It’s Father’s Dad today. People will wax poetic over their Dads and recall happy times spent together doing family things. Or, at least, some will. Some will have walked a different path and their stories will be a little different. Some will be like mine. My Dad was not an easy man. His was not an easy life. He worked two jobs for as long as I can remember. He farmed our family farm, and tenant land, and he worked at a local General Electric plant. So, work whatever shift you’re on then sleep a little and work some more. Sounds fun. To me, as a kid, it was just what Dads did. I didn’t know how hard it was. I did know that my Dad yelled a lot and was demanding and completely uncompromising in his rules. Now I look at his life, and those rules, in a completely different way. So, here we go:
1. “Don’t gun the garden tractor, Stacey!” This one achieves the highest degree of effectiveness if you yell from the machine shed when I’m not aware of your presence. lol. It means, “This thing cost a lot of money and we need to take care of it.” A corollary is, “If you use the goddamned hose, roll the thing back up the way you found it.” I have adopted this one at my house.
2. “Can I have another glass of tea, please?” Your outside language is for your friends. Your inside language is for your Mother/family. While my father cursed vociferously I never heard him use the “f” word and I know his language was radically transformed from outside to inside. I witnessed the transformation regularly. I also know he would clean up his act completely around my Grandmother. To this day I have no use for people who disrespect their elders by using foul language in front of them.
3. "Eat Beans America Needs The Gas" (bumpersticker from my Grandpa’s truck) Learn to tell a good story! One of the things I treasure most about my entire family is that they are amazing story tellers. I loved listening to my Grandpa tell tales and my Dad and his cousins were also terrific story tellers. It’s a true gift to be able to perfectly time a story, love the language enough to pay attention to the rhythm of the words, remember all of the history of the county and the crazy nicknames. I’m happy to report that this gift seems to be alive and well in the family in my cousins and my own children. Grandpa Rab would be proud. I really loved my Grandpa. I wish my kids could have known him.
4. "Goddammit, Donnie!" My Dad often called my brother, Don, “Sleepin’ Moses,” I’ve been trying to think of a way to sneak that in and this is the only way I could come up with. This lesson we call, “Don’t suffer fools gladly.” My Dad was nobody’s fool (except the vacuum cleaner salesman’s but that’s an entire post on its own). You see bullshit, call bullshit. Speak up for yourself because no one else is going to do it for you.
5."I’ll be back, I’m goin’ to get the tractor" If a friend needs help, step up and help. My Dad was a man with little money and unceasing generosity of spirit. He would not have said that of himself. I never once heard my Dad refuse to help someone or see someone in need of help and pass them by. He was faithful to his friends and family. I believe this is how he expressed his love. Maybe the only way, other than working and “providing”, that he could.
6. “Go back in the house and put on a decent shirt!” Be tidy in your person. My Dad, and my Mom, never let us leave the house with uncombed hair or dirty clothes or torn clothes or…you know where this is going. My Dad hated messy fingernails and insisted that I quit chewing mine so then I drove him crazy by chewing on my hair. If we had to go visit someone in the hospital, or something akin to that, it was like we were going to be presented to the Queen. Seriously. Lesson from both of my parents: you may not have much but take care of yourself, be clean, stand tall (or in my case, as tall as you can), and be proud of who you are.
7. "Pay attention, Dammit!" Be informed. My Dad was always reading or watching the news. He read the paper every night and watched the news at least two times a day (not counting listening to the markets). He also read magazines. He was active in politics and liked to talk about it. I really appreciate that I grew up in a household like that because lots of kids didn’t. I had a leg up in current events discussions and I’m a different type of adult because of it too. I always warn people not to be too quick to stereotype farmers because of what I know about my Dad. He was a smart man and a curious man and that extended beyond his truly extraordinary ability to build or fix nearly anything.
I could go on forever with these, especially if I started adding my Mom’s rules in. But it all boils down to this. My Dad was a prickly guy who died way too young. Did he die too young because he worked too hard? Probably. Could he have changed that? Probably not. Did he love us. Yes. I know he was proud of us. I remain amazed that my parents let us go the directions we did and supported us in our decisions. That fact alone is a testament to our parents amazing love for us. So, I’m thankful for the combination of things that got me to this place in life and much of that was my Dad and his uncompromising rules. Thanks, Dad…you did a fine job.
When I fell in love with Jeff I knew I’d never marry him. I was bad at it. Plus, Jeff and I had come together in such a lovely, natural way that to push our luck seemed too dangerous to me. It went something like this. We were friends for a while and had lots of laughs together at shared lunches and at work. I was going through a divorce and needed those laughs. Shortly after my divorce Jeff asked me to lunch, just the two of us. On the way back to work, driving that scenic route between Mattoon and Charleston, something shifted in the universe and I think we both recognized it immediately. We weren’t going to be just friends.
And so the improbable happened, the farm girl from Illinois and the city boy from Brooklyn fell in love. But the falling in love is the easy part, isn’t it? It’s the everyday that decides whether or not you’ll make it. Our everyday came with children, his in college and mine in grade school. I had to accept the unknown challenges of grown children that I did not raise and he had to be willing to do the known all over again and raise two more. But, the kids liked each other and we loved them all. Oddly, that part that seemed like it would be impossible flowed easily and before we knew it we turned into a family.
Fast forward two years. We’ve purchased a house together and we’re living together as a family but still…not married. It’s getting a little silly. I might be being a little ridiculous. I finally decide that if there is anyone on the face of the earth that can live with me, and that I can live with, it’s Jeff and that our family should be a “real” legal family. But, not without asking the kids which I must say they all thought was ridiculous. They all agree wondering what took so long. My brother, thinking Jeff was the hold out and fearing he will flee, wants to call a judge he knows immediately! We calm him down and the following April we fly off to Jamaica and—Bang! we’re finally married.
Why rush through the marriage story? Because I think weddings are like the Hollywood soundstage of life. All glitter, no substance. It may be fun but it’s fleeting. I don’t think that’s the love story. I think the love is in the laundry. I think the love is in the foot rub after a hard day. I think the love is in the comfort of settling into your shared bed and feeling at peace. I think the love is in not being able to imagine going through anything good or bad without your partner. I think the love is in arguing with someone and all the while longing to make up so that you can talk to your best friend again. I think the love is in your partner’s hand lightly resting on the small of your back and the feeling of comfort that brings.
I never thought I’d have these things yet they are now so familiar that I take them for granted. I simply cannot imagine living this life without Jeffrey Lynch. And that, is my valentine to Milton.
Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.
Ursula K. Le Guin
Jeffrey misses writing. I miss blogging, which is sort of like real writing. We both lament the current state of affairs in the world though our reasons are sometimes different. I like to share interesting things that I find. Jeffrey likes to share his thoughts on books, movies, and music. He reads enormous amounts of stuff. I don’t always listen to him. He leaves magazine articles on my nightstand because he is hopelessly optimistic. I send him links to things in emails. I talk to him while laughing at stupid videos of dogs on my iPad. He sometimes doesn’t listen to me. We’re okay with this arrangement. We’re developing into that quirky old couple, you know the one, and we’re more than okay with that arrangement, too.
So…Maira & Milton? That’s an easy one. Those two names perfectly sum up our passions. Jeffrey is an English Professor (caps for gravitas) and I am a designer (lower case for style). He’s crazy for Milton and I’m cuckoo for Maira Kalman. Ta-dah! Told you it was simple.
Operating on the one big head + one small head is better than one average head principle we’re blogging as a couple. More fresh content. More disconnected ramblings. Aren’t you the lucky ones.
We’re here ‘til Thursday. Try the liver.