My Parents’ Marriage: a Tribute.

2-26-44
February 26, 1944 – Two kids starting out on the ride of their lives.

My mother was a war bride; not in the foreign-born sense, but in the sense that she married a soldier headed overseas.  It was February 26, 1944; she was just shy of 17 and her man was 21, looking sharp in his Army uniform.  There were quite a few new brides in her high school; sadly, some would become new widows, as well.  Mother always told me she never doubted that the man she loved would return to her, and maybe her faith and his determination helped make it happen.  I don’t know, but I’m just thankful it did.

My father had a rough time returning to normal life after the war; in fact, nightmares plagued him for the rest of his life.  In the first few months, he drank too much, trying to escape the horror show in his head.  He didn’t sleep well for a long time; Mother recounted night after night of playing pinochle with him into the wee hours. Eventually the worst of it subsided, and they became a normal, post-war family. 

Both of my parents loved children and wanted lots of them.  Curious people would see their little ones and ask if our family was Catholic, and my mother would say with a wink and a smile, “Not Catholic – passionate Protestant.”  By the time I came along in 1964, they had been married 20 years and already had six children.  And as it turned out, seven was enough.  The house my dad built had already been pushed out more than once from its original floor plan to accommodate more bedrooms.

Raised during the Great Depression, Mother and Dad had learned the hard lessons of doing without, and with a house full of children on one income, they lived it daily.  As the youngest, I don’t remember the hard times that my siblings do, but I do know that in my family, emphasis was never on material goods.  We just didn’t live that way; we were happy with what we had, and those things that were important to us were love and family and character.  I knew as a child that I didn’t have all the fancy stuff that my classmates did, but it didn’t really matter.  I suppose we could have been considered poor, but by whose standards?  We were loved.

Speaking of my classmates – I remember several of them had divorced parents and spent weekends alternating between their moms’ and dads’ houses, juggling stepparents and new siblings and the related upheaval.  I have always been grateful that my parents never split up; I could see how divorce had a painful effect on my friends.  Even when I was secretly jealous that my friend’s dad bought her a new stereo, I still felt sorry for her because she didn’t have both parents all the time, like I did.  I don’t think I ever worried that my own parents would divorce – even though they argued, my parents genuinely loved one another and were committed to their marriage and our family.

Growing up in a big family taught us to share and to be patient; we learned to help each other, and we learned to work as a team.  We were taught the Depression-era axiom, ‘Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.’  Hand-me-downs were common; toys and books passed from one child to the next; and bedrooms were shared.  While Mother taught me where babies come from, growing up with sisters taught me about puberty and panty hose.  In fact, it was my sister Wendy who taught me how to use a razor to shave my legs and underarms.  I loved my big family.

My father was terribly outnumbered at home; after my brother moved out on his own, Dad was the only male.  I often wonder how he kept his sanity back then surrounded by so many girls, but then I recall how much time he spent in his workshop and basement.  Dad was a strict, but loving, father, but he saw the humor in his situation. One summer day, on a family vacation with just three of us girls, Dad was enjoying a cold beer outside our tent trailer, while inside the trailer was all kinds of commotion.  Hearing it, a man from the neighboring campsite came over to see what was going on; Dad swung his beer hand in the direction of the trailer and explained with a wry smile, “I’ve got female problems.”

Some of my fondest memories growing up featured my parents showing their affection for one another.  Many times I would see Dad take Mother’s hand and lead her gallantly through a few dance steps, whether there was music or not; I loved the smile on her face when he did that.  Mother drew his baths, and she would go in to wash his back; when he came out, she would attend to his tired feet.  They held hands, kissed, and hugged all the years they were married.  They were demonstrative in their affection, and that’s how they raised us.  All of us knew that our parents loved one another deeply, without reservation.  That was how it was supposed to be, right?

Pa used to joke that his first wife was a Sasquatch.  He joked about many things – how he’d spent time in the Swiss Navy and the Underground Balloon Corps, and that he was once a member of the Mess Kit Repair Battalion.  He joked with the kids in the neighborhood that the sidewalk he was pouring was actually a baby elephant walk, and that the air compressor on wheels was a newfangled go-kart.  But he took his role as husband and father very seriously.  We girls grew from wanting to marry Daddy to wanting to marry someone just like him.

Mother was devoted to Dad; she first met him as her best friend’s big brother, and was instantly attracted to the handsome, quiet young man.  She set out to spoil him, and she did.  She learned to cook his favorite foods, and she treated him like a king.  She appreciated that he worked hard to support the family and that he was a knowledgeable handyman who took care of the homestead.  I asked her once about why we were having liver and onions for dinner when nobody liked it but Dad, and she looked me square in the eye and said, “Because your father likes it, and I cook for him. He gets up every morning at 5 o’clock to go to work, and he deserves to get what he likes for dinner. Now run along.”  What a gal.

