Loved Ones


Family Roots Can Inspire

As we grow older we can easily become very set in our ways. Routine makes life simpler and therefore more predictable and easier to navigate. Sometimes it’s beneficial to shake things up a bit. Over the last week plus, my wife Trisha and I took an opportunity to explore our family roots in the mid-west and found it to be an inspiring adventure.

The family of Trisha’s late mother was having a family reunion in Kansas. It’s not a part of the country we often visit, but this was a special event and we took full advantage. The pace of the mid-west is much slower and the scenery much different from what we’re used to seeing. Where else can you see a train track that simply stops in the middle of nowhere or a state road that actually comes to an end.

As we settled in, we began to enjoy the lifestyle and at the reunion got to visit with scores of family members, some of whom we had never met. We also got to know many of their children and grandchildren. It was truly a mid-western experience. If you’ve lived in the mid-west or have family there, you know what I’m talking about. These folks have little pretense, say what they mean and mean what they say. They are short on fancy, big on family, and generous with their time and good food. Only a few of the grandkids had their faces in iPhones. Conversation and simple games were plenty for most everyone. Sunday was church and then back to the reunion. The only difficulty encountered was after the reunion ended when we had to find a place to eat after 8:00. The sidewalks really do pull up pretty early.

Beyond the reunion, Trisha and I had great fun exploring our roots by trying to find locations where the past generations of our families lived. It was extraordinary traveling gravel and dirt roads for miles and miles hoping some of the wood farm houses, brick schools, and old churches had survived. With the Memorial Day weekend in the middle of our visit, it was heartwarming to see the way in which these wonderful people celebrated and honored those that served and their many loved ones who had gone before. We got very caught up in the patriotism that was on display.

In Trisha’s case, one of her uncles helped us locate an old farmhouse many miles out-of-town that was the birthplace of her great-grandfather. He had stayed and raised his family there. His two brothers eventually had farms just off that same road.

 

Even more interesting for Trisha was finding a very small one-story building that seemed to have just been dumped at the intersection of two gravel roads. We found out this small box of a building used to be a general store in another town many, many years ago. It was transported to the location we discovered and used as a home by her grandfather, grandmother, and their eight children. Trisha’s mother being the oldest. 

In my case, my father was also born and raised in Kansas. Trisha and I decided to try to find some of the little places he used to live and go to school. Again, we were back on gravel and dirt roads. Having lived in California for most of my life, its still hard to believe there are actual towns located on dirt roads in the U. S. We found what was left of these little towns, although almost all the businesses are now gone. In fact, in one of the small towns, we discovered the bank that was founded in 1900 was closing it’s doors the day after our visit. I remembered the stories my father had told me about the small town and how, when he was one year old, the bank was robbed by one of the famous gangs of the time. It’s a story I have been able to verify.

 

I stood for a long time in front of the brick building that was my father’s school. The interior has now collapsed, but the brick structure still stands. I could envision him being dropped off from the family horse-drawn wagon in the mornings. I imagined the laughter coming from the basement where he played basketball, a respite from his hard chores on the farm. I walked around the tall weeds in back where I know he used to run the bases of their improvised baseball field.   

 

We had found some of our roots and I know we are better for it.

 

 

www.TheBestofOurLives.com

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Happy Mother’s Day

Some say Mother’s Day originated in ancient Greece, still others contend it began in ancient Egypt. Regardless, this Sunday we honor moms and I wish you all a wonderful day.

For readers of this blog, you know I lost my mother two months ago. I’m still in that phase of disbelief. Just yesterday when my wife and I walked into a familiar store, she grabbed a cart in the parking lot. When I asked her why, she got teary-eyed because she realized it was something she’d always done for my mother. She would grab the first cart she saw because holding the cart helped mom walk more steadily. It’s going to take a while.

This will be my first Mother’s Day without mom. But to me, “special days” are just like any other day. It’s one of the lessons I learned from my mother. While it’s nice to celebrate certain occasions such as birthdays and other similar cultural conventions, my mother taught me to live each day with enthusiasm, love, and respect.

Growing up on a farm, life for mom was not complicated. No shrinks needed. If you encountered a problem, you dealt with it. In dealing with people, you were always to be honest, polite, and show good manners. You were to get up each day and groom yourself, whether you were going out or not. You worked hard, were loyal to family, friends, and co-workers. Mom expected the same behavior from others and truly could not understand why anyone would not follow these simple rules of life. Many times she would see or hear a story about something like someone stealing something. She could never understand why anyone would do such a thing. In recent times, she would see women wearing pajama bottoms in a store and would be embarrassed for them. She considered it to be very disrespectful and an affront to good manners.

