March 10, 2014

My One Regret

I'm at a stage in my life where I don't have many regrets. At least, not major ones. But I do have one, and it rears its ugly head every year about now.

It's that I didn't make more time to visit my parents when our kids were young. You know how it is. Work; school, social and church obligations; all the living stuff that keeps you running. Besides, your folks have always been there. You never think about when they might not be. Now, they're passed, and it's too late.

Both Dad's and Mom's birthdays are this month. Dad's on March 1 and Mom's, the 10th. Today. She would have been 97; Dad, 90 and 9 days. (Mom was a "cougar" before "cougars" were trendy.)

They were a loving, interesting couple.

When they met, Mom was a rarity, a 29 year-old divorcee who had given up her two children to escape a seriously abusive marriage. We never talked about it much, and eventually my older (half-)sister came to live with us. But Mom carried some deep scars to her grave — and I'm pretty sure some still exist within our family.

Dad was 22 and a returned WW2 Navy veteran. When I was a swabby in the '60s and '70s, we called them "kiddy cruisers," men who either joined up the day they got out of high school or lied about their ages and joined early. I don't know if Dad lied to enlist, but I do know that he graduated from high school when I was about 3.

Mom came from a large, farm family in Missouri. Thirteen children, though one died at birth and her closest sister passed at 14 or 15. Mom was the youngest of seven girls, and every so often when she was in an introspective mood, she commented on how hard it had been at the bottom of the family food chain. I got the impression Gran'dad was aloof and not very demonstrative, at least with Mom. I suspect that was fairly typical for that day and region. But I never met Mom's dad, so I don't know.

But Mom's family never went hungry. Gran'ma, Mom said numerous times, was kept scurrying, fixing food for her family. Sometimes — during harvest, for example — Gran'ma's spent her whole day was in the kitchen at the wood-burning cookstove.

Dad, on the other hand, did go hungry. He grew up the eldest of five during the Great Depression, when times were unimaginably tough by today's standards. Dad wasn't particularly talkative, but I remember him mentioning how as a child he'd had to scrounge and scramble to come up with money to help feed his three sisters and kid brother. That was when Dad vowed his family would always have food on the table.

He was something of a contradiction to me. Although he'd gotten his growth early and was an exceptional athlete, Dad apparently lacked confidence. I think Gran'ma thought he was the black sheep of the family. When the war broke out, he was gone. And when he returned, he had to work hard to woo the tall beautiful auburn-haired waitress who wanted little to do with men or marriage.

And work hard he did. Mom and Dad fit together well. They helped each other cope. When Mom was down, Dad lifted her. Conversely, Dad never once showed me any lack of self-confidence. He was a real man. My hero.

They wed August 31, 1946, and were still together contentedly when Dad died in '91. Mom was never the same afterwards, and passed in 2002.

So my regret is that I didn't give them more of my time. My kids' time. And when I think about that, it's sad.

I pray that others — our kids, especially — don't end up with this same regret. Not because we parents miss our children when we don't see 'em for awhile. We do, certainly. But it's because I didn't really know of what I'd deprived my family. I didn't realize how I'd deprived my parents, until they were gone. It's the old "you don't miss your water 'til the well runs dry." And this particular regret blind-sided me. That's an experience I don't want for our children.

Regrets, I think, are like what they say about opinions and butts: everybody's got 'em. Some of us have many (How do you like that image?). So, because I thankfully have only the one...

I think I'll just dance!