Today is Columbus Day – October 12, 2013. 72 years ago, my parents were wed in Holyoke, MA. They passed on in 1993, and thus had 52 years together. On their 52nd anniversary my mother was asked by one of the attendees at their party, what did she attribute their longevity of marital bliss. She smiled and laughed a bit before she answered and then said, “We probably succeeded because we spent half of our lives apart from one and other.” You see my parents put family first, then they put the rest of the world and then themselves. They not only took care of the children they brought into the world, they invested in us.
The investment they made brought us up to take chances, failure was never an issue, it meant you were engaged. To speak truth to power, even if the results could be deleterious to you personally. They taught us by example, as my parents would volunteer their time to tutor individuals who were victimized by the Jim Crow laws then in play in Virginia. When John Kennedy became President, they were delighted, they had campaigned hard for the man, he too hailed from Massachusetts. Our maternal grandmother, would forever joke that both she and Rose Kennedy had much in common, we both had nine children.
My father drove a bus. He also was whip-smart and supported by the original iron-lady, my mother. His writing ability and sense of fairness were paramount in his evolution into one of the most astute and talented in the art of labor relations. He evolved within the Amalgamated Transit Union from member to one of the senior-most vice presidents.
In 1961 my father left private industry and joined the government and the Agency for International Development – our lives were forever to be influenced by foreign affairs from that day forward. We moved to Turkey and my memory is of traveling every inch of that beautiful country in the back of my parents mini-bus, they were nomads. We would go into villages, towns and cities. As a young boy of seven I was amazed to learn that dinner consisted of something more than soup, as I never could keep my eyes open beyond the soup course. I also remember during our time in Turkey at every location we were greeted warmly. This was to be among my parent’s favorite times of their lives and their affinity for Turkey continued through to their final days.
In 1965 the family was to move again, this time to Vietnam. Enroute or just before, the family’s portion of that assignment was adjusted as all dependents were ordered out of Vietnam due to the conflict intensifying. My mother was given the choice – US or Thailand – she chose Thailand as we would see our father once every six to eight weeks for 2 to 3 days. The next eight years were the most difficult for my parents. Separated by thousands of miles during a period of global unrest living in a country, albeit a delightful one, separate. It was during this era that I learned the strength of my mother (and not just her left hook). She demonstrated what charity is – doing something for someone without having to be asked. She demonstrated compassion as many displaced spouses found their way to our living room for a chat with my mother on coping. She also showed empathy and faith, as she helped at orphanages and the leper camps.
The greatest joy which my parents brought forward were the five children who survived to adult hood. All have accomplished what our parents admonished during our days pre-launch – Go out there and make a difference. We were shown the world, we were shown compassion, we were shown how fortunate we were to be passing through this life at this time.
So today I remember my parents, they taught all of us well and leveled the expectations upon us – Those who can, must. And we do.
Thank you for your time,