It’s my birthday today which is no doubt why I have been rather nostalgic this week. I’ve found my thoughts returning to my mother and father who taught me so many worthy lessons, sometimes just through their actions rather than their words. Truth be told I owe so much to them starting with my very existence. After all my story would never even have commenced were it not for their love and willingness to share it with one another and then with me and my brothers.
They were so very young when they decided to take on the world together. They were still kids who had only a vague idea of what they wanted their lives to be. When I was born couple of years after they married my mother was twenty two and my father twenty five. We lived in rented apartments while my father finished his education at Texas A&M. Both of them doted on me. I don’t exactly remember their attention but old black and white photographs confirm my belief that I was loved.
My mother kept track of my milestones in a baby book that bears her carefully crafted notations on my progress. She kept every card and photo from my early days in an album that I still have. I sense her joy on those pages and see that the love that surrounded me came not just from my parents but from a great big extended family and a host of friends. That love became the foundation on which my character was built brick by brick.
My father wasn’t around for very long. By the time I was eight years old he had died. I never forgot how much he enjoyed reading and those wonderful moments when he would sit on the couch sharing his favorite stories and poems with me while we snuggled. I suppose that my own love of books was born in those moments and it has been a way for me to keep his essence alive in my mind.
He was a man who did many things very well. He loved to fish like his mother and never came home from an expedition without a stringer full of catches that Mama would fry up for countless dinners. He was an artist with handwriting and printing that rivaled the monks of old who copied manuscripts. He built models of houses and buildings, miniature versions with tiny details. He was a student of history with a memory for facts and dates that was uncanny. He had many friends whom he entertained with an endless round of jokes. Most of all he loved his Texas Aggies with unquestioned loyalty. Weekends in the fall were devoted to following their football games on the radio with his best buddy, Lloyd.
He was a conscientious man who arose early each morning to go to work so that his family might enjoy a good life. In the evenings he loved to share stories while we ate. He was so in love with my mother and very proud of me and my brothers. Still he had a kind of adventurous itch that came from constantly moving when he was a boy as his father searched for construction work. Somehow he was never quite content with the idea of settling down. He always seemed to be dreaming of travel and the next move. I suppose that it was only fitting that he would be out and about on a summer evening driving aimlessly in his car when he went into a ditch and died instantly.
My mother had a childlike innocence about her. She was the youngest of eight children and had been adored by her entire family. She was a bit spoiled but in a good way. She was always self assured and certain of herself. She was a romantic who was madly in love with my father. She enjoyed her life as a homemaker and mother, never having any desire to venture from the home in search of work. She was fulfilled in the role that she had dreamed of living. She had already been an administrative assistant to a judge and a dean of engineering. She was proud of her work but did not need it to feel good about herself. She thought that she would always be a stay at home wife and mother and she did that job as well as she had done virtually everything that she had ever attempted. When my father died she was only thirty years old with three very young children. She was heartbroken in a way that would never completely heal. She dug deep inside her soul and found the strength that she needed to carry on. I know that from that point forward me and my brothers were the focus of her life. There was nothing else that mattered more to her.
She struggled financially and eventually realized that she would have to find a job. She earned a college degree and became a teacher all while somehow managing to run a household and insuring me and my brothers that we would still have a normal life. Her energy seemed boundless and her optimism was infectious. She was an angel in every possible way who was beloved by all who knew her. Our home was always brimming with friends and family who enjoyed her warmth and effervescence. Even though she worried incessantly about finances she never let on to us. She used to tell us that she had a money tree in the backyard and that Jesus loved widows and fatherless children so much that He would always make sure that we had what we needed.
Eventually the stress of being so many things to so many people caught up with her. She developed severe systems of mental illness and my role and hers switched places from time to time. I had to learn how to care for her whenever the depression and mania of that disease took hold. Somehow she never allowed her illness to change her always loving and hopeful spirit nor to steal her innocence. One of her favorite songs was Rainbow Connection from The Muppet Movie. Whenever she heard it tears would form in her eyes and she would smile. The song spoke to who she was as a person.
So as I celebrate on this anniversary of my entrance into this life I think of my parents and the gifts that they gave me that began the evolution of who I am as a person. I am a unique amalgam of each of them along with other traits that I picked up along the way. I am thankful that God chose those two people to create me. They both taught me how to love unconditionally, find strengths within and how to open my heart and my mind to the world. They gave me curiosity and optimism, joy and resilience. They showed me how to look forward and to trust in the goodness of the people who surround me. I’m so very glad that they gave me an opportunity to live and to celebrate the beauty of existence. They were lovers and dreamers who showed me how to find the rainbow connection.