Thanks to Aunt Barbara, who sent me a wonderful birthday present of several of Dad's columns from years past, I can share a few more of Dad's words with you. Of all the pieces that Aunt Barbara sent me, this one is my favorite; I'll explain why after I give Dad his turn, with this piece from May 10, 1981:
I don't recall that Mom ever put a hand on me in anger during my growing years. It's not that she never had good reason to give my behind a few well-placed smacks. I have to admit, I got into my share of trouble, and I wasn't above stretching the truth if it meant I could wiggle out of a tough spot.
But Mom never spanked me. Not to my knowledge, anyway. It wasn't her style.
Let me tell you a little about my family. There are seven of us kids: five girls and two boys. I grew up with three of my sisters and it was a normal childhood inasmuch as we fought and argued like other brothers and sisters.
As I think back now, I remember that it was my oldest sister who gave me my first bloody nose. It was also my oldest sister who rushed to my side when the neighborhood rowdies got out of hand.
Two other sisters and a brother came along much later. They were Mom's second family. That's her choice of words, not mine.
Mother didn't need to turn us over her knee to teach us discipline. She had a more devastating weapon at her disposal. Her face could tell you all you ever wanted to knew, even if her lips never moved. Just a glance into her face and you knew you had crossed the line, that you had said or done something wrong.
It wasn't anger that you saw, either. It took a lot then--as it does even today--to make Mother angry. But the disappointment was clearly there. It was written in her eyes, and her silent lips delivered an unmistakable message. I had twisted the truth and not a word was said to dispute it, but I knew that she knew. It left you with a feeling that you had betrayed your first true love.
Today is Mother's Day, and if you will allow me the privilege, I have a few feelings I would like to share with this delightful lady. Quite possibly, they are the same feelings you want to share with you mother.
Dear Mom: It's Mother's Day. It's your day and your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will be there again to let you know how much you mean to them. The truth is that I have been thinking a lot about you lately. I worry about your health and how it has robbed you of the independence you cherish so much. I worry about not being able to be with you as much as I would like. I know you say there's no cause to worry, but I worry anyhow.
It's funny how, as I grow older,I am able to recall so many pleasant memories from the past--things I haven't thought about for years. Like the angel food cakes you used to bake for my birthday. How you used to keep what seemed like a stalk of bananas in the house because you knew I liked them so much. And the tears in your eyes the day I cut my hand while trying to chop up some kindling.
I remember when I used to go to sleep on the couch listening to my favorite radio programs. You said I needed my sleep, but you didn't insist that I go to bed. I'd wake up the next morning and a quilt would be over me. No one had to tell me who put it there.
I remember so well that time when I met my future bride. You sensed almost from the beginning that it was something special, so you backed off to give me room to grow up. There were so many subtle encouragements that I didn't recognize then, so much patience that I didn't appreciate. I have since learned that it's not so much what is spoken between mother and son as it is what is felt.
There was the time when, as a young adult, I left toe loving family warmth you had created. I knew you were always there if I needed you. And knowing that gave me the reassurance that helped me get over some of the rough spots.
You don't ask much from life--never did. You seem to enjoy it so much when your sons and daughters visit. I can tell that there are times when the grandchildren are aggravating, but you share a patience with them that you have long shared with me and your other children.
I think of all these things today because it's a special day--it's your day. In truth, however, I think of these things on other days as well. You're a special person in my life every day of the year. I don't tell you that as much as I'd like, but you know how grownups are. Sometimes I feel guilty for it... and then I remember how it has always been with us. We can tell each other so much without ever saying a word.
Happy Mother's Day.
Dad wrote several Mother's Day columns, and I'll reprint a couple of more of them over the next week or two. But this one had one of the most vivid images of all, a picture that will stay with me forever: Dad as a boy, falling asleep as he listened to his favorite radio programs. I never saw that, but I often saw Dad fall asleep in front of the television set, watching his favorite programs. Mom and Kim and I would joke about the fact that Dad may have never seen the last fifteen minutes of half the programs he watched because he would inevitably doze off.
In the past few years, Dad had begun to watch television primarily in his bedroom; knowing he enjoyed this, I had gotten him a Toshiba television with a built-in DVD player and VCR so that he could watch whatever he wanted to. Dad loved it; he would buy DVD's to watch before he went to sleep--and often they were the same movies he enjoyed so much in his younger years. In the past few months, as I would go to Rome to help Dad manage his finances and take care of various odds and ends, I would bring up a handful of DVDs--usually two for each day between that visit and my next. Dad loved it; he wanted to pay me for the DVDs, but I would have none of that.
Now I know that Dad's habits were set early--and I can see how little any of us change. We get older... we have to become more mature... but our habits and our joys remain much the same, following patterns set in our childhood.
Dad mentions bananas--and again, it strikes a chord that resonated through his adult life. Dad loved bananas--he would eat bananas by themselves, he would eat them in Mom's Waldorf salad, he would eat banana and mayonnaise sandwiches, he would eat banana and peanut butter sandwiches, he loved banana pudding... After Dad's stroke, when I went to his house to clean up anything that needed to be addressed immediately, I found three over-ripe tomatoes and two overripe bananas on his counter (Dad liked both bananas and tomatoes "two days too ripe," as I called it), because Dad always wanted to have both on hand at all times.
Those glimpses into Dad's childhood make this the most memorable of all his columns.