Friday, January 2, 2015

On The Occasion of My Mother's Birthday

The following was from a speech I made honoring my mother on her eightieth birthday five years ago...

On the occasion of my mother’s birthday, it seems fitting that I write something special.  As Helene’s only son in a traditional household, more mildly dysfunctional than most, I was targeted for special upbringing.  There were a few key words which held particular importance to my parents.  One of those words was “responsibility”.  Another word was “integrity”.  Certain sayings held special import as well, and I would hear these expressed to me on a fairly regular basis.  “To thine own self be true”.  The less poetic “Pick up your room” was one I remember a lot.  And the oft-repeated, “Are you looking for something?” – a series which was followed a few days later with a single remark such as “Oh, Ellen found a snake in the hallway last week and we let it go– do you know anything about that?”  Well, to thine own self, of course I did.  But to mom and dad, hmmm…  I don’t seem to recall any snake.  In their wisdom, I think they knew better.  And all these years later I finally come clean and admit it.  Yes – I did in fact know about that snake.  Sorry.

My cultural upbringing must have been an enormous challenge.  I was given a diary for a family vacation to the Canadian Rockies into which I was to confide my deeper thoughts and impressions.  At 12 years of age, my descriptive vocabulary was pretty much limited to the word “nice” –  “We saw Mount Rundell.  It was nice.”   “We saw the Athabasca Glacier.  It was nice.”

Mom, upon seeing this, encouraged me to enhance my descriptors, to get in touch with my inner poet.  “Use words like awesome,” she said. “And … inspiring.”  I responded with all the diligence I could muster.  Everything I saw from that point on was both awesome and inspiring.  Not one to economize, I strung both descriptors together to ensure maximum effect.  My parents showed me the world, and while I had much adventuring to those places as a child, I have matured enough now to truly treasure the memories that remain.

It occurs to me as I write this how challenging it is for me to separate my mother from my father in the memories of my upbringing.  Perhaps that is a great testament to the strength of their marriage.  Let’s face it – they were a powerful team.  I didn't stand a chance.  And so I was cultured despite myself, and from the scruffy child that was me has emerged this scruffy adult.  I managed to keep those joys of my childhood as I matured, however.  I still spend my productive hours taking care of animals, yet now they consist of giving exams and shots, rather than dragging reluctant strays home and convincing my parents that I was followed and couldn't shake the darned thing.

Our lives work in great circles, and I am convinced we ultimately end up where we've been before, albeit in an older skin and a more sophisticated fa├žade.  Yet I am also certain that what lies within changes little.  I believe the closer we remain to that unchanging core – that child within us – the more we radiate that unique energy to others around us.  I never knew the child that was my mother – for she was conveniently born and grown before me.  And I suspect she grew especially fast once I came into the picture – again of necessity.  But I can imagine she was beautiful and true as a child, and the evidence of that glows through even today.  To radiate the youthful energy of that inner self, to retain the core of who we are, the core that keeps us young at heart and that belies the years, is a gift enjoyed by very few, and it transcends the years.

And so as tribute to my mother, I stand before you all as a living, walking, talking example of what exceptional parenting can produce.

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