My parents were loyal, loving, honest, and dedicated to each other and to their children. Mother was a stay-at-home mom and was always there for me and my sisters. We knew she would be there waiting for us when we got home from school. Daddy always provided for us, and we spent happy times together as a family. I never knew we didn’t have any money, and I never felt like I had to do without; but we didn’t, and I did.
I rarely heard Mother and Daddy complain about anything. Even as they fought the inconveniences, ailments, and often painful disabilities of aging, they rarely complained, and they both had plenty to complain about. Mother began going blind from macular degeneration in the mid-1960s, and Daddy had some serious back problems which became debilitating later in his life.
At one time both my parents smoked and drank, but some time before I can remember they gave both up. I don’t know about the alcohol, but I believe my sisters Nancy and Patsy were the reason they stopped smoking – my sisters couldn’t stand the smoke, especially in the car, and they said so. The only time I remember seeing cigarettes in the house was when I was very small. Mother and Daddy had invited friends over, and most of them must have been smokers. When the guests all left, they left behind ash trays full of ashes and cigarette butts. I picked one of the cigarette butts up from an ash tray that was sitting on an end table just below my eye level, and I put it to my lips. Mother saw me. She didn’t get upset, but she took it away from me immediately. All I remember about that cigarette is that I thought it was disgusting. I never put a cigarette to my lips again. Some of my high school friends smoked but never in front of me, and many of my friends’ parents smoked. I still didn’t realize at the time how unusual it was to live in a non-smoking household. I am forever grateful.
I never heard either of my parents utter a discouraging word, except one Sunday when I was about twelve or thirteen years old. Mother set the oven timer to bake some potatoes while we were at church. There must have been a roast in there with the potatoes. When we returned home after church with our Sunday appetites, she discovered the still cold oven holding the still raw potatoes. She promptly opened the oven door, removed one of the large potatoes, and threw it and a rather loud dammit across the kitchen.
Daddy had no interest in socializing, at least not at home. He did not enjoy card games (or other parlor games, as Mother called them). I think Mother would have enjoyed entertaining at home, but it was not Daddy’s idea of fun. The exception was family and a few neighbors and friends, who came over for impromptu visits. On Mt. Pleasant, on warm fragrant summer nights we often sat outside in lawn chairs and drank Cokes or iced tea. I caught lightning bugs, and on clear nights we watched the sky for Sputnik to fly over. (Did we sit outside so they could smoke? This is beginning to make more sense to me after so many years.)
Mother’s hobbies were playing the piano and birdwatching. She kept a field guide to the birds nearby at all times – at home or when they traveled. As my mother’s eyesight failed, she identified the birds by sound or by a verbal description if someone was around to give her one. She enjoyed watching the birds so much, and I can only imagine how sad she was when she began to lose her eyesight and couldn’t see them any more; but she had a positive attitude and a delightful sense of humor which sustained her throughout her declining years. She also had the most wonderful contagious laugh. She laughed loud and often.
Daddy was quieter than Mother, and he had a drier sense of humor. He didn’t laugh much, but when he smiled, he lit up from the inside out, and he always smiled while listening to Mother play the piano. We all loved to hear her play. She loved to play, she played every day, and she played beautifully. My sisters and I took piano lessons, but Nancy excelled at it. As Mother’s eyesight deteriorated with early onset of AMD, Daddy made her what she called her “sheet music,” consisting of only a small sheet of paper with very large-lettered abbreviations of her favorite song titles written in black marker. Mother played the piano almost to her dying day. She became legally blind sometime in the 1980s but managed quite well with a little help to take care of herself and Daddy up until they moved together into a nursing home in Paris ,Texas, near my sister Patsy.
Daddy suffered from age related arthritis and back problems, and for the last few years of his life, he couldn’t walk without the use of his canes which he had whittled. Later he also needed a wheel chair. In early 1994, they moved from Merit, Texas, to Bonham, Texas, to be closer to the VA Hospital in Bonham. They bought a small house in Bonham which was just big enough for the two of them but was not built to accommodate his electric wheelchair. By the time they moved out of their house, the hall walls were scraped, scratched, scuffed, and nicked, and the doorways had chunks of wood knocked out of the frames from his wheel chair maneuvers. When they were still able to get out of the house (with help), one of my sisters or I took them regularly to Wal-Mart to do their grocery shopping. When Daddy went along, he used one of the store’s electric carts. It made Mother nervous when Daddy put his cart in reverse and it began beeping the reverse warning. She couldn’t see what he was doing, but she knew he was driving backwards, and it worried her.
Mother and Dad had a symbiotic relationship. In their later years, she became his ears and legs, and he became her eyes. After Mother began losing her eyesight, Daddy read to her from magazines, which she greatly appreciated; but, because her grammar and spelling were so good, she often became exasperated when he mispronounced words. But she let him go on, and if there were other people in the room at the time, she might offer up a “For Pete’s sake!” or “Mercy!” with half of a grin, and Daddy would continue reading, unphased. They loved each other deeply, and from the day they met, their focus was on each other and family. Whatever Daddy wanted to do was what Mother happily wanted to do, also. Her sage advice to me about marriage was, “You will both be happier if you let him always think the good ideas are his.” It worked like a charm for her.