Twenty-five years ago today, my parents were married.
Mom was 29 and Dad was 32 when they exchanged vows at the courthouse, pledging their lives to each other. They’d met seven years before in 1970; Mom and two of her friends had just come to Lexington to start what they hoped would be a “nursing tour” of the United States. The University of Kentucky Hospital was only meant to be their first stop. But their plans were fated to change the very day they moved into Rolling Ridge apartments. Dad and his friends, who also lived there, spotted the girls unpacking and offered to help. They all became fast friends.
The group spent more and more time together, and it wasn’t long before Dad and Mom started dating. Through the years, they lived in various other apartment complexes in Lexington before finally settling down in an expanded trailer on a large lot flanked by a creek in nearby Nicholasville, Kentucky. They gardened together in raised beds built from wood or snuggled into old tractor tires. Dad built a strong plank fence across the front yard. They raised three babies; their first was me, the only girl, followed a year later by AJ and two years after that by Ben. Dad fiddled in the workshop with his inventions and Mom cut up diaper boxes to make word cards to teach us how to read.
Their marriage wasn’t easy. Dad was an electrician, a journeyman wireman, and he often had to travel to get work. He’d spend days, even weeks, away from home. Mom worked three twelve hour shifts on the weekends so that she could be there for us all week. They probably spent more time apart than they did together those first few years.
When money had stabilized enough, they bought their first home–the house we still live in now. The ranch-style home with attic and full, 14-foot basement was quite a nice change from the comparatively small trailer, but the yard was smaller and not as private. The next sixteen years, up until the present day, were spent making improvements to the house and yard. The basement garage was converted into an expansive workshop with built-in shelving and work benches. The upstairs garage was transformed into an office, complete with a half-wall hallway and a fireplace. The bedrooms were painted and recarpeted. The family room received new hardwood flooring. Dad built two rooms, a lounge area with a pool table and a “soundproof” band practice area, in the basement.
An orchard was planted in the side yard, and a line of large pine trees went up across the front of the yard. The above ground swimming pool was torn down, as were the trees in back, and the land was built up to level and held by a retaining wall. Dad built a long fence across the back, and they planted pine trees along it. Dad built a barn to keep the new riding mower and the gardening equipment, and they stacked up railroad ties into seven planters for “square foot gardening”. Mom planted flower beds in various spots around the house.
They not only improved their standard of living, but they improved themselves. Dad kept inventing, until finally he created a tool he thought he could market. They officially started selling in 1987; Mom typed each file on individual notecards and stored them all in a cabinet until we finally got a 486 in the early 90’s. As the business grew, Dad stopped having to leave home for work, and soon even Mom was able to stop working at the hospital and devote herself to the business full-time. Now the two of them spend their days doing what they want: taking care of their home and family.
It’s been a long road for them, though, and there were quite a few bumps along the way. Out of respect for their privacy I won’t go into them in detail here, but suffice it to say that my parents are two of the strongest people I know to have overcome the things they did. In the long run, they came out on top and continue to do so, but it’s not because of luck. It’s because they work so hard on everything they do, including their devotion to one another.
The love between them is obvious. The other day I asked my mother what she and Dad had in common. She spoke at length about things they both liked, and then moved on to deeper things, such as how he made her feel. He supports her, and respects her, and loves her, and she is so impressed by his skills and intelligence. While she was talking about the love of her life, Mom started crying tears of joy. It was so wonderful to see that, because it was exactly how I feel whenever I start talking in depth about Sean.
I asked my dad, too, and his respect and love for Mom were the first things to come out. He admires her for the way she handles everything; she’s the great organizer of the family and gets things done. And he’s impressed by how loving and caring she is, and how she takes care of everyone. At the end of his list, Dad smiled softly and said, “I love her because she’s her, you know?”
And so we threw them a party. I wrote each and every thing they’d told me down onto slips of paper with hearts and flowers on them and put them in a silver box alongside shining confetti and ribbons. I baked a white, heart-shaped cake and several tiny cupcakes, and Faye iced them and arranged them all on a white platter with a silver border. I decorated the cake with long, sparkling candles and the cupcakes with confetti.
I put a box of frozen fish in one bag and a package of bacon in another, since Mom said they both like fish and bacon. I had them open those presents first. I also wrapped up a refrigerator magnet with George W. Bush on it, and I had them open that next.
Then I had them open the box and read all the slips of paper. And finally, they each got to read special notes about what they each liked about each other, all written in silver ink.
We all adjourned to the office after that so Connor could see one of his birthday presents. His birthday is today as well; now he’s three years old. Mom and Dad got him a nice big wooden toy chest. His real party is scheduled for tomorrow, and that’s when his cousins (the kids of Faye’s siblings) will likely come, so today was something of a small celebration. The real focus was on Mom and Dad (or, “Grandma and Pa-Pa”, as I’ve sort of become accustomed to calling them).
It wasn’t a huge party, or an elegant affair, or anything. But it was nice, and Mom and Dad both seemed to really enjoy it. I wish I had done more, but at the same time I think they liked what I did do. I’d wanted to show some pictures of them together when they were younger, or make a scrapbook, but pictures of the two of them are few and far between, and Mom has all the scrapbook she really needs on DVD (I burned all our family photos to one disc for her awhile back). Still, I wish I could have done something more. Perhaps at their 50th, I’ll have enough money to do something really special.
God, I love my parents. I love my family. I love being here with them and spending time with them and doing things for them. Part of me wants to catalog everything about them. I feel like I should write stories about everyone and keep them forever. And I want to do that. Family history is really special and fascinating. My mom is getting interested in the Straub side of her own family history, and she’s finding that all the people who knew about her parents are aging or gone. All of that knowledge is being lost. I want to immortalize my parents, my family. They’re just people…but they’re so very dear to me. I want them to go on forever.
But I’ll be gone when Faye gives birth to their new baby. I’ll be gone when Connor starts going to school. I’ll turn into one of those “visiting relatives”…it just isn’t the same as being there.
I wish there was a way I could fulfill my dream of living all over the place but still stay close to my family. I suppose one solution would be to set up a “home base” here and then work out of that, but I don’t know how that would work, or what job I would have that would send me all over the place anyway. And what about Sean? What would he do?
Someday, we might end up living up here, but for now we need to be in Georgia. And as excited and happy as I am that I am finally going to be with the man I love, I can’t help but feel this deep sense of loss. I almost feel like I only recently started to really understand my brothers as adults, as people…and now I’m leaving before any further growth could happen.
To my family: I love you all so, so much, and I’ll miss you more than I can say. I will always think of you, and I will visit as much as I possibly can. Our lives are intertwined, and I want to keep that with all the fierceness of my heart.
Only love could take me away from you.