Now Playing: Sixth Avenue Heartache, by the Wallflowers. “Look out the window, down upon that street; And gone like a midnight where was that man; But I see his six strings laid against that wall; And all his things, they all look so small; I got my fingers crossed on a shooting star; Just like me just moved on.”
I think this will be a short one today. I’m taking care of my mother-in-law, who is here recuperating from her third heart attack. I can’t imagine how much courage it takes to keep fighting the good fight in the face of a pretty grim prognosis. [Editor’s note: She lost that fight April 26, 2011, a year to the day after I wrote this post.]
And speaking of parents and children, a friend, Bill Sheridan, recently posted this exchange on Facebook between his daughter, Molly, who i guess is around 7 or 8, and his wife, Alison, also my friend. Alison to Molly: “Wanna hear something funny?” Molly in reply: “Is it actually funny?” Are our stories really that bad?
Wow! And the thing is, I can hear both of my sons saying that, too. Kids naturally think their parents are the dumbest, lamest people in the universe.
Which got me to thinking about my own mom, who died a couple of years ago from a massive heart attack on her birthday, and how she got smarter as I got stupider, which is to say as I grew up.
I always loved my mom, but like most teens of that era – the ’70s – thought I was the smartest thing going and that my parents were, well, not dumb but unsophisticated.
Which was overlooking a lot of facts. Fact 1: My mom and dad gave three kids every opportunity to go to the college of their choice, which in my case was the University of the People (UNC Chapel Hill, for those who don’t remember the Charles Kuralt commercial). Which meant out-of-state tuition. Fact 2: My mom went back to work a couple of times while I was in school. Her first attempt was at a local furniture company. She hated it and quit the first day. (More on that later.)
Interlude: In the City, by Joe Walsh. “Somewhere out on that horizon, Out beyond the neon lights, I know there must be somethin’ better, But there’s nowhere else in sight.”
A couple of years later, she tried again, taking a job at a nursing home. She liked it but wanted better things, mostly for her family. So she went at night to nursing school and became an LPN. She loved being a nurse and worked many years for two private practices in town. As I sit here looking for new direction in my own career, I marvel at how she found an occupation and embraced it.
That wasn’t all. My mom was cool beyond belief. Here’s a story I heard only after her death. One night as she was cooking supper, after my dad died, a man knocked on the door. He was down and out, a bum, and asked her if she could spare some money for a meal. She couldn’t, money was usually tight around the house, but my mom didn’t send him away hungry – if that’s what he was.
She invited this stranger in, told him to sit down, and rustled up some bacon and eggs and toast for him before sending him on his way. I couldn’t and wouldn’t do that in a million years. I’d have either slammed the door and threatened to call the cops, or at best I’d have given him a fin just to get rid of him. She fed him and talked to him. I don’t know what she said, but I bet he left there feeling full and better about himself.
Back to quitting on that first day (she didn’t go back after lunch). To me, that shows me she had a good sense of what she liked and didn’t like and didn’t want to waste her time doing something she hated. I think that’s a lesson we could all learn. I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy being a journalist, which is why it’s so difficult to find another path.
But like I said, I never realized my mother’s wisdom and coolness and ability to help her fellow man while I was growing up. So Allison and Bill, my friends, there’s hope. Knowing you as I do, I’m betting Molly will someday decide your stories are funny and that you guys are wise and cool and the best parents ever.
Maybe there’s even hope for me and my boys.
“Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth, ‘Rip down all hate,’ I screamed, Lies that Life is black and white, Spoke from my skull I dreamed. Romantic flanks of musketeers, Foundations deep somehow, Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” – Bob Dylan, My Back Pages