When my grandmother was raising me in
Stamps, Arkansas, she had a particular routine
when people who were known to be whiners entered
her store. Whenever she saw a known complainer
coming, she would call me from whatever I was
doing and say conspiratorially, “Sister, come inside.
Come.” Of course I would obey.
My grandmother would ask the customer,
“How are you doing today, Brother Thomas?” And
the person would reply, “Not so good.” There
would be a distinct whine in the voice. “Not so
good today, Sister Henderson. You see, it’s this
summer. It’s this summer heat. I just hate it. Oh,
I hate it so much. It just frazzles me up and
frazzles me down. I just hate the heat. It’s almost
killing me.” Then my grandmother would stand
stoically, her arms folded, and mumble, “Uh-huh,
uh-huh.” And she would cut her eyes at me to
make certain that I had heard the lamentation.
At another time a whiner would mewl, “I hate
plowing. That packed-down dirt ain’t got no
reasoning, and mules ain’t got good sense. . . . Sure
ain’t. It’s killing me. I can’t ever seem to get done.
My feet and my hands stay sore, and I get dirt
in my eyes and up my nose. I just can’t stand it.”
And my grandmother, again stoically with her arms
folded, would say, “Uh-huh, uh-huh,” and then
look at me and nod.
As soon as the complainer was out of the
store, my grandmother would call me to stand
in front of her. And then she would say the
same thing she had said at least a thousand
times, it seemed to me. “Sister, did you hear
what Brother So-and-So or Sister Much to
Do complained about? You heard that?” And
I would nod. Mamma would continue, “Sister,
there are people who went to sleep all over
the world last night, poor and rich and white
and black, but they will never wake again.
Sister, those who expected to rise did not,
their beds became their cooling boards and
their blankets became their winding sheets. And
those dead folks would give anything, anything
at all for just five minutes of this weather or
ten minutes of that plowing that person was
grumbling about. So you watch yourself about
complaining, Sister. What you’re supposed to do
when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you
can’t change it, change the way you think about
it. Don’t complain.”
It is said that persons have few teachable
moments in their lives. Mamma seemed to have
caught me at each one I had between the age of
three and thirteen. Whining is not only graceless,
but can be dangerous. It can alert a brute that a
victim is in the neighborhood.