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Posts Tagged ‘love’

Let me begin by wishing all the dads, step-dads, and dad-substitutes out there a relaxing, love-filled Fathers’ Day. You deserve it. After all, it isn’t easy being the anchor of a family. Your responsibilities are almost endless.

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We depend on you to teach us positive core values like honesty, integrity, and courage. You’re often called upon to be the disciplinarian. How many of us have heard our mothers warn us to “Just wait until your father gets home.”?  That sentence alone served as punishment – and not just because we dreaded whatever actions you might take to correct our behavior. Worse was the knowledge that we had disappointed you.

Although my Daddy wasn’t one to spare the rod, so to speak, if that’s what it took to avoid spoiling the child, he rarely needed to resort to physical punishment. When he pulled his glasses away from the bridge of his nose to glare over them, that withering look felt more crushing than any blow he might deliver.

Being the youngest of three girls, I often wondered if my parents had been disappointed that I didn’t turn out to be the son that would carry the family name into the following generations.  Sometimes my dad jokingly lamented his fate of being outnumbered in a house full of women; that even our dog was female. More often I heard him declare that he didn’t care how many children he and Mother had as long as they were all girls. He said he didn’t want any child of his to go through what he’d experienced during World War II – the details of which he chose never to elaborate upon.

I don’t know whether I served as his son-substitute or if he thought it the easiest way to keep me out of my mother’s hair, but Daddy often included me as his little helper when he worked around the house. There’s no telling how many nails I handed him when he undertook paneling our basement ratskeller. While he worked, Daddy patiently answered the hundreds of questions I threw at him, many of which began with “why” or “how.”

After his successful hunting trips, I often helped Daddy clean game. To this day I think of skinning a squirrel or a rabbit as “taking his pajamas off.” Thanks, Dad. And thanks for always bringing home the birds so I could have my favorite birthday dinner: fried quail.

That said, I haven’t forgotten the time you put a raccoon on the rotisserie and when I asked what you were barbecuing, you replied, “Have you seen your dog lately?”  Funny, not funny. Okay, maybe a little bit funny.

Most of the time Daddy called me Peewee Johnson, but sometimes my name was Half-Pint. Maybe that’s why I so identified with the Ingalls family when I got old enough to read the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Laura’s daddy called her Half-Pint, too! In a way I guess I have my father to thank for my love of reading.

Oh, but when I became Janet Yvonne…look out!  I knew I’d done something awful to displease him. But I also knew it wouldn’t take long to get back into his good graces. He forgave easily.

I could list dozens of things my father taught me, but perhaps the most important is that girls can do anything boys can do. And, in his opinion anyway, they usually do it better.

In my teen years, while Mother discouraged me from creative pursuits, Daddy secretly informed me that I could choose any line of work that suited me. In a time when women’s career options were more limited than they are today, that seems revolutionary advice.

“Follow your heart, baby,” he would say. “Work isn’t work if it gives you joy.”

This is the man who left school after completing the eighth grade so he could help provide for his family. He thought it much more important for his sisters to have everything they needed so they could continue their schooling. Yet, with his limited formal education, my father mastered advanced mathematics by studying on his own. I recall a time when I shied away from enrolling in an algebra class. He shamed me into taking it saying, “If I can do trigonometry with my feeble brain, you can figure out algebra. Piece of cake!”

Sadly, my father passed away when he was only 56 years old. Neither of my children enjoyed growing up with the fantastic grandfather he was.  I still – and always will – miss him.

There are other dads I want to pay special tribute to today: my husband, my son, and my son-in-law. They each, in their own way, embody many of my father’s best attributes.

Dear hubby has helped me raise two remarkable adults. Even under the most trying circumstances we have supported each other through the challenges most parents face…and some that were extraordinarily difficult.

Our son’s fondest wish came true when he became father to a son of his own. The love between the two is palpably enormous. The patience this Dada exhibits with his child equals – and probably surpasses – that with which my father blessed me. It is a joy watching the two of them together.  Our grandson is fortunate to have a father so determined to be an integral part of the boy’s life.

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We could not have asked for a better father for our two beautiful, brilliant, and talented granddaughters than our wonderful son-in-law. Like my father, this man has taught his girls that there are no limits to what they can accomplish. He has partnered with our daughter to instill in their children positive core values and in conveying that anything less than one’s best effort is unacceptable.

According to data from the 2010 Census, 24.7 million children in the United States don’t live with their biological fathers. I pray that most of those kids have some kind of father figure in residence.

