I love this photograph of my parents, on the dock of the Beaver Island ferry. It was taken when they were newly in love, not yet married, not yet parents. I didn’t know them, then.
I knew them as busy young parents, fussing and rushing to do the right things and raise good children. I remember Mom, circling the table to oversee projects from her “Rainy Day Cupboard” or, later, homework…with a baby on her hip, and supper on the stove. I remember Dad, on hands and knees, showing us how to put seeds in the furrow he’d made, and how to tamp down the earth around them. As he left for work, Dad always bent down to give Mom a kiss goodbye.
I knew them later, when keeping up with many more children was exhausting for Mom, and work at the factory frustrated Dad, and kept him away from home for long hours. In addition to their own family, there were neighborhood kids and cousins and friends filling the house; Mom mothered all of them. Dad’s little farm had grown to a half-acre of garden, plus pigs and chickens. It seemed like they didn’t have time for each other, but just kept going on.
I knew them when, with children grown and many years of tension and resentment gathered over the years, they barely spoke to each other. They each had plenty of complaints, though. Dad was sure Mom was too easy on David; he didn’t like her having a job, and felt it was an insult to his ability to support the family; he was sure, sometimes, that the only reason she read so many murder mysteries was to find a good way to do him in. Mom knew that Dad was too hard on David; he drank too much and against the doctor’s orders; he was always grouchy.
When Dad died, Mom’s last gesture was a loving pat on his hand and a kiss on his forehead. They had shared a long life. When Mom was dying, more than a decade later, she told me she’d been putting a letter together for Dad, letting him know that their troubles were not his fault alone, and that it was all water under the bridge anyway. How wonderful, I thought, to be so sure of heaven and the people that will be waiting there, that she wants to make amends beforehand!
Today, on their anniversary, I hope Mom and Dad have put all their troubles behind them, and are enjoying each other’s company.