When I met my husband, I was happy to learn that his parents were also a long-married couple.  Sadly, it seems surprising anymore.  Because of this simple fact, our backgrounds were very similar, and we had much in common.  We both hoped to find lasting love like our parents had, and we believed in the sacred commitment of marriage.  He fit in well with my goofy family, and they embraced him; likewise, his family opened their hearts to me. 

At my wedding shower, the ladies wrote marriage advice on note cards to give me.  My mother’s said, Just remember –  YOU are not perfect, either.  Those words have sustained me through these married years when my frustration level rises.  She also told me that men and women are different animals who speak different languages. She predicted that someday I would find myself in a heated argument with my husband, and suddenly recognize that we were actually on the same side.  She was absolutely right, and it’s happened more than once.  She was a smart one, my ma.

Over the years, after the kids had all grown up and had kids of their own, my folks settled into a routine of loving togetherness.  When Dad’s eyes were bad, Mother read books aloud to him so they could enjoy them together. They helped one another with the chores and the cooking.  They would linger at the table after a meal, enjoying their coffee and conversation. They took walks together each day to get a little exercise. Sometimes one of my sisters would join them, sometimes bringing her children along.  It was a slower life, well earned by their earlier lives of hard work.  One of my poetry-loving mother’s favorite verses was the first few lines of Rabbi Ben Ezra by Robert Browning: “Grow old along with me/the best is yet to be/the end of life, for which the first is made.”  That was truly how they saw their twilight years.

My parents died tragically one night in a train crash fifteen years ago.  They were on a cross-country trip to visit one of my sisters, and, just weeks before, had celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary.  My sister Wendy died with them, as did her best friend.  It’s a tremendous understatement to say how that tore the fabric of our lives apart; Mother and Dad were the hub of our family, and losing them changed everything we knew.  But what they left us is everlasting: love, family, and character.  Work hard; love God; be honest and kind; be grateful; and above all, cherish each other. 

My parents’ marriage was an example for us all.

 

It’s Random Acts of Kindness Week! Feb 10-16, 2014 #RAKweek

kindness

I love to do little things for people ‘just because’. It’s how I was raised.

It’s Random Acts of Kindness Week — let’s turn our thoughts into actions! I know you guys can think of something to do to participate!  I didn’t know there was a designated week for this, so I’m a little late on this post, but I think it’s great.  Check it out here:

Random Acts of Kindness Week!

I’ve talked before about my mother sewing for the nursing home residents with her ladies’ group; doing nice things for other people just for the sake of doing them was ingrained in me from an early age.  I remember Mother saying I was ‘earning jewels for my crown.’

I’ve bought meals and coffees for people I didn’t know, fed parking meters (before I knew it was illegal — oops!), held open doors, allowed people in front of me in line at the store, carried things for people who were overloaded — nothing big and life-changing, nothing for recognition, but small kindnesses, just the same.  I like to think my kids have grown up understanding why I do these things, and I hope they will do the same when opportunity presents itself.

Our family has ‘adopted’ our elderly neighbor, Harvey, who is a widower who lives alone.  He’s a great guy with a lot of fun stories and a wicked sense of humor, and I love to bring him soups and stew and other treats if I’m not having him over for dinner.  We look after each other, and that’s how it ought to be.

Perhaps Random Acts of Kindness Week can help inspire those who want to do something but aren’t sure how.  Their website has suggestions and some great, uplifting RAK reader submissions.  They ask you to tag your kindness posts on social media with #RAKweek so they can see them and post some on their site.

Tell me your stories!  I love inspiration!

 

 

photo credit: SweetOnVeg

 

I Quit!

Eight years ago today, I smoked my last cigarette before heading to my appointment with a hypnotherapist.

It was time.

When I’d called to make the appointment, she assessed my readiness to quit smoking with a few questions and then agreed to schedule me for two sessions. Hypnosis can’t make you do something you don’t want to do; your outcome depends heavily on your mind set.  I had an unopened pack of Marlboro Lights in my purse, just in case. I didn’t know what to expect.

Marie was a very nice lady with a calm demeanor; as an introduction, she detailed her background as a registered nurse and the path she took to become a hypnotherapist. We had a nice chat, and she explained that while we spoke, she’d be taking notes to use during my session. She asked me why I wanted to quit, what my expectations were, and what I thought the greatest benefit of quitting would be. I told her that my impetus for quitting was my children – I didn’t want them to grow up seeing me smoke and thinking it was a normal thing to do. Most importantly, I wanted to be healthy for them, to be there as they grew up.

