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Not Far From the Tree

(by Karen Ferguson)

My mom always wanted to protect me from the world, but she wanted control of my life, thinking that sheltering me would keep me safe, as her own mother had done with her. But I took all her rules and restrictions as punishment—no school dances, no movies, and she had to know where I was all the time. I kept trying to push the boundaries, to get away with things my mom had prohibited, but I usually got caught and was grounded for months—far more effective than spanking (still an acceptable form of discipline in the 1970s and ‘80s). Life was limited to school and home—no hanging out with friends, no phone.

My mother always said, “One day you’re going to have a child just like you who will be worse.” Boy, did she hit that nail on the head. The expression “the apple didn’t fall far from the tree” is really true in my family—actually for three generations.

Yes, I did have that child just like me, and yes, she was just as rebellious as I was—sneaking out of the house or saying she was staying with a friend. My daughter Brianna is my pride and joy, but everything she did was a reminder of what I had put my mother through. When I say we are a lot alike, I mean a lot—our facial expressions, our attitudes, our sarcastic comments, basically our personalities. We are so much alike that we continually clash, even as adults. Sometimes we take a “time out” from each other for a few days, then kind of forget what we argued about, and move on. When you’re a lot alike, that’s what happens. And when push comes to shove, I’ve got her back, and she has mine. (She won’t let any of her friends talk trash about me.)

My mom never let me make my own decisions, so when I became a mother, I determined to be a bit more lenient, and sometimes overdid it. Brianna and I were more like friends than mother and daughter, but that meant when I had to be a mom, it was war. One thing I learned that has (mostly) kept the peace: Just listen. She doesn’t want my advice; she just wants to be heard. If I remind her to put the cap back on a bottle, I get The Look. If I comment about her spending money, she’ll say, “I’m 23, I know what to do,” which is true. If I voice an opinion about an outfit, her response is, “I’m going to be wearing it, not you”—also true.

One area where we are completely different is in the kitchen. I’m organized, detail-oriented, and everything has a place. She is extremely not. She might comment that she wishes her home was as nice and neat as mine, but then warn me before I visit: “Don’t even say anything.”

She doesn’t cook much, but having watched my mother make her delicious potato salad several times, Brianna and I decided to make it together for a holiday dinner. I have a video of her mixing potatoes and onions and mayonnaise together in the large white bowl that was Grandma’s, mixing with her hands because that’s the way Grandma did it, and screaming, “This is so disgusting,” but knowing how delicious the end result would be and what a sense of satisfaction it would bring.

And my mother, as a grandmother, has brought a sense of satisfaction to Brianna. They didn’t see each other too often when she was young because we moved away from New York, where I had grown up, to Arkansas. But since Brianna and I both returned to New York, she now has a lunch date with her grandmother every week. My mom lets Brianna do all the talking.

And Grandma just listens.


Karen Ferguson is an actor and model who lives in upstate New York. She can be found at Backstage.

Grandma’s Potato Salad

3 lb. new potatoes

1 c. onions, diced

1 c. celery, diced

8 oz. mayonnaise

8 hard-boiled eggs, cut into chunks

In a large pot of boiling water, cook potatoes with skin on until a knife pierces them.

Cool slightly, peel, and cut into chunks.

Combine remaining ingredients and mix with potatoes.

Refrigerate for a few hours.

If mixture seems too dry, add extra mayonnaise.


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