Ma and The Old Man pose in front of his birthday cake.
Ma and The Old Man taught me much during our lifetime together. Some things were practical and intentional. Like cooking and cleaning up after myself. Brushing my teeth before bed. The simple day-to-day things parents teach their children to help them grow up big and strong. Others things involved character building. Like doing the right thing just because it was right not because I particularly felt like it. Saying please and thank you. Expressing gratitude not bad attitude. Then there were the big things. Ten commandment big. Don’t cause harm to any living creature. Don’t lie. Cheat. Steal, and that includes someone else’s spouse. Respect your elders, especially your parents. Then there were the things they taught me without even knowing it. The ‘by example’ things. The stuff kids pick up on. Learn through osmosis. By watching. Listening. Witnessing.
While all this learning was going on — the day to day, the big and the by example — thirteen virtues stood out. A perfect Baker’s Dozen. These are what I would like to share with you.
8 From Ma:
LOVE: One of the big ones. The biggest. For Ma it came unconditionally. You didn’t have to do anything special to earn her love. If you were one of hers, you just had it. There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for one of her own. Including lay down her life. Thankfully she was never put into this position. What a blessing to be loved so dearly. What more could a child need than to wake up every morning feeling cherished. In the end, Ma was grateful that her life followed its natural course. Although she hated to leave us all, she wouldn’t have had it any other way. One day we will all follow her into the Light. Her love was such a blessing to our entire family. I still feel it now. And I am grateful.
Ma and her grandson taking a moment to look at Polaroids.
WISDOM: Ma was a simple woman in many ways. Unpretentious. Unassuming. She never graduated from high school and had very little formal education. Although at age sixty she went back to night school and studied art. We were all so proud of her accomplishment. Her wonderful paintings are amongst my greatest treasures. Education aside, Ma was a wise and enlightened woman. She possessed profound insights. Introspective by nature, she was always interested in the “why” of life. This led her to places of deep spiritual and philosophical understanding and acuity. She was a good listener. A skill lacking in the best of us. I am eternally grateful for her counsel and sought it at every turn. She was involved in every big decision I made. It is my prayer that my children feel the same way about me. That when they turn to me for advice or simply a compassionate ear that I bring Ma’s kind of wisdom.
KINDNESS: Ma possessed this virtue in spades. In abundance. Good measure. Pressed down. Shaken. Running over. Her heart was tender. Not just for those she loved. But everyone she encountered on her journey through life. Children, in particular touched her heart. She never met a kid she didn’t like. Her kindness was even extended to the naughty ones. Her heart was open and large towards the elderly, the downtrodden, the forgotten ones and those considered unlovable. She was kind to animals. They all knew a kindred spirit. I am kind too. Ma taught me well.
GENTLENESS: Ma touched everything with a gentle hand. Her touch was soft. Warm. Benevolent. She caused no harm. Never spanked her children. Nor scolded. Shy by nature, her voice was quiet yet reassuring. She was a Whisperer. Even in the kitchen, nothing was forced. Food was prepared in a sweet and easy style. I will always miss her beautiful long-fingered veiny hands that caressed her world with loving kindness.
Ma and Daughter Number One smile for the camera.
PATIENCE: Ma was well practiced in this virtue. Four children and an alcoholic husband could be taxing at times. Being patient with children came easy for her. She understood kids innately. And consequently they were drawn to her like bees to honey. She was like Jesus in that she wanted the little children to come to her. Never too busy for a child. No little one shooed away. Her patience wasn’t only extended to the very young. She successfully shepherded four teenagers into adulthood. That took monumental skill and patience by the bucketful. Being patient with The Old Man was her biggest trial. He was her Achilles heel. I can only say she did her best to extend the same grace to him as she did the children in her life. Nobody’s perfect. Patience hasn’t always been one of my strengths. Just ask my two older kids. I’ll be working on this one for the rest of my life. As I said, nobody’s perfect.
EMPATHY: Ma’s compassionate heart wept for the world. She intuitively knew what people were feeling. Felt their pain. Embraced another’s sorrow. She was the shoulder to cry on. Her heart broke at the sight of any suffering. Whether it was within our family circle. Or brought to her over the garden fence or through the television set. Witnessing suffering on a colossal scale moved her to take action. She donated to many charitable causes and supported a third world child all the days of her life. She inspired me to do the same.
