Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day: Things My Father Taught Me

Dad feeds baby Pam, about 3 months old.
Photo by Mom, June 1956
Dad was a teacher, even though he trained for civil engineering and did a lot of construction. I started learning from him when I was tiny. In honor of him on this Father's Day, here are some things Dad either taught me, or helped me learn.

Don't Argue With Mom. Why? Because you'll always lose. It's not about who's right and who's wrong, because with Mom - it's either Her Way or the Highway. If you need help, go see Dad. Just don't let Mom find out.

If You Wake Up First, You Gotta Make the Coffee. I was the kid that liked to get up early on weekends and start watching cartoons on TV, even though my parents wanted to sleep late. Dad just decided to turn that into an advantage for him, so he taught me how to make coffee (in an all-metal percolator with a glass bulb on top!) Then he made me promise not to turn the sound on the TV up too loud, and for gosh sakes, don't sit too close to the screen because it will ruin your eyes! To this day, I am still making his coffee. Smart, isn't he?

Don't Spend All Your Money Just Because You've Got Some. Once a week, Dad would hand us girls some cash for lunch. He would always ask for the change when we got home. Often, he would look it over and then let us keep it. (We didn't get an allowance and didn't get paid for chores.) It was one way of teaching us how to save. Maybe that is where I got my early training in being a tightwad.

Cars Are Members of the Family. Dad has always loved cars. His first car, bought with money earned from odd jobs, was a 1931 Model A Ford with a rumble seat. He still talks about that car! He's had a DeSoto, Plymouth, Dodge, and several Oldsmobiles. And 9 months before I was born, Mom and Dad bought their first new car, a 1955 Olds Rocket 88. It was two-tone green, 4-door, with tons of chrome and an all-metal dashboard. He spent many Saturday afternoons maintaining our cars himself and rarely took them to a mechanic. We were taught to treat cars respectfully and drive defensively. And man! If we got into a fender-bender or got a scratch on the paint, did we catch it! As for the '55, Dad loves that car so much, he still has it. After all, it's practically a person by now.

Geometry Is Good For You. He taught me how to draw with pencils that he sharpened with his pocket knife. Because he did a lot of drafting, he let us use geometric templates to start drawings. So many things can be seen as the sum of their collective circles, triangles, curves, ellipses, and lines. He would frequently bring home huge sheets of paper from the office and let us girls go wild drawing on them. We never lacked for paper and pencils and colors. It may sound odd, but even though I have mathophobia, I've always enjoyed geometry. For many years I did technical illustration, because of his influence and encouragement.

Take Care of People, Be Good to Animals. Dad brought home all kinds of stray critters. We got to have dogs and cats, but also baby possums and mockingbirds. Any animal that lived with us had to be cared for and treated kindly. Sometimes it had to go back to the wild, but while it was with us, it would have a pretty easy life. When Dad's parents retired and moved to their farm, he helped them fix up the place and get settled. And after his father died, he and Mom took in his mother for a while, until she needed professional care. Nowdays, Dad lives with us, and we spend all our time together.

There's so much more that I could list of the things that Dad has taught me. The main thing is that it is okay to love people. Even if they are unlovely towards me. People are not just here to be used. We are here to help each other. And to teach, and to learn. Happy Father's Day to all the Dad and kiddos!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mom's 87th Birthday

Mom, 1946
Studio Portrait

Today would have been my mother's 87th birthday. Her final birthday was spent in hospice, where she passed away 9 years ago. She and Dad were married for 60 years and he misses her every day.

Even though dementia is slowly wiping away my Dad's memories, he does not forget Mom. Like many people enduring memory loss, he asks repeated questions daily. She is a prime feature of his question cycle.

"How long has your mother been gone?"
"Where's your mother?"
"Was anybody with us when your mother passed?"
"Did your mother and I visit you here?"

Dad is aware that Mom isn't around anymore, and he is aware that his memory doesn't work too well. He has put these two important facts together and has become convinced that there is a cause and effect relationship in that circumstance. He has told me that he "lost my memory when your mother died." That she, in effect, took his memory away with her.

My parents got married soon after the end of World War II. Dad had served in the South Pacific with the SeaBees, joined up 3 days before he turned 18. On their wedding day, Dad was 22 and Mom was 20. In the first 35 years of their marriage, they had two daughters, built three homes, and put both kids through public school and college. Dad worked his way up in the Texas Highway Department, and retired after 25 years. With both kids married and out of the house, my folks felt free to travel.

Mom and Dad loved to roam around this country. She was obsessed with genealogy. They must have hit every courthouse, library and public records building in every state in the union! Mom even got Dad to drive them to Alaska - not once, but twice! - just to dig up some info on an uncle. It's a good thing that my Dad loved to drive. And that he could fix most of their cars himself.

When we cleaned out Dad's house, we found many things that my mother let behind. She did not believe in throwing things away. As for her stacks of genealogy research, she filed her papers into hefty 3-ring binders which eventually filled 37 book boxes (now in storage). Three cardboard boxes hid her "mad money" which added up to a substantial sum of cash, much of it in large bills! That made Dad chuckle. He knew her well.

There were some things that I am very grateful that Mom left behind. These things were also in boxes (and folders and baggies and old envelopes). Photos - zillions of them. About 30% of these have some writing on the back giving us some idea of what the photo may mean. Some photos are in albums of black craft paper leaves, with captions hand-written in white ink, complete with dates and names. Memories - that Dad can appreciate. Memories that Mom is, inadvertently, returning to Dad. I scan these photos - many of which are quite small, but sharply focused - and organize them into groups on my computer. Then I put them on my iPad. When Dad is blue or upset or feeling lost, we take a tour through the memories that are preserved in these photos.

This is the Mom that Dad recognizes - the young woman that he married after the war. The "skinny, fat-faced girl" that gave him children. The woman for whom he built houses and gardens.

"How long has your mother been gone?"

Mom is still here - she is the slender hazel-eyed gal in the photos. She stands beside a 1940's DeSoto coupe. She poses with a statue in some county courthouse square. She holds your young child. Here, time refuses to move along, instead it lingers with you. Mom didn't make it to 87, she didn't visit us here, but in the leaves of the old albums, she is always with you.