She asked if I had any special requests, and I did: the previous times I had tried to quit, I had found that the smell of cigarette smoke made me want to light one up, myself. I asked her if she could make it so that I could tolerate the smoke without craving the cigarette, as I had friends and neighbors who smoked. She cautioned that it might be a difficult task to pull off, but she would try.

I lay back in the recliner and closed my eyes, focusing on her voice. Soon the outside noises faded away and I felt at peace. Contrary to popular belief, I was not asleep; I was completely awake, yet completely relaxed. Her words were soothing and pleasant; I remember that more than what she actually said that day. I do remember, though, that she asked me to visualize myself a year from that day, both as a smoker and also as a non-smoker, and to describe how I felt in each incarnation. She had my ‘future self’ talk to my ‘present self’ to encourage me to choose well.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I was alert, sitting up, and feeling refreshed. She asked me how I felt, and I realized that I felt terrific! She asked if I had any idea how long I’d been there with her, and I said, “I don’t know – an hour?” I was shocked to find out I had been there close to three hours!

Wow.

I asked if we were all done, and she said we were. I reached into my purse to get my checkbook and found an unopened pack of Marlboro Light cigarettes. I was sincerely puzzled – What are these doing here? I don’t smoke! It was as if someone had flipped a switch – I was a non-smoker now. I asked if she’d throw them away for me, and she laughed and said, ‘sure.’

I drove home, still feeling great. When I got there, my neighbor, who had been watching my kids, motioned for me to join her out on the porch for a cigarette so she could tell me how the boys had behaved while I was away. I said, ‘I’ll join you, but not to smoke.’  I sat across from her at a table on the porch, but the cigarette smoke didn’t bother me one bit.  I couldn’t believe it. Success!

The boys asked me where I had been; I reminded them that I had been at an appointment so I could quit smoking. Number One Son asked, ‘Did you quit?’  I said, ‘Yes.’  He burst into grateful tears and hugged me tight.  Number Young Son told everyone he saw that his mom had quit smoking, from the bus driver to the lady at the grocery store.  When I found a partially-opened pack of cigarettes in the house, I offered to let the boys throw them away for me. They happily obliged, destroying the pack and everything in it. They hated cigarettes and were glad to see them gone.

It has been eight whole years since that day.  I have never had a craving, and I have never cheated. It was painless, and my kids have told me they no longer remember when I smoked. I did go back for my follow up appointment, but it was only to reaffirm that I was a non-smoker now. For a while, I kept track of the money I was saving by not buying cigarettes, and it was amazing to see how much money I had literally burned in my years of smoking. When I quit, cigarettes cost about $5.00 to $5.50 per pack, and I smoked about one and a half packs a day. It sure adds up.

Quitting smoking is the best thing I have ever done for myself and my family. My clothes, hair, car, and breath no longer smell like cigarettes; I no longer rush out of a movie or restaurant to huddle in the corner and smoke; I no longer panic when I’m down to the last couple of cigarettes in the pack and scrounge for change to buy more; or worse, pick through my cigarette butts for something I could smoke. I don’t worry about crushed packs, broken cigarettes, or no-smoking signs. I don’t wake up with a hacking cough every morning, and I don’t get every cold that goes around anymore.  I don’t miss holding someone else up because I had to ‘finish my smoke.’

I don’t like to preach; I never liked being preached at.  Yes, I would love for all of my smoking friends and family members to quit, but they, like me, must do it for themselves.

All I can do is support them when they decide to take that step.

 

 

photo credit justj0000lie

A Remembrance or Two.

photo credit: The National Guard

 

I remember April 19, 1995.  I remember where I was when I heard that the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, had been bombed, resulting in the deaths of 168 innocent people and injuries to nearly 700 more.  I was stunned.  Finding out that it was a domestic terrorist act was even more of a shock.

I remember so many thoughts and emotions during those initial days; one morning about a week later, words came and I wrote them down.  I never gave it a title, just the date:

4/28/95.

From the soil of hate and vengeance
sprang an evil unforgiving,
Which sowed acts of pure maleficence
And death among the living.

It was in the hearts of cowards
that this wicked plan was hatched;
The result of their conspiracy
was tragedy, unmatched.

Broken lives and broken bodies,
broken spirits there abound
And for those who lost their loved ones,
broken hearts are all they’ve found.

In the midst of this disaster
stand the hearts and hands that mend:
Easing pain, allaying suffering,
bringing comfort and a friend.

It is through the tears of empathy
that we see beyond despair
And stand resolute and strengthened
by the faith that bonds us there.

If we think there’s more to living
than this brief time here on Earth –
If we look on death as not as much an end
as a rebirth,

Then the hope that’s deep within us
gives us peace and springs anew –
And we’re blessed with understanding
what it is we’re here to do.