COURAGE: Ma was timid, shy and meek by nature. Yet she was also a warrior. A little spitfire at times. Full of true grit. Especially when it came to protecting her kids. She wouldn’t let anything or anyone cause us harm. She was also courageous in the face of any adversity. From the cradle to the grave. Whatever the strife, she faced the challenge head-on with bravery and grace. She also never complained about being sick. She could be stoic to a fault at times. We saw this intimately when she had her heart attack. At first, she denied even having one. She never ever gave up. Ma taught me to fight the good fight right until the bitter end. Like Dido said, there will be no white flags above our door.
THOUGHTFULNESS: Ma was considerate in her every thought, word and deed. Not only in the small gestures. Coming to the aid of the elderly. Helping someone up who has fallen. Figuratively and literally. She was quick to send thank you notes, get well wishes and thinking of you cards. My mailbox was always a wellspring for delightful little surprises. She never forgot a birthday. Cards were sent. Cakes baked. Gifts given. She welcomed everyone into our home regardless of who they were. There was always room at the table. If she saw something in a store that she thought you’d like, she picked it up. There were many just because gifts. She had others on her mind. I miss dearly those cards and notes inscribed with her small meticulous handwriting. Trips to the mailbox aren’t as much fun anymore.
4 From The Old Man:
HUMOR: The Old Man loved a good laugh. A silly joke. A funny yarn with a good punch line. He was always quick with one to tell. A faithful reader of The Reader’s Digest, this was the source of much of his material. He also loved a good comedy on television. Red Skelton could bring him to tears. He laughed loud. Heartily. Easily. Right from the belly. I do the same. I loved this about The Old Man. It is also what I look for in friends and lovers. I’m a sucker for a man who can make me laugh. He will always tickle my fancy. Laughter. One of God’s greatest gifts to humans. Thank you.
The Old Man and his grandson enjoyed a good game of crib.
GENEROSITY: The Old Man was one of those guys who would give you the shirt off his back. Unlike Ma, who was quick to give to charitable causes, he didn’t part so easily with his money. Not that he had much to part with. He happily gave his pay cheque to Ma every two weeks. She was the manager of our family finances. But he gave other things. If he had something you needed or wanted he rarely said no. As a teenager I appreciated this virtue the most. Especially when it came to handing over the keys to his car. That was a big deal back then. The Old Man supported his family. No matter what. Roof over our heads. Food on the table. I always felt that as long as The Old Man was on this earth I would never be destitute. I’d always have a place to go. A safe haven where I would be taken care of. I am so grateful to have had that. E and I have created the same for our children. We also go through a lot of shirts.
WORK ETHIC: The Old Man loved and hated his job. Regardless of how he felt on any given day, he got up at 5am and did it. He showed up. For some thirty odd years. He never actually said, “Take this job and shove it,” but I suspect there were many days that he felt this way. Possibly he had bigger dreams than he had ambition. In his defense, he was from a generation of folks who raised families and did whatever it took to do so. No complaints. No whining. No woulda-coulda-shoulda. Just hard work. If he had regret over his professional path, he kept it to himself. I understand. I’ve done the same. I show up.
The Old Man and his grandchildren pose for the camera.
SERVICE: The Old Man did what he could to be of service to his country, his family, his community, his employer, his church. He was in the army. He volunteered in sport. Umpiring Little League games was his delight. He helped out at the church. Did yard work and painted one of his elderly customer’s home on a regular basis. Old Jenny was dear to him. Although she paid him a small fee I suspect he would have done it for free. He was honored with an award for Service to his Community. He taught me what an honor it is to serve. People need help everywhere.
1 from Both of Them:
PUNCTUALITY: Some people might not consider this a virtue. But I do. I don’t think either of my parents were ever late for anything. They were either right on time or early. Like many from their generation lateness was akin to rudeness. It was also considered thoughtless and arrogant. They respected the time of others and appreciated that no one likes to be kept waiting. Nor should they. Lateness required two things. A good reason. And an apology. I love that they were both so courteous in this way.
We all wore paper crowns on New Years Eve.
GRATITUDE: I will forever be grateful to both my parents for their Baker’s Dozen, these 13 Virtues. My heart is filled with gratitude every day for the life that God has blessed me with. Starting with the ultimate gift of my parents. Ma and The Old Man.