Invisible Gold Medals for Mom

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My parents in 1946, when they were married.

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My parents on their 60th wedding anniversary in 2006.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
My mother Dorothy passed away this week. She was ninety-two. Her passing was expected and it was peaceful. But that doesn’t make it any less painful.

I was looking through some of my parents’ old papers last night and I came across a one-page tribute that my father (an avid jogger who passed away this summer) wrote for my mother for their fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration twenty years ago. It’s a fitting tribute. So this is a guest post written posthumously by my father.

I want to thank each and every one today for helping us celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary.

Dorothy is the master of ceremonies today, but this ceremony is for her, the master. In the Olympics, Carl Lewis was hoping to be the first one earning 10 gold medals. But alas, Dorothy just beat him out.

Her medals are invisible because they are coming from my heart. They are:

#1 Gold medal for best travel agent.
#2 Gold medal for best highway navigator.
#3 Gold medal for best mind reader.
#4 Gold medal for best budget maker.
#5 Gold medal for best psychiatrist.
#6 Gold medal for best homemaker.
#7 Gold medal for being a model mom.
#8 Gold medal for being my love.
#9 Gold medal for being my wife.
#10 Gold medal for putting up with me for 50 years.

(The script here says, “Tell her you love her and give her a big kiss.”)

I love you  XXXX

(Hold her hand and raise her arm.)

I recall that he really did kiss her, and then he raised her arm at the end of his speech, like they’d finished a big race together.

In the end, they both crossed the finish line of life not far from each other.

We will miss you, mom.

The Typical Motions of Love

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I had to return a birthday card I bought for my dad to the store. The reason? He died before I could give it to him for his 98th birthday.

Returning the card was hard. I didn’t say anything to the clerk about why I was returning it, and she had sense enough not to ask. If she had asked, I might have started to cry.

I’ve been unusually unemotional through the death of my father. Part of it is due to being busy with funeral details and all the other things that go along with the death of a parent. But I suspect another part is because I realized long ago that my father didn’t have it in him to demonstrate his love to me in the ways that I needed, or recognized.

Sure, he loved me in his electrical engineer sort of way, but it wasn’t enough for me to form a strong connection with him.

Even his own mother begged him to demonstrate his love to his children more. She did so in a letter I found in a family scrapbook. I remember feeling so exonerated when I found that letter – so free. It wasn’t just me who noticed the absence of the typical motions of love.

But you know what I received instead? A father who asked me to jog around the neighborhood with him. A father who told me it was okay to get a low grade in college, or even to flunk a class. A father who stuck by my mother although she broke their wedding vows. He was a husband who missed being apart from her even when he was in his 90s and his brain was beset by Alzheimer’s. He always knew who she was and who his children were up until the end.

He wasn’t the father I needed, but he was the father I got.

These are the things I was thinking as I returned his birthday card.

Okay. I am getting emotional now.

My Father’s Passing

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My father is inside this piece of ham radio equipment.

My dad died last week. I’ve been wrestling with whether I should write anything about it, and if so, how deep I should get into our relationship. As you can perhaps tell from the photo, I’ve opted for quirkiness over soul-bearing.

My father lived a good long life, made longer because he took care of himself. His body continued to function even when his brain didn’t work so well. He was father to four children and grandfather to six. He recently got to see his first great-grandchild, but I don’t think it really registered.

In addition to his passions for stamp collecting, coin collecting, listening to classical music, and jogging, was my father’s passion for ham radio (amateur radio). He contacted people all over the world with the radio he made by himself. My childhood home was notable in the neighborhood for the tall radio antenna in the back yard.

My father wanted to be cremated. When my family was at the cremation society office talking about details, the topic of an urn for our father’s ashes came up. One of my brothers had the idea of using a piece of our dad’s ham radio equipment as a container instead.

It might seem weird, but we all agreed immediately to this unusual container. And I’m sure my dad would approve too, if he knew.

A Mind of One’s Own

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Credit: National Institutes of Health.

I’ve written about my father a few times in this blog. It’s time to give my mother some attention.

My mom is 91, and she and my dad are still together, living in a memory care facility in the Twin Cities area. When my brothers and I moved our parents from my city to their current home last fall, I inherited a hope chest, of sorts, in which my mother stored blankets.

Once I got home and was cleaning it out, I discovered the chest was where she also stored some of her journals. I never knew she kept journals. And to think, all those times I was writing journals and squirreling them away at home, she was doing the same thing!

To ease some of my parental separation pangs, I read her journals, which spanned a period of over thirty years. Recently, I went back into one to look up a piece of information. I found the info, but also got caught by a short comment, where my mother mentioned that an acquaintance of hers who worked with her on a committee complained she was “willful.”

