just an eighth-grade education, the only work she could find was as a late-shift waitress at a diner that catered to a rowdy, but generous, crowd.

After a long day of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of her family, she donned her uniform and rode a bus to work. She’d come home just before bedtime, bone-tired, but relieved she’d earned a decent living and proud of the fact that she’d learned how to make dishes we’d never eaten before, like hot German potato salad, mostaccioli and meatballs, and, my favorite—mayonnaise cake. And most nights she brought home leftovers.

As I helped count her tips, I asked, “Why do you have to work so late, and why do we have to eat leftovers from the diner? Are we poor?”

She sighed as she brushed my hair. “There’s no shame in being poor, honey, and no shame in hard work. Besides, my boss and the people I wait on are good to us.”

After working a few weeks, another thing she brought home was a salty vocabulary. Whenever she got stressed, which usually happened when we misbehaved or after bill collectors called, she’d spout a string of swear words. And she wasn’t alone. One of my brothers accidently broke a toy and swore, using a word from Mom’s new vocabulary.

When she punished him, he whined, “It’s not fair! You say it all the time.”

That night before leaving for work, Mom plunked down an empty pickle jar on the kitchen table. She stuck a piece of masking tape on front of the jar and, in big black letters, printed “CUSS JAR” on it.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

“I’m giving up cussing for Lent,” she said. “Every time I say a bad word I’ll put money in the jar. Not-so-bad words cost a nickel. Stronger ones cost a dime. And the real bad ones, like your brother said today, cost a quarter.”

“Where will you get the money?” I asked.

“From my tips,” she answered. “I’m keeping my job after your daddy goes back to work so we can catch up on bills. But I plan on using the change in my cuss jar to buy you kids something special for Easter.”

It didn’t take long to figure out the more we acted up, the more she’d cuss, and the more she cussed, the more money there’d be for us. We started bickering to get her to lose her temper and swear.

Mom caught on right away and announced, “New rules for my cuss jar.”

Grinning, I hoped she’d increase her bad-word fee.

Instead, she said, “From now on, every time you kids do something to make me cuss, I’ll take money out of the jar. The more you misbehave, the less money there’ll be for Easter.”

After her talk, we acted like angels—at least we tried. And Mom stopped cussing most of the time. When she did slip up, it was usually only with nickel words, and by the end of Lent, even those were scarce.

On Easter Sunday Dad carved our Easter ham, and Mom presented us with large solid chocolate rabbits, buying them with the money in her cuss jar.

Thanks to Mom, I learned lessons that have lasted a lifetime: Moms aren’t perfect, but being a mother is the hardest, and most important, job on earth. No matter how dismal things look, never give up hope. And no matter how many times I make a mistake, keep trying to improve—just like Mom did with her cuss jar.

~Donna Duly Volkenannt

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