Growing up I never met parents like mine. When you meet them you can see right away how different in personality they are and you can’t help but wonder how they met and married. But they did and over the course of twenty years they did it six times and had six kids—speaking in 7th grade terms of course. At the core they are very similar, finding purpose with everything…wasting nothing. We were a humble family, not to say poor, just humble. We always had sturdy shoes and a heavy coat, and please note I didn’t say stylish sturdy shoes and a stylish heavy coat.
Both of my parents are hard workers. They are both fairly serious and smart, like encyclopedias. Ask either of them about history or literature or the why the check engine light is on in the car and they will give you an answer. I didn’t inherit that, by the way. They laugh but are not silly. This is irony at its best as their children are silly and cannot be serious. My mother is cute and little and she’s really quiet, she is an observer. Only once have I seen her with all 15 of her grandchildren together half of whom were taller than she is and I think it might have been one of the happiest days in her life.
Most of my childhood I spent with my mother and my younger brother. I was always grateful for this as truthfully I was fearful of my strict father. The older kids were growing, growing, gone, but home enough to eat at the table often. We ate really healthy (thank you, mother!) and I can count on one hand the times we ate out. Once my Uncle Jim came to visit and took us to McDonald’s. I ate a hamburger and my brother ordered a Big Mac and large coke- I was jealous for years. During those years time went by slowly, I devoured books and played a thousand songs on the organ in living room. We had a big old house with lots of hiding places. You could never be bored as there was always stuff to find. One summer I dug through a closet that I never realized was there and found a box of old craft magazines. And that was my summer, me and those magazines. The upstairs of our house had no heat, again not because we were poor but because that is the way the house was built 150 years before and that is the way it was. Have you ever slept in New England in January in a room with no heat? It’s freakin cold! If you wanted a new bedspread then you got an old army blanket from the attic, that is just the way it was.
There was always a sewing machine on the dining room table, as well as half finished projects. We always had graham crackers and unpasteurized milk. There was always a job list that needed doing but we (my brother and I) were always off finding more interesting things to fill our time. We pretty much got to do whatever we wanted, at home that is. We hiked throughout the property year round and built forts and went sledding down the biggest hills you could imagine. We knew when we trekked back to the house as darkness approached that my mother would be sitting in her spot in the kitchen window and she wouldn’t ask why we didn’t put the dishes away or if we did our homework. I realize now that her love and trust for us was deeper than yelling about chores. Maybe it made her happy that we were doing the same things she did as a kid in Connecticut. Or maybe she was happy to be in a quiet house blasting Neal Diamond and cutting potatoes for stew.
One day after I grew up I met my husband. And then I met his parents. Though they are very different they are also very much the same in their way of thinking. One day we flew with his mother and stepfather to Nantucket. If you met his stepfather Joe you might think he was broke and needed to use some steel wool on his fingernails. But in reality he owned the plane he flew us in and to be honest he owned the airline. In Nantucket Joe bought a pair of pants and a typewriter at the local thrift shop. Only he forgot the pants on the store counter. He couldn’t stop thinking about those darn $2 pants and how they don’t make them anymore so the next day he flew back to get them. In his airplane. That probably burned 100 gallons of fuel to retrieve thrift store pants. That is when I realized I really and truly loved Ken. Not because of the flying and boating to fun places but because of Joe and his grease stained fingernails. Growing up I was embarrassed by my upbringing. I wanted flashy and a full stock of prepackaged snacks and a television with 50 channels. It wasn’t until I met Ken that I realized I didn’t really want that. I wanted sturdy shoes and a warm coat all along.