My father is ninety-three years old and counting. This is an amazing feat, considering he has had diabetes for over 60 years and survived both the Merchant Marines in WWII and Korea. My boyfriend Roy, my son Benson and my daughter Natalie had a reunion of sorts with my parents, my brother Rick and his girlfriend Sarina in Albuquerque, New Mexico in February. It was a great opportunity to reminisce, reconnect and compare various iterations of sopapillas.
This was Roy’s first time meeting my parents and it’s always enlightening to see other’s perceptions of folks that I have know all my life. It’s also fun to reflect on what comes up in the form of stories and songs when generations come together.
Here are my observations:
What an appropriate name for the sailboat my parents met on some sixty plus years ago. It had been many years since I had heard the telling of it, as only my mother can do it best. My father was crew on a tall ship called The Adventure. My mother had just graduated from college and was taking a cruise on the boat as a post-graduation vacation. She saw my father talking to a woman with a wedding ring on and, incorrectly, assumed that he was married. A man on shore had asked her on a date and she was on deck drying her hair in preparation for the date. My father pushed her overboard. When my mother climbed out of the water, she asked the captain why that man had pushed her and he said, “I guess he’s interested.” The rest is history.
Let the adventure begin. My father always looks quite unrepentant during the telling of the story. Sort of like, “Well, I pushed her and now look at all that I have,” as he admires his beloved wife, children and grandchildren. Thank goodness he pushed her.
My father spent most of his career as a middle school history teacher. I have always admired him for teaching the least glamorous topic to the most incorrigible group of students (namely 8th graders). My father has always been a lecturer. You can imagine that if you taught 7 classes a day on the same topic, that everything from Gettysburg to the Kensington Stone is on auto-play. My dad has many life adventures on auto-play. His trip to Korea and visiting a village off-the-grid. His guiding 10 teenagers on a canoe trip in aluminum boats in northern Quebec during a lightening storm. Him surviving a hurricane on the schooner The Adventure, where the captain told him to lash himself to the mast. My siblings, my mom and my kids have all heard these stories many times. This past trip made me pay attention to the facts. I want to get it right. While I was a teenager, I would roll my eyes at what I dubbed “Lecture 223.” Now, I want every word. Every fact. Who knows when or if I will hear this lecture again?
Part of what prompted the cross-country trip were some recent set backs to my dad’s health. As I write this, my dad is back in the hospital trying to get his medications dialed in. I’m thankful that my brother Rick is a retired nurse and my mother, a retired medical technologist. I don’t understand most of what is going on but I do know that my dad has always been a stoic. Whether is was a triple bypass or pace maker, he’s always taken everything as it comes. I’ve never seen him panic or worry. Even as he sat in his recliner surrounded by loved ones, with a new scooter and oxygen tank, he said, “I don’t feel any pain.” Did I mention he’s had kidney stones for over 5 years? He was still looking forward to his next move with my mom to Washington State. I have always admired my father’s patience but I think what I really admire is his ability to not get caught up in a cycle of worry and rumination. My stomach dropped when my brother texted this morning that Dad was back in the hospital but I know that he is probably sharing a lecture on Napoleon or his trip to Russia with some unsuspecting nurse. If he’s not worried, why should I be?
Every family has a certain homeostasis. There is a balance that keeps the whole thing moving forward, regardless of the current and wind. I feel like my dad has been the ballast of the whole Noice family boat. He rarely gets angry. Nothing seems to exasperate him. I can still remember my seventy-year-old father carrying my two-year-old son and a tricycle during one of his tantrums with nary a frown. I see him now surrounded by new contraptions like an oxygen meter and he is unfazed. He’s just glad to be here. He is constantly comparing himself to other residents who have it far worse than he and he is thankful. His mantra is “I am so fortunate.” He’s writing his fifth volume (FIFTH) of his science fiction novel. He hopes someone reads it someday. This is not a man who is down for the count. He’s planning his next adventure for his novel’s main character Lors, for heaven’s sake. Eventually, my father will be gone, but in the meantime, he is the ballast.
There was a magical moment in our trip to Albuquerque when my parents broke into song. It was an old sea shanty. As my parents sang in unison and with strong voice, I was able to record it for prosperity. I was struck by their voice’s strength and clarity, as they both sang and helped each other with the words. It’s been decades since I heard them sing. A little piece of history from their Adventure. I was happy to experience it again and that I’ve been part of the Adventure.