Five years ago today, my mother departed this earth to join my father in Heaven, where he had resided for more than eight years. Today, I still thank God regularly for the blessing of being born to these two remarkable people.
By the standards of the world, they never accomplished much. Neither had more than a high school education until Mama trained to become a Licensed Vocational Nurse after the youngest children were in high school and the others had left home. Daddy ran a small farm, but for many years he had to supplement his income by working as a rural letter carrier, a.k.a. mailman. I never realized we were poor until I learned I was eligible for financial assistance for college because we were below the poverty level.
Yet Mama and Daddy were two of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and, more importantly, the kindest, most generous, and most loving. Their world revolved around their six kids. They had high standards for behavior and school performance, and Daddy wouldn’t hesitate to enforce his standards with a spanking. However, I – and I believe all my siblings – were less concerned about being punished for misbehavior than seeing the look of disappointment on my parents’ faces.
Daddy was born on the farm he grew up on, and he lived there his entire life except for three years in the Army and the last few years of his life in a nursing home. Mama was born in California and moved around with her parents who were migrant workers. When she was in high school, she moved to Utah to live with her grandmother after her grandfather died. She and Daddy met while Daddy was stationed in Utah in the Army.
After the war, Mama left her family and her Mormon religion and moved to Texas to marry Daddy and join his church (Methodist). Just a little over nine months later, I was born, the first of six children. They raised their children, worked their farm, befriended their neighbors, and served their community together for nearly 50 years.
They were simple, unassuming people, but they both had a wonderful sense of humor. You can see their proud smiles in this photo with me as a tiny baby, but the camera didn’t catch Daddy’s mischievous grin that he characteristically wore.
Daddy loved walking through the farm checking on the cattle he knew individually. When I was growing up, south Texas was going through a terrible drought. Daddy found a way to keep going. He couldn’t grow crops or raise cattle, but he discovered that caged chickens didn’t need rain … so he went into the egg business with 20,000 chickens. After the drought ended, he went back to farming crops and cattle.
Patients in the hospital and nursing home loved Mama because she was sweet and thoughtful. She worked for many years as a nurse’s aide before training as a nurse, and in both capacities, she cared for the emotional needs as well as the medical needs of her patients.
Daddy was a whiz at math. He could work any problem in his head, but he couldn’t tell you how he arrived at the answer. As a kid, I used to test him.
“How much is 1,392 times 847?” I’d ask as I punched the numbers into a calculator.
“1,179,024,” Daddy would answer before the calculator processed the problem.
“How did you know that?” I’d ask when the calculator agreed with him.
“That’s just what it is,” Daddy would say.
Mama loved to read and do crossword puzzles and word games. She always had a novel or two along with several puzzle books and pencils handy.
When I was in high school, I was president of the Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) Subdistrict (a group of several churches in a small geographic area). Back in those days, churches, like everything else, were segregated. I was invited to speak to the MYF at a black church in San Antonio (nearly a hundred miles from the rural area we lived in). I was thrilled at the invitation but was flabbergasted at the response when I told my parents and asked them to take me.
Daddy said, “I’m not going to any n- church.”
I think my mouth must have dropped open in shock. I had no idea my father was prejudiced. He did business with and was friendly with many Hispanics at a time and place where there was a lot of prejudice against Mexicans, as Hispanics were called then. There were no black people anywhere around where we lived, so Daddy wasn’t prejudiced against blacks from personal experience. It seemed to be just “the way things were” back then.
My mother, on the hand, was completely different. When she was a child, her father had become very ill and the family couldn’t afford a doctor. A black family in the migrant camp, who must have been just about as poor as my grandparents, helped them out. So my mother had a totally different reaction than my father. She may well have talked to him in private about his reaction, but she would not have done anything he didn’t agree with.
But the thing I so admired about my father was that in spite of his own prejudice, he didn’t pass it on to me. He didn’t forbid me to speak to the black youth group. He even drove me the nearly hundred miles to attend. However, he wouldn’t get out of the car. He and Mama drove around and around until I was finished.
I don’t remember any details of the event except that I was very happy about it. But I will never forget how my father helped me do something he couldn’t bring himself to do because he knew he was wrong (though he would never admit that).
No one on either side of the family had attended college, but all of us kids took it for granted that we would go to college. I’m sure my parents must have worried about how that would happen, but they never discouraged us. All four of the girls eventually earned college degrees, though two dropped out of college and returned much later in life. The two boys had technical training and have gone to professional careers in real estate and technology. This picture is our family the year I left for college.
During my first year of college, my family’s house caught on fire in the middle of the night. Mama woke up smelling smoke and herded everyone outside, though one of my brothers kept trying to get back in bed and go to sleep. Daddy managed to get in and rescue a few business records from the file cabinet in the front room, but then the fire was too hot to save anything else. Everyone sat in the front yard watching the house burn while they waited for the volunteer fire department to arrive from the town seven miles away. Daddy looked around and counted kids.
“There’s only five kids here,” he screamed. “Someone’s missing.” He started to run back into the house, now an inferno in full bloom.
Mama had a hard time making him understand that I was away at college and not in the burning house.
The rest of the family had only the night clothes they were wearing. Everyone in the family wears glasses, and all the glasses burned up in the fire. My parents and siblings spent the rest of the night at my grandmother’s, just a few hundred yards away on the same farm. The next morning, when the school bus stopped at the end of the lane, someone (maybe my grandmother) notified the bus driver that the children wouldn’t be going to school because of the fire. That afternoon, the bus stopped again, this time filled with clothing and household goods that the townspeople had donated. For several months, the family lived in the “egg house,” the building that was used to grade and pack eggs for market. Daddy bought an old frame house, moved it on to the farm, and renovated it for the family’s new home.
My folks didn’t let that fire—or any of the other difficulties they encountered in life—shake their strong faith or change their positive, kind, and loving personalities.
I will always be grateful for being blessed with their love, faith, and nurturing.