Saturday, June 03, 2006

Lessons from the past....

A woman posted a sort of sweet “forward” type thing on an email list I belong to today. I've thought of my dad a couple of times today – talking about lessons he’d taught me as I was growing up and her sending this kind of added to my thinking about him.

Old Geezers remember the Depression, World War II, Dieppe, Vimy Ridge, the White Cliffs of Dover and Hitler. They remember the Atomic Age, the Korean War 1950-53-55, The Cold War, the many Peacekeeping Missions from 1945 to 2005, the Jet Age and the Moon Landing.

Born in 1904, the child of French immigrants, he was a proud, hard-working man. My father was an “old geezer” from the day I was born. At forty-nine, when I was born, he was already old for the care and feeding of a little girl. I was the second to last of his children and he spoiled me rotten, perhaps because his last child died very young, perhaps because he could, after having managed to feed and clothe a large number (by today’s standards) of my siblings before me. By the time I was a teenager, all of the others were gone from home but he still earned very good money and I never wanted for anything.

He lived through two depressions and raised children through them as well. He hated it, and often went without eating himself to ensure that his young ones had what they needed. He did every job one could think of and never once collected a single bit of "dole" as he called it. He got home at 5:50 every weeknight that I remember as I grew up. He didn't finish fifth grade, but I learned to read over his shoulder in "Daddy's Chair" as he read the newspaper nightly, waiting for dinner to be set on the table at 6:00 PM. Meat, potatoes, two slices of bread and coffee.

He was a predictable man. Not much chatter out of him, but plenty of lessons. Work hard and don’t expect anyone to take care of you. Do your job the way you'd expect someone else to do it. Clean up after yourself. Protect folks who need protecting. Never let your children go hungry. Pay your bills. Don't expect anything free. Say please and thank you and never call your elders by their first names (it's disrespectful).

He taught me to cook and after my mom was gone, I took over the task of having that dinner on the table for him at 6:00, and I eventually learned to make liver and onions that he'd have two servings of and take for lunch the next day - unheard of with anything else we ever had for dinner and in the days before microwaves.

Monday nights we went for dinner at Kay's Kitchen on Gratiot. He often had spaghetti – something we did not cook at home as I was growing up. I almost always had steak – something else we did not cook at home as I was growing up. I learned how to make a terrific spaghetti sauce (before spaghetti became pasta) and he loved coming over for dinner and having a big plate before I eventually moved out of state.

He loved apple pie with ice cream – I learned to make that as well. So much of what I learned to do as I was growing up was because I wanted my dad to think well of me. That feeling of wanting my dad to think well of me has never really gone away.

He always made clear that he felt I could do anything that I decided I wanted to do. He thought I was the smartest little girl on the planet. He was proud of me - always, even when I was "just a mom," staying home, raising my babies. The only time I ever felt that he was ashamed of me was when I got pregnant at fifteen years old. Later, he told me that he wasn’t ashamed of me as much as he was afraid that I would give up and not make something out of my life.

He loved my kids, but never got the chance to know my youngest. He thought my daughter was “the picture of her Momma” and told me she was likely to grow up as stubborn as I. My oldest has my father’s blue eyes and his crooked baby fingers and sometimes, when he stands just right, I can see my father’s posture and attitude in him. My youngest is named for him and I know my father would be proud of him as well.

My father’s work ethic was pretty amazing – I like to think he passed that down to me as well. The first college degree I earned I thought of him a thousand times the day I collected my diploma. He wasn’t there; he’d passed away from lung cancer a few months before. Receiving my Bachelor’s degree from U of M, I prayed to him and knew he was watching. When I was awarded my Master’s Degree, I kept wishing he could have known – and then remembered that of course he does.

I teach for a living. Some folks look down on that and a few even manage to imply that my teaching where I teach is something that I should somehow be ashamed of. An old fellow with a lot of bitterness going on in his life, in a moment of pique, said, “Neva can't seem to get hired outside of the ghetto...” as though I am somehow lacking because I choose to work in the inner city and devote my life to working with the children who need good teachers the most.

I’m guessing somehow his father didn’t teach him the same kind of lessons my father taught me.