Who I am, and what I do, doesn’t matter much in this story. The simple facts are: 58 years old, mother of five, grandmother, retired teacher-librarian, married 35 years.
What does matter are the two people at the center of this experience, my parents, and how they, and I, cope each day with the demands of their great age and infirmities. Before the reader hears about that, though, I’d like you to know my parents a little as the highly competent adults they were at their physical and mental best.
My mother was born in Bloomington, IL. in 1923, and until age 8 her family lived in Chicago. Mom finished her growing up years in Wheaton, Illinois. She was a child of the Depression whose father was never without work as an attorney for the City of Wheaton. An only child, my mother said of herself, “I’ve always had to move every day until I am tired.” She wasn’t the sweet girl who loved dolls and pretty dresses. No, she liked to ride her bike, climb trees, play baseball, and longed for the life of the boys who could wear pants. Thus her favorite day of the school week was Wednesday, when she could wear “bloomers” and go to the gymnasium.
Mom played the clarinet very well, eventually winning a state competition in high school, but she never got over the stage fright that caused her, quite often, to be sick before contests. She loved marching in the high school band. A graduate from high school in 1940, she attended Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin, and was voted one of four Best Loved women in her graduating class of 1944. People have always liked her, and this trait has held true even in the mental confusion of the last four years. Graduate school in Boston, a master’s in physical education, and she was ready for a job teaching phys ed at University of Rochester, where she met my father.
Four children were born in the eight years after she married, and the family was complete in Midland, Michigan. Mom remained, to the end of her ability to be so, a person who tried to make her community and the world a little better. Her gift of friendship to so many, her visits to people who could no longer get out, her willingness to do the unglamorous but necessary jobs at her church, and her questioning mind, whetted and sated by reading of all kinds, are her legacy of love to her family and friends. Her great kindness to people who faced any sort of problem, and her need to DO something when a troubled person crossed her radar, have made her memorable to many.
My father was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1921. He is also a child of the Depression, but his family had a harder time of it. His mother’s large family played a big part in developing his sense that families have to take care of each other when times are tough; I’ve had the gift of knowing that if or when I needed help, my dad would be there.
Dad was and is a very smart guy. He went to Brooklyn Polytechnical High School, and graduated second in his class of 1938. College was out of the question financially, but he attended night school while he worked after he got out of high school. The war years changed everything, and he joined the Navy in 1942. Dad soon proved that he was officer material, and he was sent to the University of the South, Sewanee, where he made the most of the opportunity to learn. He was part of the invasion of North Africa, attained the rank of lieutenant, j.g., and was made navigator of a destroyer, a source of great pride for him.
After the war, the G.I. Bill–as it did for so many–made it possible for Dad to go on to graduate school in organic chemistry at the University of Rochester in New York. He received his doctorate in 1949, not long after he met and married my mother. He worked for Dow Chemical Co. for most of his career, and had a hand in the development of Styrofoam and ethafoam. Dad rose to unexpected–by him, anyway–levels of management, and was delighted to be sent to Italy and then Switzerland late in his career at Dow.
There is so much more to be said about both of my parents, but perhaps bits and pieces will come out over the life of this blog. My next post will start the tale of the beginning of the end of their independent life, and also my life as my role turned from daughter to mothering presence for both of them.