The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Saturday, May 30, 2015
Personal Reflections ...

Mother’s Day was about three weeks ago, and Father’s Day is about three weeks to come. So we’re in that late spring season of the year when our secular American culture memorializes parenthood. I think that’s a good thing; in fact, the older I get, the better an idea it seems to become. I’m now in my 60s, I don’t have kids, and I’m pretty darn sure that I never will. (I realize that it might still be physically possible, but I believe that it’s morally wrong for an old man to want his wife or girlfriend to have a child for him, given the highly increased chances of genetic defects, not to mention that an old man is less likely as time passes to be able to put up with the rigors of giving a child the parental care that such child needs and deserves.) But as I experience what it’s like to be an aging working adult, I better appreciate what my parents went through, and all the sacrifices that they made to give my brother and me a good childhood and a shot at a good life.

When you are young, of course you see the world thru young eyes. So you have no idea of what the world looks like thru older eyes. But now that I have older eyes, I can better see what they went thru. They were devoted parents, and hardly ever took time off for themselves (I could probably count on my fingers the total number of times when they left us with an uncle or an aunt for a night to themselves). Other than my father’s work hours, our school hours, and an occasional afternoon or evening when my mother was out taking care of her mother, they constantly lived in “kidland”. Well once we were over 10 and spent increasing amounts of time away with our friends on our bikes or just hanging out doing the usual teenage stuff, they didn’t have us underfoot all the time. But only at the price of their constantly worrying about what kinds of trouble we might be getting into (although luckily there weren’t any disasters or arrests).

The classic “kidland” period was probably while we were between the ages of 3 and 12 (my brother and I were about 18 months apart, so we pretty much moved thru our life-phases in tandem). This was when we totally soaked up every instant of free time from our parents during their waking hours (and even took away some of their sleeping hours). I know that my parents really didn’t like the teasing and fist-fights that my brother and I frequently had during the course of a day. They would keep on pulling us apart and yelling at us, but next day we’d be right back to our childish behavior.

My father sometimes also got tired of my “theories”. I was a bit precocious and had scientific interests, so I liked to come up with ideas on why certain things everyday worked as they did. Some (if not most) of my theories were rather silly, although today they probably would have been appreciated a bit more as a thirst for scientific understanding. A modern parent might even encourage such thinking, with the appropriate explanation as to what the actual explanation was for the phenomenon in question. But my father, extremely good man that he was, was an old-school parent, and he would sometimes just say “NNNNOOOOOOOO” and look a bit disdainful.

I was an old-school child, so I didn’t take this too seriously; I knew from being around them so much that my parents were human and sometimes got cranky, just like everyone else. I remember that my mother had her bad days too. I seem to remember her over-reacting to certain “experiments” that I performed, such as using scissors to make cuts in my socks, or trying to mark my tongue with a crayon, or moving some living room furniture around to see if the layout could be improved. But let me not be uncharitable; I mean, how many kids today in 4th or 5th grade get to walk home for lunch to find that mom is making waffles (yes, using batter with a real waffle iron), and the Aunt Jemima’s syrup and a can of Redi-Whip is on the table ready to go. An afternoon of English Vocabulary or long-division exercises didn’t seem so bad after a lunch like that; even the stupid bullies and their wintertime snowballs were a bit easier to deal with.

But it’s the toys that I mostly remember. My parents were not “well off” by any means, and yet they kept on buying all kinds of servo-mechanical plastic and metal mechanisms as to keep my brother and I entertained. There were the Rock-Em / Sock-Em robots; Digger the Dog; slot-racing car sets; rockets that launched with water pressure; and electric trains of course, both Lionel O gauge and Athearn HO (I think I even got some N gauge track and equipment at one point).

