I work to get this blog ready for publication for the fourteenth of each month. Presently I have a blog going that I’ve been working on for the past few days involving my reaction and response to some poetry I’ve read by William Stafford. But today, I’ve decided to let that blog wait until the March publication. As I thought about completing the blog I was working on, I decided to write about something else because today, 02/13, is my mom’s birthday. Had she not died in 2007, today she would be eighty-eight years old. So what I’m going to write here today for tomorrow’s publication is somewhat off the cuff. It may be a little rough-edged for a monthly blog. So be it.
Today (02/13) is my mom’s birthday. If she were still alive, she would be celebrating eighty-eight years of living. As it is, she died eleven years ago at the age of seventy-seven. She contracted esophageal cancer, most likely due to over fifty years of smoking. In the end, she blamed no one. Indeed she said that having smoked so many years she couldn’t think of a puff she didn’t enjoy. Though I wish she hadn’t taken up that habit, seventy-seven years is still a fairly long life that she lived full until the last year or so when she became ill.
This notion of her not blaming anybody for her illness and taking responsibility for her own actions says much about both my parents. They were hard working people who labored, scraped and saved, and were financially responsible. And they thoroughly enjoyed life. I can’t think of having two more fun-loving parents and all the things we did as I was growing up. And that was on a laborer’s salary for the most part. When I think about them, I recall what the Book of Ecclesiastes says about how one should enjoy the fruit of his labor that is worked for in an honest manner. This describes my parents to a jot and tittle.
The lessons regarding life that I could have garnered from them are endless. I’m fortunate and blessed that there are enough waves of wisdom that they possessed so that some of them could wash over my stumble-bumbling way of living. At the same time I know that there are many of those waves that I didn’t catch, missing much more than I should have. Work hard, save your money, don’t be wasteful, and don’t blame others for the problems you bring on yourself. Those charges are full of enough wisdom to flow over the brim of just about any size cup.
My mom once told me that from the earliest age she can remember she had the passion to become a nurse. She also described to me the times in which she grew up, having experienced the Depression at a young age and then W.W. II as a teenager and young adolescent. People tended to grow up fast during those times. My mom was first wed to a guy who was killed in the war. She was 16. She married my dad right after the War when he returned home from the navy. She was 17. Interestingly, she spoke of the times surrounding the War, and how nurses were looked upon by the culture. Her mom and dad told her that proper women did not become nurses; it was not a field for respectable women. I had never heard this growing up at anytime in my experience regarding anything pertaining to the various medical fields, so I really don’t know how widespread this sentiment existed. But it was the message that mom got for sure. I always thought the study, training, and skill that goes into any kind of medical training captured the respect of anyone. I would like to read up on this some more to see how widespread this sentiment was regarding the field of nursing.
In 1960, when mom was thirty years old, she decided to pull the trigger and pursue her LVN. I was twelve years old. In her late forties during the seventies, she returned to school and obtained her RN. She never grew tired of the work. She experienced the field and its growth from the time when nurses were paid little to the point when the field became financially attractive to many. Nurses also garnered more power in the places where they worked. She was adroitly skilled in the field she passionately pursued. In fact, she sought out working in the most difficult and challenging areas of the hospital, which for most of her career meant the emergency room. She told me that it was fast paced, challenging, transforming a ten-hour shift work into minutes and seconds. More importantly for her, she knew the ER meant having to stay on top of one’s skills. No one could slide by in the ER. She worked in that setting until the day she retired. She is one who truly lived out her passion and pursued the kind of work she wanted to engage. She worked as an ER nurse for over thirty years.
For those who grew up in the Depression, to have the opportunity to go after one’s love for particular work was indeed a blessing that was an experience that no doubt appeared far off and unreal while living through those years. The postwar era brought about open doors that people had not dreamed of during the Depression. My dad always loved tinkering with things. Though he never went to college, he was a whiz at math through trigonometry and calculus. Having served in the Navy, he utilized the G.I. Bill to train as a machinist, taking advantage of the oil-boom years in East Texas. He worked his last twenty years for Schlitz Brewery , claiming he got paid most likely too much, but he loved the twelve-hour shifts and four-day workweeks. Both my parents were pearls of wisdom, providing me with a home that hard and loving parents can pull off.
There was so much I didn’t learn from them that causes me shame. I feel in many ways that I’ve disappointed them by the style of life I’ve lived at times. Having grown up in the 60’s and rebelled against the so-called materialistic world, I’m ashamed of how I reacted against them at times, simply because it seemed to be the thing to do at the moment. Materialism served no part of their thinking. Escaping from dire straits that they had known at times during the Depression, even as young kids, was their ultimate goal. Hence, they were wise with how they handled money. We were simply middle class, not wealthy by any means. They just knew how to handle finances, a lesson I wish I had learned from them, but instead had to learn it through my own stupidity. And like I said, they were people, though good with finances, who were not miserly, but lived life full, enjoying all they had worked for. I miss them everyday. And at times when I think about how I want to pursue the things I still want to accomplish, I realize how much they are still a part of me.
So when their birthdays come around, or the holidays – especially Christmas, which they both thoroughly enjoyed – and anniversaries of other family get-togethers, I remember them more than just fondly. I recall their lives with a deeply felt thankfulness that I can never repay. And I reflect on a way of living they embraced that provides a take on life to which I’m still trying to match up.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/February 14th, 2018