Fast forward six years, to the horror of four coordinated attacks on September 11, 2001, claiming 2,977 victims and injuring several thousands more  Everyone knows what happened that day and how our country changed as a result of it. 

photo credit: PeterJBellis

Again, I was stirred by words that came to mind, and I revisited the 1995 piece. 

9-11-2001

From the soil of hate and vengeance spawned an evil unforgiving
Deep within the hearts of cowards it was hatched,
Manifest in purest malice, sowing death among the living –
A conspiracy of tragedy unmatched.

Broken hearts and broken bodies, broken spirits, broken lives
Heroes fallen, image burned into our minds –
Though grief and sorrow haunt us, human dignity survives,
What was rubble now becomes the act that binds.

In the middle of disaster, dust and ashes, twisted steel
We have empathy to see beyond despair,
Forgetting for a moment how detached we used to feel —
Standing strengthened by the faith that joins us there.

If we know there’s more to living than this brief time here on Earth
Then within us hope and peace will spring anew
If we look on death as not as much an end as a rebirth –
Then we’ll understand what we are here to do.

I remember trying to explain to my young sons about what happened; of course, there was no way to explain ‘why.’  I’m sure most, if not all, parents found it difficult.  You want to comfort your children and make them know they’re safe.  You want to keep the bogeyman and nightmares away — but sometimes, you can’t.

Number Young Son, six at the time, was frightened when he’d hear an airplane near our home.  There is a small private airstrip nearby, and we see and hear small planes on a regular basis.  It took a long time to convince him that planes weren’t going to crash into our house.  I remember Number One Son being very angry about it and wanting to hurt the bad men who hurt the people in those airplanes and buildings.

Time has eased the memory, as it is wont to do, but the utter shock of that day still rings in my ears.  Personally, it brings back memories I don’t want to entertain.  I pray we never experience that kind of a day again.

photo credits: The National Guard and PeterJBellis

Happy Mother’s Day, Momma.

Back in the day. That’s me in the front.

5/12 Daily Prompt: Hi, Mom!
Today is Mother’s Day in the United States. Wherever in the world you are, write your mother a letter.

Hi, Mom.
It’s been a long while since I’ve heard from you: 14 years and a couple months.  I can actually remember the very day, because it was my birthday.

Things are pretty good here.  I”ll try to catch you up.
Daughter Dearest is a good mother with two lovely little girls of her own; they always put a smile on my face.  The boys are fine young men; I’m sure you’d be proud of them.  One’s in college and the other graduates high school next month.  They all have the world at their feet.  I love that they have the same sense of humor you have — silly and smart.  They sing songs and change the words for fun.  They make up words and aren’t afraid to make fun of themselves.  And they have good hearts, all of them.  They have compassion and kindness and respect for other people.

I wonder how you managed with all of us, your ‘passel of kids.’  Sure, the older ones helped a lot with the younger ones, but you still had to supervise and make sure the household ran as smoothly as possible.  You cooked our hot breakfasts, the wonderful homemade soups, the freshly-baked breads and pies, and my personal favorite: the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.  What I wouldn’t give for a nice Sunday dinner at Mom’s.

Now that I’m older, I can appreciate your sacrifices so much more.  Some of them I never knew, but that was your way.  You always worked behind the scenes, talking to Dad on our behalf, fixing things, and helping us along.  Your own dreams were replaced by the dreams of your children; you wanted nothing more than for us to be healthy, happy, and kind.  You taught us to be thankful for the life we have, to work hard, and to keep a song in our hearts.

My mother on my wedding day.
My mother on my wedding day.

We all come to the point in our lives where we look or sound like our parents.  I remember you talking about that.  I laugh when it happens to me, when I cry out in frustration, “Oh, peanuts, popcorn, and Cracker Jack!”  Or when I hear a song on the radio and sing your lyrics instead.  Or when I stand at the stove with my hand on my hip and realize that I must look exactly like you from behind.

Oh, and I have a confession: yes, it was I who dug down into the chest freezer for those tubs of frozen berries.  I would only take a few at a time, so nobody would notice, and I’d replace the tub where I had found it.  They were so good, I couldn’t help myself.  Yes, it was I who found those large packs of Wrigley gum that Dad had confiscated from my sisters and stole one piece at a time — again, so nobody would notice.  Yes, I smoked cigarettes out my bedroom window.  I thought I was getting away with it until my sister found the butts and turned me in.  Well, that and the small burn in the window sheers.

I know I was a mouthy brat as a kid.  That hasn’t changed much.
What also hasn’t changed, and never will, is my love and respect for you.

Happy Mother’s Day.

wreath 3-15-00 cropped
Rest in peace, Momma.