Today is my parents’ 64th wedding anniversary. This is an impressive milestone. They are healthy, still enjoying the home they’ve lived in for the past 38 years, still full of love, wisdom and great humor. On this occasion, which will be my final post in my 1954 blog, I’d like to pay tribute to my parents. After all, I wouldn’t be here to celebrate my milestone birthday if it weren’t for them. That’s obvious but still worth saying. What better appreciation for my own life than to honor their 64 years of marriage by sharing a few life lessons I’ve (almost) learned from my father and my mother:
- From Dad: learn to tell a joke. My father has an enviable memory for jokes. He times them just right, he remembers them accurately, and he tells them well. Sadly, I don’t have this gift. I always forget the punch line and end up giving away the joke through my awkward pauses and equally embarrassing interjections like “Oh wait, I think this is how it goes…” I’m still working on it, Dad. I know it’s been 60 years, but I hope to get it right eventually.
- From Mom: send cards. My mother has the gift of remembering the celebratory dates in other people’s lives—birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, retirements—and an equally sympathetic heart for the hard times—sickness, struggle, and loss. My mother sends cards. To everyone. On the right date. It never seems to be an obligation for her. She, of course, sends cards to those she loves, but she’ll send cards and notes to complete strangers or mild acquaintances—her hairdresser, the young man who helps her with the groceries, the receptionist in the doctor’s office. I strive to be like her. But, those who know me know that I’m often late with my cards or say things like, “I meant to send you a card.” I’m still working on it, Mom. I know it’s been 60 years, but I hope to get it right eventually.
- From Dad: memorize poetry. From early childhood on, I remember my father sitting in the living room on Sunday mornings and listening to LPs of recorded poetry. Poe, Whitman, Frost, Longfellow, Shakespeare. In high school, he secretly memorized his favorite poems, something unusual for a teenager. I love this story he often tells us: in his high school English class, his teacher asked the students to memorize the first few stanzas of “Wreck of the Hesperus.” She gave the class a few minutes to quietly work on it. While everyone else was trying to commit those lines to memory, my father was leafing through the textbook and reading other poems. His teacher caught him and in a stern voice asked, “Edward, do you have your stanzas memorized?” My father replied that he had. Of course, she didn’t believe him. How could he have memorized those few lines when he wasn’t even looking at them? So, she asked him to come up and recite them to the class. To her surprise—shock—he stood up and recited the entire poem. Not just the first few stanzas, but the entire poem of 16 stanzas, 64 lines. Way to go, Dad! Those early years of my childhood, hearing those beautiful oral renditions of great classics on our living room stereo, must have stayed with me. I’m now an English teacher. But I don’t have the gift of memorizing poems that he has. I’m still working on it, Dad. I know it’s been 60 years, but I hope to get it right eventually.
- From Mom: be organized. My mother is not a procrastinator. She sees what needs to be done and she does it. Her home is orderly yet comfortable. She cleans up after cooking. She mails her bills within days after they arrive. She doesn’t wait for the due date. She reconciles her checkbook as soon as she gets her bank statement. Yes, some people still do this, and she could teach a class on it. My parents and my brother used to work together, so one day my father and brother decided to play a trick on our mother. They pretended they ran out of staples and mentioned it to each other, within earshot of Mom who was busily at work on her side of the office. They wanted to see how long it would take Mom to run out to Office Max and get some staples. She wasn’t even part of the conversation, but they knew she heard them talking. Within minutes, Mom was up and out of the office, on her way to buy staples. She can’t relax if she knows something needs to be done. While I’m writing this, my breakfast dishes are in the sink, I’m still in my pajamas, and I’d like another cup of tea but don’t feel like getting up to make it. I’m sadly not my mother’s daughter on this front. I’m still working on it, Mom. I know it’s been 60 years, but I hope to get it right eventually.
- From Dad and Mom: be generous. I would not be exaggerating to say that my parents are the most generous people I know. They give if they see a need. They give if they don’t see a need. They look for excuses to give. They are thoughtful, caring, kind. For 64 years, they faithfully have stood by each other’s side. They appreciate one another. They are an example of love and commitment and faith. And, they are generous. My mother often quotes her own mother’s Arabic proverb, “Give with a warm hand, not a cold hand.” This is how they live. Giving gives them pleasure. I want to be as generous as they are. I’m still working on it, Dad and Mom. I know it’s been 60 years, but I hope to get it right eventually.