But one of my favorites was Helios the guided balloon. Today or soon, parents will be giving their kids mini-drones for entertainment. Helios was an early version of this. It was a silvery blimp-like bag filled with helium, about 18 inches long, and it had little fans attached to its sides and bottom. There was a long wire from it that hooked up to a little panel with a toggle that allowed you to control the blimp around the room, by making some of the fans come on or switch off. I enjoyed being the ground-based controller for Helios, although I soon enough got bored with it and went on to playing with some other toy, or going outside to dig some holes in the ground.

Of course, there were other toys and entertainments that were a bit simpler, such as building blocks, bicycles, Lincoln logs, coloring books, kaleidoscopes, fish tanks, games, chemistry sets, plastic model kits of planes and ships (mostly Revell, of course), painting sets . . . wow, the list seems almost endless. But only as an adult do you realize . . . hey, my parents really spent a LOT on keeping us busy. And yet, for all the indoor toys, there was still time for going outside to throw a baseball or football around, to blow up some firecrackers, go sledding in winter, walk down by the tracks to break bottles, or play army (we were militarily well equipped with toy rifles, hand grenades, mess kits, helmets, rubber knives . . . this might sound pretty terrible to modern parents, but by the time I reached 18 I had become a pacifist, as I already had my fill of military life).

One more toy memory — there was the chemical factory set. You had little plastic beams and panels that you build a structure out of, like the “office building” kits. But instead of putting windows and doors on the beams, you could snap on various tanks and hoses. You could connect these tanks together with little hoses, and pump water from a little motorized water vat attached to the base. There were also little pills you could put in the water to make it red or green. So you could come up with various arrangements to pump water in to various tanks and drippers and mixers, and collect it to come back down into the holding vat. Yes, factory design and engineering at a young age.

Well, my parents have been gone for some years now. But I can’t help but get a bit nostalgic and misty-eyed thinking back about them, now that I can appreciate all of the money and time and frustrations with childish unpleasantries that they invested or put up with to keep my brother and I happy, to give us a good childhood. I haven’t even mentioned the summer evening ice-cream runs, the pizza nights, the Sunday afternoon trips to Rutts Hutt for burgers, hot dogs and fries, the vacation trips . . . man, we were a lot of work!!!

If somehow their spirits still live on and they could look back now on what resulted from their efforts, I’m not sure exactly what they would think. But for whatever it is or (probably) isn’t worth, if I could somehow say something to them right now, it would clearly be: THANK YOU. Something that I never thought to say while either one of them was still here. They gave so willingly to us that we couldn’t help but take it all for granted; we had to become old people ourselves to see it. So once again . . . THANK YOU.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:10 pm      

  1. Jim, A very nice “thank you” to your parents. I’m sure they are very happy to receive it.

    Reading the short description of your life as a kid made me think of the difference in every child’s life. Likely, it’s not true; but it seemed to me that your life did not have too many serious troubles in it. I tho’t of the lives of others I’ve known: Some of them have been similar to yours, a life of somewhat happily going along with kid “stuff”, kid “problems”. E.g., your description of fist fighting with your brother, which likely is a “boy thing”; I’ve seen other families where the boys in the family took to fist fighting when they had disagreements. Girls tend to find other ways to express their anger with another.

    I’ve heard someone I know say (more than one time) how much he hated his mother as she made his life so miserable with all her own problems (psychological, mental, emotional, and physical) which almost destroyed his own life and did eventually destroy the lives of some of his siblings. (I’m not going to go into all the possibilities of how those parent problems may not have been the fault of the parents in the first place; that’s another topic.) Others have different kinds of problems in their lives. Some have serious illness which can come close to ruining the lives of those in the family. Other people have problems that come from outside the family, and some of these people find support and hope in their own family.

    Yet in all cases each one has the one thing that each can thank parents for – bringing him/her into life in the first place. Without that gift of life none of us would be here. As difficult as life can be (either sporadically or for almost one’s entire life) that initial gift of life deserves that big “THANK YOU” you express for your own parents and that we each owe our own parents. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — May 31, 2015 @ 10:11 am

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