This is true. My mother is the sort who puts her foot down on a decision, and that is that. The problem is, she’s not good at explaining why she made the decision. She makes up her mind, and that is how it is going to be, gall dang it all to heck.

However, instead of her acquaintance’s comment eliciting self-reflection, my mother went on the offensive in her journal. (A good offense is the best defense, right?) Her next entry was a complaint about how I had a mind of my own.

Now, I take that as a compliment. Why would I want anyone else’s mind, anyway? (Smirk.) I suspect my mom wanted my mind to be the same as hers.

Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while could tell you that I think a bit differently from most. The world needs different viewpoints, and as long as I’m not getting into huge conflicts and arguments over it, I think that’s okay.

The problem is, my mom’s style generates conflict, and she is too stubborn to change her mind once she makes it up.

This all reminds me of something I read recently, which described how people who don’t fit into groups shouldn’t necessarily feel bad. It might mean that they are leaders rather than followers. That gave me some comfort. There have been instances where I’ve felt on the fringes of groups, and maybe that’s why. (Besides the fact that I’m 60% introverted. Grin.) I have also successfully led groups, but it takes a bit of prodding to convince me to do so.

In any event, I love my mother, even if she is willful. And as for myself, I wouldn’t have it any other way than to have a mind of my own.

Kissing in the Coat Room in First Grade

ValentineFrontLast night, as I rummaged around in a box of extra cards from Christmases past, I came across a story. I had stored a Valentine’s Day card from my first grade boyfriend in the box until I had time to return it to the scrapbook it came from.

Even though first grade was a long time ago, receiving the card left a lasting impression on me. It wasn’t one of those small mass-produced valentines that every grade-schooler gives out. This one (pictured) was at least six inches tall and it was covered with GLITTER. It said “With Sunny Thoughts of You” on the front, and on the back, my “boyfriend” had written his name (Chris) large and outlined in pencil.

Given that I was such a flirty kindergartener (see “Rockin’ the First Day of Kindergarten”), it may not surprise you that I had my first boyfriend by first grade in Piedmont Elementary School. Our teacher, Miss Bestul, had a rule that if we were done with our work, we could play between assignments.

Chris had short brown hair, full lips, and a ready smile. We must have enjoyed playing together because we would rush to complete our work so we could drive the classroom’s large wooden trucks in the aisles between the other students’ desks.

These “play dates” eventually led to our first kiss in the privacy of the classroom’s coat room. Not long afterwards, romantic tragedy struck. One day, Chris was not in school; nor the next; nor the next. When I asked someone where he was, they said he moved.

He was never coming back.

We didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye.

Although life went on, I kept his impressive Valentine.

Twenty-five years passed. I had graduated from college and was working in an old sandstone building that used to be a college dorm. The organization I worked for shipped a lot of packages, so we kept UPS busy. The same brown-uniformed UPS Man was assigned to our building. I saw him at least once a week. Almost every time I saw him, something would “ping” in my head. He looked familiar.

I never had time to dwell on it until one day, after months of those nagging feelings, the “ping” became more like a “bong.”

The next time I saw the UPS Man, I asked him if he had ever attended Piedmont Elementary. He said yes.

“Who was your first grade teacher?” I asked.

“Miss Bestul.”

It was Chris, my long-lost first-grade boyfriend! I introduced myself and asked him if he remembered me. He thought he sort of did remember. I told him about the Valentine – how much I enjoyed it and how sad I was after he moved away. We caught up on life since first grade – we both had families and full lives – and then it was time for him to go pick up another package.

I remembered I still had the Valentine in my grade-school scrapbook, so I dug it out and brought it to work to show Chris the next time I saw him. He looked in wonderment at his signature on the back of the card, tracing the letters with his fingers. I don’t doubt he was freaked out to see a paper relic from so long ago, and by whatever emotions had encouraged me to keep it for so long. We talked some more, and then his duty called.

After that, when we would see each other and say, “Hi,” it was with a new recognition, tinged with a bit of first-grade wistfulness.

A few years later, I took a different job, so I was the one who left him this time. But I’ve still got his Valentine.

It’s time now to put it back in the scrap book.

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The Rachel Files: Final Entry

This weekend, my temporary housemate who moved out a year and a half ago came to pick up the rest of her stuff that I was storing in my garage. “Rachel” was finally able to get her own apartment (after moving in with another, more suitable housemate).

I was happy to have the space in my garage back, and I was happy that she hadn’t been living with me for that whole time. Can you imagine how insane I would be by now? (To read the beginning of the three-month saga from 2013, start here –Half-Empty Nest Syndrome— and read onward.) As it is, we were able to hug and wish each other well.

I sure hope her building has a good plumber!