memoir · memories · Memory · mother

The Power of No

Dropping out of college was not an option, until now.

Gritting my teeth, I repeated my refusal like a mantra:

“No Mother, I won’t quit school,” I declared in my most forceful 20-year-old voice.

In five months, I would grab a sheet of parchment from the hand of an unknown man, and stride off the stage clutching evidence I was a graduate of Oklahoma University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism.

“I’ll go to Littlefield and work on the paper the day after graduation, but I won’t go before that,” I insisted. My tone was edgy emphasizing my determination to remain in school.

What is wrong with her? I’m not quitting now.

My folks owned a couple of weekly newspapers in a small town in the Texas panhandle, Tired of what she considered a stagnant environment, Mother insisted on a move to a big city when the last child left for an institution of higher learning. They turned management of the business to someone who should not have been trusted, and now, three years later, the papers were bleeding money, and immediate on premise oversight was crucial.

Mother had discovered the pulsating energy of a metropolis intoxicating, and loathed the possibility of returning to the dusty, unattractive, and dull community on the high plains, even for a few months. Dallas had unearthed creative juices hidden beneath years of motherhood, and going back did not fit into her new reality.

A surrogate was needed, my name floating to the top of the limited candidates available for immediate dispatch. The rash solution snubbed the reality of my non-existent management experience, and my untested skills.

Her gushing response, when I aired these obvious flaws in the plan, was the perfect saleswoman pitch:

“You have great people skills, and lots of common sense,” she flattered. “You can do this for just a few months, and be the face of the family until permanent arrangements can be made.”

Un huh. Who are you kidding? This could go on for years. And so can this conversation.

“Mother, NO, I won’t quit school,” I barked into the phone.

Wow, I didn’t die when I said no. The earth continues to spin and I’m still standing.

Mother’s voice rose a notch, maybe two, as she argued, cajoled, threatened, and reasoned why I should abandon my education temporarily. This topic was not unexplored. Every day for two weeks, her pleas bounded through the phone lines between Dallas, TX and Norman, OK.

I envisioned the world ending if I hung up on my mother, so I remained phone bound as we rehashed this ongoing conflict.

Never in my short lifetime had I said no to this formidable woman, for fear of being annilated, banned, shunned, or other unspeakable and unimaginable retaliations. One did not cross or challenge Mother for self-preservation reasons.

I was cramming for my mid-term finals, hoping to reach a grade point ensuring I could enroll for the spring semester.

Mother, I don’t have time for this.

“You owe it to the family and the paper,” she tried a new tactic. “The success of the business has enabled you to go to college. You need to give back.”

I took in a shaky breath; fearful I would throw the receiver out the window while pulling my hair in frustration.

Low blow, Mom. You know guilt works on me.

“Okay, I’ll quit” I conceded, ” if Karen drops out of her last year in medical school, and Paula leaves her husband and her final semester to join me,”

Gotcha. You will never agree to yanking doctorhood from the family hero’s grasp. And Paula’s talents don’t include journalism. 

The head mistress of the family quickly dismissed my suggestion.

“Neither one of them know much about the business,” she countered. “They never took interest in the operations of the paper.”

“Mother, if I owe the paper my time and loyalty, so do they. I’m not going to be the only one to sacrifice my education.”

The argument raged on as I eyed the stack of books needing my attention for tomorrow’s tests. She ended the haranguing for an overnight truce, with the promise this discussion would continue.

A few days later, finals over and money paid for my last semester courses, the phone calls ceased, but not before I pledged with family blood to head back to Littlefield following graduation.

It would be years before I would again defy this powerful and convincing matriarch, but my 40-year-old self learned from that 20-year-old student the world would not end with a No.









8 thoughts on “The Power of No

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