By Anne Maxwell
The third month of the year brings many things -- St. Patrick’s Day, basketball playoffs and the official start of spring. It also hosts two of the most difficult days for Doug. The dates he lost his parents both fall in March.
This March 9 marks 20 years since his mom died, and it will be 11 years ago on March 29 we lost his dad.
I think the month becomes particularly difficult for him as an only child because he has no one who has shared memories of his parents in their roles as mom and dad. Certainly, there are relatives and friends who can fondly recall times shared with Karen and Leonard. But there’s no sibling for Doug to laugh along with about the fight that erupted as his mom tried to navigate for his dad as they got lost on the way to Kansas City Zoo one summer vacation. No one else to recall with delight the sweet taste of homemade waffles his mom whipped up for Sunday night suppers on frigid winter nights. No brother or sister to quote the witty phrases of parental wisdom doled out by his dad.
Sure, my husband’s shared these fond memories with me -- and with our children.
But we can’t reminisce along with him.
We weren’t there at the table in their farmhouse on those Sunday evenings. We weren’t in the backseat of the family sedan as cuss words flew and maps crumpled on that humid July afternoon. We didn’t roll our eyes in unison at the corny -- but undoubtedly hilarious -- dad puns.
As one of four siblings, I feel incredibly blessed with the gift of having shared my childhood. When we get together, it’s as if my two brothers and my sister and I have a “greatest hits” albums of growing up as the Zohner 4.
We simply press “play” and years fall away as memories roll. We talk over one another to contribute our own version of the story. Perspectives change the recollection of how events unfolded, so details are disputed at times.
“Remember that crazy stuffed chicken mom bought you at the church bazaar when you were 2? You called it ‘zucka-zucka-zoo’ because you couldn’t say “cock-a-doodle-doo?”
“I don’t know WHAT you did that time in high school, all I know is you almost got grounded from going on that ski trip and Mom took me on a shopping spree. I got whatever I wanted …”
“You DO realize you almost killed me when you rolled the old red Pinto on the dirt road that time ...”
“I STILL have YOU to thank for the fact that I can’t eat cantaloupe. I barely smell it, and all I can think of is the day you threw that rotten one from our garden at me and it nailed me right in the face …”
Topics and themes -- with or without rotten produce -- don’t matter. Just having someone who was there, sharing that experience breathes new life into an old tale. Erases time. Offers comfort.
This brings me back to March being difficult. When I ask Doug to talk about his childhood or his parents, there’s no one to say, “Yes! I remember that time with Mom, too …”
Or, “Dad would have loved that …”
Instead, Doug’s memories echo back with bittersweet silence.
Doug and I both realize there are worse burdens to carry. My husband had an amazing
childhood. Parents who were unconditional in love, slow in judgment and endless with support. Losing parents is, after all, a pain we expect to endure in our lifetime. Some children unfortunately face that loss even before adulthood.
It’s just lonely watching reels of family movies play to an audience of one.
There’s a favorite photo he has of the three of them -- taken at the Christmas gathering of the extended Maxwell clan when Doug is probably 5 or 6. Doug’s gaze is straight ahead, perfectly posed with a smile, when at the last minute -- his ornery dad decides to goose his mom. Her reaction is one of those priceless, real family moments frozen on film.
The sorrow I have for Doug being an only child eases when I gaze at that photo. There’s just something about that moment that tells me everything anyone could want from a family was right there in that tight trio.
The three of them shared love.
True, Doug doesn’t have anyone left who was there for the experience. But, in a way, I see the beauty that lies in it being all his own.
That cherished photo is always displayed in March and during supper one night, the kids and I will encourage Doug to talk about the Maxwell 3. We’ll listen and then struggle to find the right words to say.
The best words are probably the ones Doug wrote in a letter to his parents as a college freshman. His mom saved that letter and it was returned to him after she died.
A small town boy who had a total of seven in his graduating class, he found himself at Kansas State University feeling a little lost that first semester. After all, there were more students in his Intro to Psych class than the population of his hometown.
“I miss you guys, although I’m not really homesick,” he wrote in his familiar scrawl. “The only time I really got homesick was whenever I was leaving and I could see you guys in the rearview mirror.”
He went onto say he’s doing alright and feels it’s best to stick it out. It’s just as true now as it was back then. Everything has a way of working out in time.
It’s ok that Doug finds himself homesick again this March.
His mom and dad are clearly there. Even if the image appears only in his rearview.
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