Yet a 2001 report from the National Center for Education Statistics indicates that 39% of students in grades 1 through 12 are “fatherless.”

That is sad. So, so sad.

What’s that saying?

Any Man

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It all started with a knock on my door one sunny summer afternoon.

There on my front porch stood a young man…hardly more than a boy, really…who shyly stammered, “Can I m-m-m. Excuse me. Can I m-m-mow your yard for $20?”

“Sorry,” I replied. “My husband likes to do the mowing and trimming himself. Says it’s his summer exercise routine.”

The kid looked so crestfallen it almost broke my heart. “Do you do any other kinds of yard work?”

His demeanor brightened immediately. “F-f-f-for $20?”

“I was just thinking that my flower beds really need some attention. If you’ll help me pull weeds for an hour, I’ll pay you $20.”

“D-d-d-deal!” he exclaimed.

Since I didn’t know if he could tell the difference between a dandelion and a daisy, I put the boy to work on the brick mowing path. Everything growing there was a weed.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“M-m-m. Excuse me. Marcus.”

“Marcus, my name is Janet. Do you live nearby?”

“Yes’m. Next to the f-f-f-firehouse.”

He pointed north, in the general direction of Main Street. I knew just where he meant. A string of tiny, low-rent, minimally-maintained apartments that were likely built in the 1940s or 50s lined that section of the road.

We spent the next hour chatting and weeding. Marcus impressed me with his willingness to do whatever it took to earn the money he seemed to desperately need. When I handed him two ten dollar bills and a cold bottle of water, he asked, “C-c-c-can I come back next week?”

“Sure.”

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As the summer wore on, I learned a lot about my new friend. Marcus had just turned 16 years old the week before he first knocked on my door. He shared that little apartment with his grandmother. Neither his father nor his mother had stuck around long enough to see baby Marcus take his first steps as a toddler. And Maw, as he called her, was getting pretty old. Marcus worried that she might not live long enough to see him graduate from high school. He said he liked to cook and that he dreamed that someday he could attend culinary school and learn how to be a real chef.

Marcus was like a sponge. He absorbed every bit of knowledge he could about the vegetables, herbs, and flowers I grew in my gardens. I learned that his favorite meal was fried chicken with a mess of slow-cooked greens and mashed potatoes. When he found out that I write, he declared that maybe he would be a writer someday himself.

One day I harvested more turnip greens, tomatoes, and zucchinis than I had the time or patience to deal with right away, so I offered them to Marcus. His smile and the hug he gave me in exchange for the vegetables more than adequately expressed his gratitude.

“Th-th-th-excuse me. Th-thank you. There’s not much f-f-f-food at our house right now.”

His response made me wish I had fried chicken to send home with him, too. How, I wondered, could there be people going hungry in our town?

After that, I made a point of regularly offering produce from our garden and sometimes a few slices of leftover meatloaf or pork roast. I always cooked more than hubby and I could eat. Why shouldn’t Marcus and Maw benefit from our abundance?

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Looking back, I realize I could have – no, SHOULD have – done more to help them.

By fall, Marcus could do most of the yard work unsupervised, but I had come to cherish the time we spent together so I often joined him at his labors just to enjoy his company. But the days were growing shorter. School and homework often kept him from having time to stop by looking for chores he could do to earn his $20.

When winter dropped several inches of heavy, wet snow during a particularly blustery day, I had suited up in layers of warm clothing and was trying to psych myself up to go out and shovel when Marcus knocked on the door.

“D-d-do you have a snow sh-sh-sh-shovel?”

“In the garage,” I answered. “But I’m short on cash, Marcus. I can’t pay you to shovel today.”

“M-m-m-my treat.” His grin shined whiter than the snow. “You-you-you. Excuse me. You too old to shovel.”

I would have felt insulted at the age comment had I not been so grateful for his help.

Winter turned to spring and spring into summer and Marcus came to help me with chores about once a week – sometimes more frequently. Early one bright summer Saturday, Marcus knocked on my door. When I answered, he pulled a red polo shirt from behind his back and held it in front of him. The logo of a nearby fast food restaurant punctuated his comment, “I-I-I g-g-got a j-j-j-job! A real j-j-j-job!”

“Congratulations, Marcus!” I hugged him. “And you’ll be working with food. That will be good experience when you go to culinary school.”

“C-c-c-costs a lot of money to go to school. C-c-can I still come and work on my days off?”

“Of course!”

