This week we start with my parents, Lewis and Virginia. (If you missed last week, click here.)
Mom grew up an only child, an unwanted one at that. My Great Aunt Margie told me that when Mom was little, if you asked her name, she’d say, “No, No, Virginia!” In grade school she was molested by the janitor. She ran home and told her mother who said never to speak about it again.
Mom graduated early from high school and went away to K-State at sixteen. She said the minute she left her mother’s house, her life began and she rarely returned home.
Dad’s upbringing was the opposite. He had two sisters and was the beloved boy in his family. He served at the end of WWII, but the only danger he saw was while guarding AWOL prisoners.
Escorting a soldier to the privy, the guy stopped in his tracks and said “Would you shoot me if I ran?”
“I don’t honestly know,” Dad said, shaking in his boots. “Should we find out?”
In their last year of college, Dad as president of his fraternity, asked a popular girl to the fall dance. At the last minute she cancelled so Dad called a young woman that had been hanging around him. Mom was so excited to be going with Dad she wore the name tag with the other girl’s name printed on it through the entire event. (Why I hate name tags.) Dad said Mom set her sites on him and he never had a chance and, besides, he didn’t have the heart to send her back to her miserable mother.
Dad neglected to mention to her that farm wives fix dinner (lunch to you city folk) for the men and the hired help working in the fields. The morning after their honeymoon, Mom’s new mother-in-law arrived early to help cook, only to find Mom in bed, reading a book.
Cooking was not Mom’s strong point so I can only imagine what got served that day. After that, Mom was relegated to setting the table and washing dishes while the farm women fried chickens, mashed potatoes, opened jars of their home-canned vegetables and served pie.
This picture of Dad is the way I like to remember him. Tall and lean with a dark farmer’s tan covering his arms. He was a heavy smoker and would roll the bottom of his jeans into a thick cuff where he shook the ashes.
Dad graduated with a degree in agriculture and was chomping at the bit to apply everything he’d learned. Unfortunately, Grandpa liked the old system and that’s the way it stayed.
The land (and the house we lived in) belonged to my Grandpa who would decide, on occasion, to pay Dad a share of the farm income. My entire childhood I heard Mom yelling at Dad, “You go over there and get our money right now!”
I said to my older sister the other day, “Remember mayonnaise sandwiches? I loved those.” She sighed. “Do you remember we had them because there wasn’t any food in the house?”
When Mom and Dad could no longer feed the family on what the farm made, Mom went back to school and became a teacher. Dad worked extra jobs where he could — laying asphalt for the city, helping Uncle Harold collect change from his juke box machines, and one long miserable year as a realtor.
He once applied for a job with a chemical company and they called him in for an interview. He had to take a train to the main office and was gone for a couple of days. Mom cried the entire time, terrified that he would take it because it would mean he would be gone a lot. They offered him the job but he turned it down.
Making money was something Mom and Dad never figured out how to do. But, one thing they were good at, was having kids.
And a few years later…
With Dad’s passive personality and Mom’s fiery one, it made for quite a roller coaster ride for us kids, but our parents were devoted to us and I never for one moment, even during my worst teenage years of hating my parents, felt unloved by them. We ran to Mom when we needed a hug and to Dad if we needed an ice cream cone.
It’s true, they didn’t know a thing about making money, but they did know how to make a family.
I would do whole thing over again, exactly the same way.