Both of my parents turn 70 years old this week. They were born, and spent their formative years, not far from each other in small towns here in Pennsylvania.
Landmarks, as they often do, take you back into memories.
I am an only child. People would often ask if it was lonely. It wasn’t, the space taking form and shape into an identity you learned to hold. It certainly informed the man I am now as did both my mother and father.
Mom grew up Catholic, an issue in the 60’s much like our cultural unrest today. She taught me the power of a laugh and the appeal of a story. I remember the first time I heard her playing B.B King blues rifts on a record player and identifying with the music. She spent her career in a hospital as a nuclear medicine technician.
She still tries to teach me to throw away the recipes and improvise, remembering the early years when my grandparents and great grandparents were alive, Italian, French, Ukrainian. The oldest house in town. I remember the smells, tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic. I remember handmade meatballs. I remember the last remnants of conversation with hints of old languages.
Dad grew up Methodist, and the combination of the two in marriage caused quite the stir. He was the youngest of three, a post WW2 baby, athletic and serious, though not always. He’d spent his career as an operator at a nuclear power plant.
Dad taught me the importance of words, of expectation, the idea that quiet is powerful. I remember the dark green ’67 Mustang and the smell of the exhaust that I can still catch a hint of on summer breezes. I remember fishing, hours on the lake, the feel of the sun reflecting off the water.
I remember dinners, family, stories, the intersection of past and present, aunts, uncles and cousins. Watching children grow into adults.
When his parents, my grandparents, passed away I learned that holding your father in an embrace and feeling his tears is the closest thing to an inversion you’ll ever experience as a child, the point in time that you understand pain is universal, that no matter how long they tried to protect you from it, it will come around in the end.
Both laid the foundations of faith, the appreciation of making it through, the value of simplicity. Both could cook, both showed their love and affection in different ways.
Now, as a father, I say things and hear them speak through me.
As a child, you never picture your parents growing older. As a parent, you mark the passage of time through your own children. Suddenly you look into the future and the past seems to shift into the lingering fog of a cool September evening.
Both taught me, no matter what their faults, they would be there.
When Val and I suffered a miscarriage, I called my father on the way home from the hospital, just after five in the morning, and he answered the phone. And really he didn’t have to say anything, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever convey how much that meant.
My mother maintains, takes care, makes the drive from her house to ours more than once a week.
Both taught me the meaning of being a parent, being a man, and being present. They showed me that, no matter how often I screw up, the sun still rises and I’ll get another chance tomorrow.
So thank you, both of you, for the years. For the time, the purpose, the ups and downs and everything in between. You are both still an important part of our family, no matter the distance. I couldn’t do this without you.