Friday, September 5, 2014

Tell Me What Greatness Looks Like, Mom

My friend lost her father a week ago today. Her son is a student of mine, a classmate of my daughter's, so the family has been on my mind a lot this week.

I lost my father thirteen years ago -- my mother the year before that. Other friends who have lost a parent talk about thinking about them every day. I can't say I think about either of my parents every day. I never lived close enough to my parents for them to be an integral part of my daily life as an adult -- maybe that's why. I don't feel a hole in my daily life to prompt their memory. It's mainly on holidays that I miss them, or at other random times . . . like this morning.

My dad grew up on a farm in Kansas during the Dust Bowl years. Mom grew up in small-town Missouri, daughter of a high school principal and elementary school teacher. From what I understand (I had to piece these details together through relatives after they died), they met in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where my dad was stationed for some part of his military training during World War II and where my mother was teaching in a one-room schoolhouse (I think Cape Girardeau was where the one-room schoolhouse was . . . oh, I wish so much I had asked her about that experience!).

From that point, Dad left for officer training at Harvard (that's how a poor farm boy from Kansas ends up getting a Master's degree from Harvard), and the two of them continued what my mother called a romance of letters. They apparently wrote each other all through the war.

As you can guess, my sisters and I would give just about anything to see those letters.

This is hard for me to imagine. As I recall, they didn't have a whole lot of time together at Cape Girardeau. Maybe a year? And this was back in the day when people were a bit more cautious about their romance. My dad, in particular, would have been cautious, I think; he was always a very conservative one.

But maybe not in Cape Girardeau? They apparently fell for each other hard enough to maintain a long-distance relationship for a few years through nothing but words on paper (no email, no texting, not enough phone calls). And it flourished to the point that they got engaged soon after he returned from the Pacific.

How do you do something like that? My daughter and her long-term, long-distance boyfriend would probably like to know.

I remember asking my mother once what made her think my dad was good husband material. I mean, on the surface, someone from my mother's background might not see much in a farm boy from Western Kansas whose family of nine lived in a basement (she said when she first went to meet the family, they hadn't even built a house over the basement yet -- they literally all lived in just a basement). Her answer was, basically, that she saw greatness in him.


I lost my parents too early. So much I should have asked them.

1 comment:

Aunt V said...

Great piece. I think of you periodically and believe it has to be hard to lose parents so early. I cannot know what that feels like but think a piece of your heart is never the same. :-(