My dad turned 85 last week, which for him, is probably cause for more than the usual celebration, since no one else in his family was lucky enough to live that long. He was the youngest of five children, most of whom departed this life far too young. He doesn’t remember his own father, who died when my dad was three, and the death of his mother left him orphaned at twelve or thirteen. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity for him to learn parenting skills, so when it came his turn to wear the big pants, I’m sure he was flying by their proverbial seat.
I thought long and hard, agonized and picked people’s brains before I decided to have kids myself. But back in the early 50’s most people didn’t do a lot of soul-searching over that question – it was just something you did. So Mom and Dad dove right in, and the kids came pretty fast – six of us in thirteen years.
Because all this baby-making commenced before Dad had the chance to finish college and there sure wasn’t time while there were so many hungry mouths to feed, his job prospects were probably pretty slim. Being a curious and ambitious fellow, he educated himself and eventually that paid off for him, but it was a long time coming. Life was probably pretty hard, with Dad working two and sometimes three jobs at a time (how many of us think working one job can be a drag?). I’d venture to say we were “poor”, but my parents did a good job of camouflaging that fact. Although we kids complained bitterly about “mixed milk” (lumpy, non-fat dry milk mixed with “real” milk from a bottle) and shared bedrooms for years (occasioning lots of fights over covers and closet space), we had everything we needed, and more than enough of what we wanted. (And now we have the unanticipated benefit of lots of funny stories to share with our kids!)
Looking at old home movies might make you think we were well-off, with the piles of gifts under the Christmas tree, the new dresses and shiny shoes, all of our grinning faces. I can imagine what kind of scrimping and saving it took to put that visual feast together.
Just about every year, we each got a new pair of ice skates, and there were always roller skates, dolls, books, six-shooters, toy trucks, and piles of army accoutrements for the boys – and occasionally the girls – to combine with dirt bombs and lots of rat-a-tat noises for reenacting the taking of the beaches at Normandy. Sometimes there were even “new” bicycles – hand-me-downs from older neighbors that my dad, spending evenings secreted in the garage with spray paint, polish, new horns and bells, streamers and baskets, transformed into shining chariots.
Dad probably didn’t get a lot of time off, but somehow we usually managed to take vacations. Granted, we never jetted off to Europe, or drove out west like some of our friends, but we had lots of fun anyway – hiking, camping, fishing, going to the beach, tromping through museums. Once we took a “working vacation” on a farm, where we got to help out with the chores, ride horses and tractors, and swim in a real swimming hole. Who knew that kind of thing could be fun?!
When we’re kids, totally focused on ourselves, we don’t devote much time to noticing or caring about our parents’ lives. It’s only when we have kids of our own that we realize what a personal sacrifice it can be (but worth it, I might add!). Even then, though, we’re so occupied with our own lives – with the day-to-day of work and family responsibilities – that we still may not take the time to express our appreciation for everything our parents did for us.
So Dad (and Mom!), I’d like to take this opportunity to say thanks – for the presents, and your presence, and all the love and care.
I love you!