Friday, June 13, 2008

O'Sullivan's Sweater

My mom is celebrating her birthday today. A gentleman never tells a lady's age, and while I am not a gentleman, my youngest brother is and feels very strongly there's much to be said about saying nothing about age. Fair enough.

Both my wife and I were raised in two-parent families, though not the same family (see: Cheney, Vice-President; joke about West Virginia and relatives) with fathers who filled up the room when they entered and who, when they departed, left vacuums. With both Moms, I think, at least for me, I never fully appreciate how marvelous they were and are, as people, until they weren't sharing a spotlight of attention. My wife's Dad passed a couple of years back after a number of years of declining health, and the distance from here to Germany, compounded and exacerbated the heartache of that moment, I know.

My father died before my son was conceived, much less born, and all of that seems like it was in another lifetime. Mom awoke to find her husband of over thirty years dead in their bed from the final in a series of heart attacks he never acknowledged even having, with three children younger than sixteen still at home and in need of a home. She and my father had, as was so often the case for people of their generation, two families: I am 56 and my baby brother is forty. The 'munchkins', as the oldest children called the youngest with whom we didn't share the house, were in a precarious predicament but we, those who had flown the nest, never fully appreciated the severity of the dilemma Mom found herself in.

But, she worked like a coal miner for years, without comment or surcease, to make sure those still at home never wanted for any of their basic needs. Whatever any child needed, they would receive and she did without until she had saved enough. And if another child wanted something, then that's where her savings went and she started yet again. She and the munchkins have a very different relationship with one another than her oldest children have with her or with one another, and some/part/all of that dynamic was shaped by those moments, and the decisions made in them, all those years ago.

I can always call her for advice about my children-she never volunteers an opinion, but is there when I ask. She's always seems reluctant to do so, as if somehow her offering an insight to someone to whom she gave life could be overstepping her bounds. As the Amish say, 'the older I get, the smarter my parents are.' I can only hope that the wisdom is hereditary and in a box someplace on a low shelf in the basement--because I sure don't have any wisdom on or near me right now-you can check with my kids. Happy birthday, Mom!
-bill kenny

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