Our friendship continued for several years. He invited me to his high school graduation. I couldn’t have been more pleased and honored than to watch him take that walk. Marcus proudly introduced me to his invalid grandmother.  I later learned that my young friend had pushed Maw over three miles in her wheelchair so she could attend the ceremony.

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A couple of weeks ago, as we approached the Memorial Day weekend and headed to Kansas City to celebrate a grand-niece’s graduation, it dawned on me that it’s been almost two years since Marcus last knocked on my door. Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen him walking up Main Street to get to his fast-food job in a very long time, either.

Of the hundreds of questions I’d asked Marcus during dozens of conversations, how is it that I never thought to ask his last name? Or his Maw’s last name? How could I have not paid attention at his graduation to pick up that tidbit of information as the principal called it out while he crossed the stage to collect his diploma?

Short of knocking on every door in the apartment complex looking for Marcus or Maw, I know of no way to check up on my friend. Did Maw pass away, leaving him homeless? Had he flipped enough burgers, mowed enough lawns, pulled enough weeds, and raked enough leaves to pay for his tuition to culinary school?

I may never know.

But I do know this: if I ever win the lottery, I will somehow find a way to locate my young friend and make sure that he has all the money he needs to make his dreams come true. I will pay for a speech therapist to help Marcus overcome his stuttering so he never has to be embarrassed by it again…or say “I-I-I…excuse me.”

Marcus, if you happen to read this, please come knock on my door. I have a ton of yardwork that needs to be done and you know I’m getting too old to do it by myself.

NOTE: This blog post is based on a true story, with some fictional elements added to protect my friend’s identity and privacy. Only stock photos were used and the real Marcus is not depicted in any image.

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My late mother’s birthday fell on July 7. Daddy’s sister, Aunt Celia Ann, also had a birthday around that time, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t recall the exact date. In any case, these July birthdays prompted the creation of the original Army Green Birthday Cake.

I can’t remember who first had the idea, but my two older sisters and I decided to surprise Mother and Aunt Celia Ann with a memorable treat. Although I can’t recall my exact age at the time, I know I was young and eager to participate in any activity from which I wasn’t banned by my siblings. Happily, the army green birthday cake proved to be such an event.

Together, the three of us set about testing our baking, frosting, and cake decorating skills. The batter may have been chocolate…or maybe yellow…perhaps lemon? I’m not sure. The flavor seemed somewhat immaterial. The icing made this cake special.

I remember there being much discussion regarding how to tint the frosting. All we knew was that none of the options available in that little box of food coloring seemed special enough for our creation. I believe we thought lavender would be nice. Sadly, our version of that purplish hue too closely resembled grey and required adjustment. I don’t suppose any of us were well versed on how blue and red combine to make purple or, conversely, how green results when you mix yellow and blue.

Thus the experimentation began.

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I’m not sure how many combinations we tried before realizing that we’d better settle for that putrid olive drab before our frosting went from hideous to coyote ugly. (So nasty you would chew off your own paw to escape it.)

Certainly I was not the only sister who wanted to cry at that point, but we soldiered onward. We assembled the layers into a towering thing of beauty covered in army green icing. We hid the finished product in Mother’s aluminum cake cover, latched tight so there would be no peeking to ruin the surprise.

The next day, we loaded up the family station wagon and drove from Missouri to Colorado over the long Independence Day weekend to visit Aunt Celia Ann, Uncle Bill, Aunt Helen and all of my first cousins. Together we would celebrate those July birthdays in style. Mother packed a picnic basket and a cooler so we could drive straight through, saving time and money – both of which were no doubt in short supply.

With the whole family gathered, what a shock the unveiling of our masterpiece proved to be. I vaguely remember one of the cousins exclaiming, “It’s green!”

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And I’m pretty sure there was laughter…a lot of it.

But the only memory of the event really worth keeping is Mother’s reaction. Her voice conveyed sheer delight when she exclaimed, “Did you girls bake this cake for us all by yourselves? It looks wonderful!”

Thank you, Mother! In that moment you taught me an invaluable lesson. Even an army green birthday cake is beautiful when viewed through loving eyes.

Today is the 37th Mothers’ Day I’ve spent celebrating only the memory of my mom.  She passed away too young. Way too young.

Happy Mothers Day

Happy Heavenly Mothers’ Day 2018 to the amazing lady who, by her actions, taught me to be strong and independent; to love unconditionally; to be brave and unafraid to try new things…

And to appreciate all the army green birthday cakes life has to offer.

 

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