Some might consider such a rigid approach to life as being snobbish or prudish. Quite the contrary. Mom simply lived the Golden Rule. If others did not exhibit the same sensibilities, while she didn’t understand, she still showed them courtesy and respect.

Both my mother and father lived relatively modest lives. Interestingly, through his business, my father was once offered an opportunity to make a fortune with a long-term state contract if he would secretly kick back money to a certain state official. I was a young teenager at the time, and I overheard my parent’s  conversation. Here was a man who worked two jobs for thirteen years and his wife who supported him by taking care of the kids and maintaining a wonderful household. It was their chance to grab the financial golden ring. The choice was easy. They were not going to do anything even slightly dishonest, no matter how wealthy it would have made them.

The lessons were simple, and by today’s standards, perhaps considered a bit old-fashioned and out of touch. I very lucky to have had parents like mine. 

Thanks Mom.   

www.TheBestofOurLives.com         

From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There’s more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There’s far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round

 

It’s the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life

 

These beautiful lyrics, if you’ve never heard or read them before, are from the Lion King song The Circle of Life. One of the greatest challenges retired life thrusts upon many of us is the caring for aging parents and other relatives. It’s a time of weighty responsibility. It often also turns into a time of gut-wrenching life and death decisions.

We live at a point in time in which modern medicine can keep someone technically and mechanically alive forever. When one has the responsibility for making such a difficult decision, it is frought with tension, second-guessing, and tremendous guilt. There are no easy answers. You do the best you can to fulfill the wishes of your loved one.

If you’ve experienced this particular challenge, you know the feelings involved. I’ve now been involved in such decision-making four times, most recently with my father and mother. If we can learn anything from this experience, it’s that we need to sit down with our children and/or other family members to make clear our own wishes. Be precise. Don’t put them in a situation in which they have to guess what you wanted. Put it in writing. Fill out your Advance Health Care Directive. The forms are available from your health care provider and will make it so much easier for your loved ones. If you’ve done this already, bravo. You are a responsible retiree.  

If you are wondering why I began this blog with The Circle of Life lyrics, it’s because two days before my mother’s funeral service, our youngest son and his wife presented us with another grandbaby. A cute little fellow (well, not too little, 8 lbs. 6 oz. and 21 inches long) that has given everyone in the family that uplifted feeling we all needed. It is truly the circle of life. My mother is smiling from above.

Here is my wife and proud grandmother Trisha with her new little fellow.

 

Martha Lucille Parker 

9/27/1925-3/2/2012

 

I’m a lucky man. One of the reasons I consider myself so fortunate is I’ve had two wonderful people as parents. I lost my father Frank in 2010, and on Friday, March 2, I lost my mother Martha.  

Known to most as Marty, mom was much different from my father in many ways. She was shy and inward, whereas my father was outgoing and always the life of the party. But they were exactly the same in some important ways. They both loved their family more than anything in the world. 

Even in my mother’s last days, she never once asked about her own condition. The few words she could speak she used to ask about others, especially wondering if her two new expected great grand babies had been born yet.  

Mom always stayed in the background, never one to call attention to herself. But she had very, very strong values. She was completely devoted to my father in every way. When he became blind the last several years, she showered him and dressed him every day, not once complaining. From the time I was born, though we didn’t have a lot of money, my sister and I never went without. We were well fed and always groomed quite nicely. We were taught manners, honestly, and respect for all others. We were encouraged to have a strong work ethic and everything we ever did, everything, was met with adoring praise.

Mom may have been in the background, but she was the tent post of the family, always there to support her loved ones. My wife Trisha, our entire family and her friends will miss mom more than we can ever express. Through the years, she had become my wife’s best friend and mentor. I don’t think she ever gave herself credit for all she did for everyone, but that was typical of mom. If you praised her she would get embarrassed and tried to change the subject. 

I would go on, but mom would disapprove. She was such a warm and loving person, and completely selfless. In such a selfish world, she never asked for anything but gave everything. 

Thank you mom, I love you and will miss you always. 

With love and respect forever, 

Your son, John

 

Finding a Treasure

As my friends and other readers of this blog know, my father passed away in 2010. He was a wonderful father and my best friend. If one lives to retirement age, losing loved ones is something we all must endure.

When dad passed, we did not rush to go through his belongings. From time-to-time, my mother and dad’s wife of 65 years, sits down and looks through old photos and various memorabilia. A couple of days ago she handed me a time-yellowed piece of paper. It was a newspaper clipping she had just discovered in dad’s pocket bible, the one he carried on Guadalcanal during WWII. As I read it, I could not help being moved by the simplicity and eloquence of the words. I wondered how many times my father must have read this clipping and wondered what the future held. Let me share it with you. Thanks Dad.