I grew up and became my mother


Had you driven past my house one recent Friday, you would have seen a workman on the roof stringing Christmas lights. For reasons of safety and schedule, I decided to let someone else do the job this year.

But had you driven past my house the day after, you would have seen me up there re-doing the job. So much for safety and schedule.

I blame my mother. Or, actually, her entire family. I was engaged in a practice I call “McKenzie-ing” the job – that is, allowing someone else to do it and then going back and doing it over again to get it right. Even if nothing much is wrong with it.

Now, please understand, I am not proud of this. In going all McKenzie on the job, I violated a very solemn promise I made to myself almost daily during kidhood:

I am not going to be like my mother when I grow up.

My brother and sisters made the same promise. Not one of us could run a vacuum cleaner to her satisfaction. Neither could we dust, do dishes, wash windows or take out trash to her specifications. I never weeded a row in the garden that did not cause my mother to throw her hands up into the air, exclaim that I hadn’t paid attention AGAIN, take over the chore and launch into her speech about doing things right with its legendary opening line, “I have TOLD you and TOLD you…”

The gist of the speech was this: There are three ways to do things: The wrong way; the right way (also wrong); and the McKenzie way, which is to say perfectly, a quality unattainable for non-McKenzies and other mere mortals, such as me and a good many of my cousins.

According to the legend, to be a McKenzie of mom’s generation was to be a model child, well-behaved, a tireless worker and supremely talented at whatever endeavor you chose. To be a McKenzie of my generation was to be a disappointment to your grandparents.

But as I’ve gotten older, I have found that I McKenzify things without even thinking. I’ve been known to remake a bed three times to get the corners just right. I once rebuilt four garden boxes at 5 a.m. because I’d awakened from a dream in which six of my uncles came by the house and pointed out the flaws.

And that, my friends, is why I was out on the roof re-stringing the Christmas lights. I’m listening to my McKenzie side. Maybe I should just listen to my Redmond side. That’s the one that tells me and tells me that they sure look pretty.

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