I have always credited my father with the fact I
cannot tell a lie, and I think of him every time someone says,
presumptuously, that “everyone lies.”
Everyone doesn’t. Dad didn’t lie or fib. But it wasn’t a big moral deal
with him, which is probably why it “took” with me in a way that many
Catholic-framed moral prohibitions did not. In our family, it was a
simple law of the universe: you eat, you breathe, you tell the truth.
My mother wasn’t as dogmatic: she would tell a caller that Dad wasn’t
home when if fact he was eating dinner. And he would chide her, “Now,
MaryAnn...” as he took the call. Mother insisted she wouldn’t have to
lie if he’d just truthfully say he’d get back to the caller after
dinner. Or she’d tell me to inform the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door
that my parents weren’t home – and my dad would say, “Now MaryAnn....
Just tell them we have our own religion.”
“Our own religion” doesn’t make the same case about lying. The Ten
Commandments forbid bearing false witness against someone, but don’t
forbid other lies and fibs. This is not to say that lying to a nun, for
any reason whatever, was a smart thing to do. If one asked you if you
were chewing gum, you had to swallow it fast before saying “No, Sister.”
But I’ve always credited my father with teaching me to always tell the
truth. Yet I realized last week, when my grandchildren were visiting,
that there was another influence attributable to mother. I’d assembled
some of my childhood books for them and Maya chose one of my favorites,
“Raggedy Ann and the Magic Book” by Johnny Gruelle. My mother must have
read to me a hundred times before I could read it myself.
Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy found a Magic Book, into which they could
jump and be part of the fairy tale. Their companions in this adventure
were a puppydog and a little man called Fuzzywump, who always said the
opposite of what he meant. He would say “I’m sorry to see you’ when he
meant he was glad, and “please go away” when he meant “come right in.”
It took awhile for Ann and Andy to catch on but once they did they fixed
him by holding him upside down until his brain righted itself.
"How did you ever get in the habit of saying exactly the opposite of
what you mean?" Raggedy Ann asked the Fuzzywump....
"When I was a little teeny weeny Fuzzywump boy....my mother would say, 'Wumpie,
you must wash your feet before you go to bed.' And I would say, 'Alright
mother!' and I wouldn't do it at all. Then in the morning mother would
ask me ...and I would say, yes, and I had not done it.’"
"No wonder you grew so you couldn't say what you meant!" the puppydog
"’Yes!" the Fuzzywump agreed, "One little fib is just like a seed. It
grows and grows until, in the end you have a large clump of fib weeds. I
had grown so in the habit of telling fibs, I couldn't tell the truth
without meaning the opposite...”
Ah, a cautionary tale. After reading it to Maya (Aidan was busy
squirting passing cars with my squirtgun), I found myself thinking how
much the little Fuzzywump looked like Tom Finneran, and how it was too
bad that he hadn’t read “Raggedy Ann and the Magic Book.” Because while
the Ten Commandments don’t say anything about lying to a grand jury
about one’s own actions, certainly this would fall into the fib category
– not to mention the secular laws that make it an indictable offense.
Whether it’s about washing one’s feet, overseeing redistricting, or just
talking casually to other people: it is so much easier, children, to
always tell the truth.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.