My Mom and Dad were as different as bees and cats; one focused on doing and the other on being. Through my immersion in Model Railroading, a hobby that takes up many fruitless hours and requires tremendous patience, I have realized that my parents’ disparate traits are parts of me to be reconciled.
My mother embodied perpetual motion, doing household chores, running up and down stairs, yelling at one or more of us to pick up this or clean up that. Raising five children was no easy task; after all she carried a diaper bag for 12 straight years! Her whirling would end after dinner when she collapsed on the couch, falling asleep almost instantly.
She was a hyper-devout Catholic who demanded strict obedience to religious doctrine. Aside from our required attendance at Sunday Mass and attending Catholic school, all three of my brothers were Altar boys. The ubiquitous painting of Jesus whose eyes followed you no matter where you stood hung prominently in the living room while a large print of The Last Supper watched over the dining room table. We even had a Holy Water font at the front door and…prayer books on a small table in the first floor bathroom. I know there are many who have prayed to the porcelain god but I doubt that a single one of them thought, “If only I had a prayer book.” Perhaps my mother sought to narrow down the categories in the bathroom library. Yet I believe she was driven either by unyielding religious guilt or by shame, perhaps from an unspeakable childhood trauma.
My Dad was an object at rest whose favorite sweater provided this simple introduction: “Tis’ Himself.” When he arrived home from his teaching job, he sat down at the kitchen table to read the paper while sipping a cup of coffee. In the summer, he would spend the early hours in his garden and then stop for a sandwich which he ate in the den (sometimes with a can of Rheingold) while watching the ballgame, shirtless. Sometimes he’d pick up a train he’d been working on and hours would pass as he absorbed himself in its challenges. He’d forget about the garden or whatever project he was working on at the time, and night would fall. Immersed in his hobby, he tuned out the world. Understandably, this was extremely frustrating to my Mother. But this is not to say he was careless. While it’s tempting to blame, we cannot see or judge our parents with any objectivity; we hardly understand ourselves. Only they know what happened and why, and they’re gone. And when they leave, we change.
I got on well with my Dad; we shared many interests, including a love of words, history, learning, and jerry-rigging. We laughed at the same things. Yet these days I find myself struggling more with my Mom’s legacy. I too am an object in motion; my mind is busy and so is my day. Somehow in childhood I translated her busy-ness into “I am only as valuable as what I do and accomplish.” I long to feel the simple bliss of just being; of valuing myself for who I am. “Tis’ Herself”.