I saw a story about a woman who frantically dropped her sick father off at the emergency room. He was in such bad shape that she neglected to say she loved him.
The tears flow for all those unable to express their emotions including many who will never see their parents again. And it got me thinking….
It’s Mary Ann and Bob week.
My mother claimed that she almost did not leave the dorm that night. A casual friend with a plan imagined my parents as a couple. In those days, a man from Mississippi State would drive from Starkville to Columbus to take a girl from Mississippi State College for Women to dinner and a movie.
The occasion was a ruler breaker. Curfews were many and often. They met on a Sunday under cloak and dagger circumstances in a darkened theatre. It’s not clear why the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara was playing as a main feature in 1952, but no matter, my Mother was a sport only to be annoyed with the lame conversation coming from her blind date.
“I’ve been washing soxes all afternoon” he jovially filled her in. Too cool for school, her demeanor was forever altered when they strolled into the bright lights of the theater lobby. They were married the following August 13th in Atlanta at the Peachtree Christian Church with family in attendance.
Though she was a voracious reader, Mary Ann proceeded as a college drop out, and Bob, armed with a diploma in agriculture and a position as Lieutenant in the US Army, was a jack of all trades – master of none. Still with unusual good looks and sharp wits, they made a dashing twosome.
The future was unclear but they strode on and placed their own parents at the center of all things entertaining and helpful. They began in Tupelo; next a short stint in Nashville; finally settling for forever in Columbia, Tennessee with taut lines drawn to many friends from the past.
To set out on the narrow way, he excitedly presented her with a leather bound ledger chosen for a special purpose. Mary would document every tube of lipstick, every pack of cigarettes for household management. Such business was beneath her. She had a temper. Bob’s anger would not show itself until years later.
They would never be without a dog beginning with a toy manchester named Tigger. It was not until my father was a widower that we would learn that he preferred cats.
Bob went from shirt plant supervisor, to architectural draftsman, to lumber wholesaler for a corporation and eventually into business for himself. Mary Ann was concerned with beauty of all kinds – interiors, clothing, behaviors, new experiences and how her children showed up in the world. She was limited by a narrow perimeter she set for herself, no discredit to my mother just a commentary on an adopted dependance.
April 23 (Mother) and April 24 (Father) are their birthdays. They have been gone long enough for me to be captivated by their personalities and their association with each other. As I tell friends who are just experiencing such loss – the parental relationship now begins, you will no longer be distracted by their presence on earth. Perspective is everything. Richard Ford said, “Our parent lives, even those enfolded in obscurity, offer us our first, strong assurance that human events have consequences.”
What I’ve found as their child is that our own personality is a role player in their lives too and though they might have their own emotional impasses so do we. The dance at every stage of family is ultimately one of our personal making.
Mary Ann and Bob were subtle in the way they built trust with me their first born. Reliability was a given. Their friends and family could count on them to respond immediately. I wanted to be just like that.
Such rituals came in handy. Now I’m beginning to see that the way they showed up for each other and patched the other’s shortcoming was a big help to us all.
Because she slept in, he made breakfast and readied my brother and me for school every morning even as he saddled up for sales calls. She was devoted to his leadership and even if her intelligence intuited a superior call, she kept it to herself and supported his growth’s timeline.
My mother’s affection was singularly expressed to any and all with “Honey.” Her use of that endearment toward my father made me feel safe. My father’s affection was shown with enthusiasm. He was generous in its application.
To this day, my spirit is redirected by their ghosts…..
not so much did you win, but the quality of the endeavor
not so much the pedigree, but the level of imagination
not so much the curated stuff owned, but the story told
not so much the religious doctrine, but day to day generosity expressed
We were to strive for truth telling and self care and we learned that the handmade and handwritten were superior to store bought and as good for the giver as the receiver.
My parents absolutely did their best traveling with many unresolved and underlying tensions. As Mary Ann would often throw out – “Life is not fair.”
I hope I gave them enough love. If not, I’m sure that second best would be to translate their sustainably stout enchantments along to the little Bobs and Marys who have come after.
And for the more complicated lessons, I’ve learned to take to heart the advice of Kiese Layman – “You cannot be better today unless you assess yesterday.” To that end, I go to school and consider the blessings of April showers every day.