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BOWEN COLUMN: Lickin’ that calf again!

About a decade ago, I heard the great motivational speaker Zig Ziglar tell a memorable story. It kind of reminded me of what my mama or Grandma would have told me as they tried to get me to grow up right. They both subscribed to an old red-clay standard of there being one way to doing a thing: the right way. There was a clear distinction between right and wrong back in the old days.

Mr. Ziglar nailed that lesson square on the head in his speech at Dallas’ Reunion Arena in front of several thousand motivation enthusiasts, including a group of students I had taken to hear the iconic speaker. I’ll never forget how Mr. Ziglar owned the stage that day, bouncing around with the vigor of a teenager, telling story after story about his life experiences. This particular story was from when he was a boy after his family had just moved from Alabama to rural Mississippi. Some of what Mama and Grandma offered regularly must’ve migrated even further west than I realized.

One day when he was about ten, his mama told him to go outside and hoe the garden. He grabbed the hoe and did as he was told, without complaint. After about half an hour – likely she had been eyeing him from the window – she came out to inspect his work. He described the sad scene with the classic Zig Ziglar chuckle:

“I knew the inspection wasn’t going to go the way I wanted,” he laughed, “just by the way my mama was walking on the way out there. Whenever I did a shabby job of something, she’d always put her hands behind her back as she walked; and she’d shake her head the whole way.”

Sure enough, that day she threw her hands behind her and was shaking her head before she had taken ten steps toward the garden. She took one look at the halfway-tilled garden, grimaced, and with a scowl, said,

“Son, you’ve got to lick this calf again.”

He knew what Mama means when she said, “Son, you’ve got to lick this calf again,” but, as any kid will do, he still protested. “What d’you mean, Mama?”

“You know what I mean,” she snapped. Now get to re-hoeing this garden, and I mean now!”

“But, Mama,” Zig protested again, pushing his luck to the limit, “most mamas don’t make their sons do any better job than this!”

“That may be,” snapped his mama, “but you’re not ‘most mamas’ son. The quicker you learn that the better.”

With that, she turned and walked away from the garden just the way she had walked out to it.

For the record, the son of this particular Mississippi mama sweated a good while longer in the garden that day, licking that calf again.