The Gift of Gab

The Gift of Gab

From Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

The Gift of Gab

Although she told me not to talk to strangers, my mother always did. At the checkout line. Browsing through handbags at Marshall Field. During a slow elevator ride, when everyone else was seriously squinting at the buttons. At airports, football games and the beach.

Thankfully, I only took her advice when it came to menacing strangers. I believe I’m better for it.

My mother’s habit of striking up conversations with people next to her may bring a smile to my eyes now, but it proved rather embarrassing during my tender teenage years. “Lynn’s getting her first one, too,” she confided to a woman also shopping with her adolescent daughter in the bra section of our hometown department store. I contemplated running and hiding under a nearby terry cloth bathrobe, but instead I turned crimson and hissed “Mothhhhhherrrrr” between gritted teeth. I felt only slightly better when the girl’s mother said, “We’re trying to find one for Sarah, but they’re all too big.”

Not everyone responded when Mom made an observation and tried to spark a brief discussion. Some people gave her a tight-lipped half-grin, then turned away. A few completely ignored her. Whenever I was with her during those times, I could see that she was a little hurt, but she’d shrug it off and we’d continue on our way.

More often than not, however, I would wander off somewhere and come back to find her gabbing away. There were occasions when I was concerned that I’d lost her in the crowd, but then I’d hear her singsong laugh and a comment like, “Yes, yes, me too.”

Through these spontaneous chats, my mother taught me that our world is much too large—or too small, take your pick—not to have time to reach out to one another. She reminded me that as women, we enjoy a special kind of kinship, even if we’re really not all that alike. In the most mundane things, there are common threads that bind us. It may be the reason we like paper versus plastic, or why a navy sweater is never a bad buy, or why the national anthem still gives us goose bumps.

One of the last memories of my mother, when she was in the hospital and a few hours from dying from the breast cancer that had ravaged her down to 85 pounds, is of her smiling weakly and talking to her nurse about how to best plant tulip bulbs. I stood silently in the doorway, wanting to cry but feeling such a surge of love and warmth. She taught me to see spring in others. I’ll never forget it, especially now when I turn to someone and say, “Don’t you just love it when...”

Lynn Rogers Petrak

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