Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Ethel Papers

It's Sunday here,and that weird concept of getting things done.  Laundry, of course, must be done...Waffles must be eaten.   My father must be visited.  I like to get that done early because, well, it allows the possibility of a better day.  I want to make  it clear that My dad and I have our moments of getting along.  It's usually in dreams,but there are cultures that believe that dreams are the reality.  Yes, and when I meet an aboriginal or a shaker,well, I will give them a big hug.  
        I sometimes worry that I am going to have the same relationship with Miles as my dad has with me...I guess since Miles and I go every day and do something,and my father and I went o football games and wrestling matches, it sets up a contrast.  It is actually hard to describe the relationship of my father and I.  One contrast is that I have an imagination, the kind of imagination that creates dilogue about the naming of a 70's rock group,or the recontextualizing of Saving Private Ryan as a Trader Joes parking lot.  My dad's imagination has to do with people eating his dessert and going with my mom to a corned beef and cabbage feed.  My mom has been dead for fourteen years.   But it used to be that the most imagination he had was ....well,none.  I can't think of one time we ever played the game Miles and I play, the what if game/  
Miles:"What if the earth had no gravity"
Me:"Wow, what would cooking be like.  you would have to build a structure so the food wouldn't float away,but perhaps you could create sodas upside down"

Me:  Dad, what if the world had no gravity?
Dad:  But it does.  Do you get paid for thinking these things?

When I saw Field of Dreams there is a scene where a guy who never got along with his dad plays catch with his dead ghost father out on the cornfield baseball stadium.  When I saw it,I cried.  It was the perfect symbol of reunification of boys and their fathers by baseball.  I don't think there is a boy alive who hasn't played catch with their dad, and felt some sort of bond,no matter how fractured the rest of their lives might be.  I got on the phone and asked my dad if he wanted to go to a baseball game on Friday
"Friday?,  It's on giantvision.  It's on T.V.    we don't need to go there."
and when he finally did see the movie ...he loved it..."Except for that part at the end.  How could he play with his father at the end? His father was dead  That didn't make sense"

huge Sigh...

The other day, someone responding to my outback adventure said"How touching and sad it was about my father",remembering times past.  He was vibrant.   He was amazing in a lot of ways.  My father is the most disciplined person I know.  In 1968, the surgeon general report came out,and he pulled the non filtered camels out of his front pocket and never strayed again.....
When I wrote back to my friend,responding to the blog response I said"  Yes, he was doing really well for about the first 9 years after my mother died...The last five have been kinda tough"...and that's when the power of numbers hit me.
I have never been a numbers person.  I struggle with 6th grade math.  But that's what Mensa wives and high percentile kids are for,right?   And large numbers don't affect me.  I am unmoved by the mortgage,or how much it costs to buy a small house in Fairfax...but I was stunned by the effect of that small number on me.  14 years...and I wrote "I miss my mom".
Ethel Smith.

You know, when someone dies you tend to praise them,even though they maybe were not as wonderful as they seemed.  Well, this does not happen with my mom.  My mom was a christian who practiced the values of christianity everyday.  She was kind to all.  She was our moral guidepost through the tumultous times of the 60's and 70's.  She did the work of a housewife, sometimes looked down upon by the liberation concept.  But she was constantly cheerful.  Her love for music and singing made me love music.  She always sang some song while cooking, and though she was...well,not always on key, what she lacked in pitch she made up for in joy.  There isn't a day I don't think about her.  Even right now,as I type,with my patented two finger system,I think of how she would blaze through stuff on the manual typewriter...a graduate of business school in Minneapolis during the war. 
I think of young Ethel and her life in the big city,after years of growing up on a rural farm with four brothers and sisters.  I think of the one room school house,and the fact there was only one other girl in her grade.  When she died one of the first laughs I got was thinking of that next class reunion and the woman showing up and saying "Where's Ethel".  See, the other thing is,My mom would've thought that was funny.
My mom had a bizarre sense of humor.   As religious as she was, she was not beyond trying to crack me up in church.  Once,at a christmas eve service, we sat and listened to the bell choir play what read in the program "A Little Advent Music".  Ten minutes later,as the bells were still playing the said piece, My mother grabbed a pencil and the program and between the words"Little" and "Advent Music" she wrote the words "Too Much".I had tears in my eyes for most of the rest of the service as we both tried to restrain ourselves.  This is the ame mother who would make homebaked cookies and serve them to my friends by singing "I'm the cookie Monster".   For some reason,every time my friend Seth would come through the door she would scream.   He took to screaming at her too.
I got my spirit of experimentation from my mother.  Ethel Smith had holiday traditions but would always try something new on holiday meals.  It might be some side dish,or dessert.  This always amazed my wife,who has solid holiday traditions...including the famous oyster stuffing,even though she  a)is from Missouri,the oyster capital of the midwest and 2) doest like seafood.   "Oyster Stuffing" I asked 20 years ago?   "You don't like seafood.".  
"Oh" she says. " You can't taste the oysters."   So,every year we have this stuffing that you can't taste the main ingredient.  At Ethel's house you would be slightly challenged,except of course that being from rural minnesota,it usually means cream of celery soup instead of cream of mushroom.

My father was disciplined.  My mother habitual.  When dad let go of his cigarettes it might've been an Ethel thought "Oh,more for me".  She smoked a couple packs a day,and at 5 oclock drank boxed wine out of glass containers that held processed cheese spread.  I never have smoked...(hate it,actually) but some of my favorite memories of her consisted of sitting in our breakfast nook,drinking coffee as she smoked.  When she died,my dad said "You know, I think she was still smoking".   I looked at him and said "She was supposed to quit?".  I opened a drawer that revealed the carton of cigarette underneath her homemade lace doilies.  My dad even had to laugh.  But, when I see my students smoking I try to tell them to stop.  I know what it feels like to have someone you love taken before their time.  I would hate for my students lives to be cut short by it,and henceforth effect the lives of the people that love them.

I loved my mother,and was very influenced by her beliefs, I believe in the goodness of people.  I believe that religion has a place for wonderful people.  I find myself often questioning the possibility of God much more seriously....because she believed.  And finally, she loved my dad.   This leads me to believe in his inherent goodness.  He is a man that makes me mad. He is a man that can irritate me.  And he is a man that loved my mother.   

As much as I like to say "I have problems" with my dad and "loved" my mother I know that they were a wonderful set of parents.   

My parents were polar opposites that love each other for 48 years plus.  They struck a balance of  responsibility and love that goes unmatched.     And all in all....that is what is important.
So the next time,and every time I worry about what I bring to my relationship with my son and wife, I want to make sure it is love.  Sometimes love is masked by all kinds of crap....But I know it exists.  I have seen it.  I have questioned it...and I have lived it.  


suzee said...

Me: real tears. You: good job.

Ethel must have been and probably is now very proud of you.

blackcoffeeinbed said...

One thing that I read once that profoundly changed the way I think about my relationships with my parents: "Why should my mother have to be the type of mother that I happen to prefer?" (This is from one of Herbert Gold's family books.)

Having said that, I have a very easy relationship with my parents.

Just so you know, this is Bob K.

Barbara said...

It made me think of my dad. I miss him terribly.

"...but there are cultures that believe that dreams are the reality." (Wouldn't that be lovely.)

Bruce said...

This was beautiful.
I miss Ethel.

You made me cry, you Bastard...