Gifts of roots and wings
I guess it was the sentiment that accompanied Christmas, or perhaps it was the knowledge that another year has passed, another year gone. Or, it might have been that, for the first time, two of the children couldn’t make it home for Christmas.
Whatever, I found myself during the holidays digging back into memories of times past, way back when the twin boys were born and how they were followed by three little girls.
The boys came along in ’53, a girl five years later, another girl 14 months later and another girl seven years later. And now, their pursuits have spread them all over the country. A son in Charlotte, a son in Colorado, a daughter in California, a daughter in Hickory finishing college and, of course, the “baby” still at home, next year heading into high school.
Now, the house that used to echo with the sounds of playing (sometimes fighting) children has more of the stamp of silence on it. The thunder of the stereo that used to bulge the basement walls is toned down to a respectable decibel. This has been brought on by two factors; the youngest (Sally), being only one in number, is easily outvoted by her parents, being two; and my new hearing aid has brought to my ears sounds I had forgotten existed, not all of them desirable.
With the stereo simply idling and the wind howling in the trees outside, I have found the comfort of an easy chair and the presence of reading material temptations totally seductive. And when such influences are present, I can be had.
I have never been much of an indoor person. As a lad, I wondered why God made darkness, for that was just so much time wasted. I hit the floor running when my mother called me in the morning and came to roost only after all excuses had fallen on my parents’ ears and had failed.
Nowadays, however, I find no offense in those hours spent in wonderful relaxation over a good book … or in stirring around in a garden of delightful memories.
I can look across the way at the mother of our fine children and agree with the sage who wrote, “The future destiny of the child is always the work of the mother.” Yes, I can say amen to that.
I was the disciplinarian. I didn’t always take time to try to understand the tears of the child, but she did. I demanded. She asked. I was impetuous. She was patient.
One thing we both tried to instill in each child, however, was a feeling of independence. One of these days, we told them, we won’t be there to give you a hand when you need one. You’ve got a backbone, now build on it.
The first time we got a clue that the message was getting through was the time we took Tom and Ben, then about 8 or 9, to their first summer camp at Lutheridge. They had never been separated from us for any length of time, and this was to be for a week or two. Therefore, we were concerned there might be some last-minute scene, with all the encumbent holding on to mama and daddy, tears, rolling on the ground, etc.
It wasn’t quite like that.
After we had gotten them registered and lodged in the right cabin, we all walked back to the car and stood there a moment before saying goodbye. Finally, I said, “Well, boys, you have fun and …”
“Goodbye, Dad, goodbye, Mom,” they said in hasty unison, turned on their heels and disappeared into the woods without another word.
It took a while to get over that.
It would be good if parents could go to school and learn what is right and what is wrong in the rearing of their children. Most of us aren’t that fortunate. We have to learn from our mistakes. And we make them.
But that’s part of life, isn’t it? If child-rearing were done by formula and everything toted up a plus on the bottom line because everything already had been figured out, how could a child — or a parent for that matter — know about such things as forgiveness, patience, temperance or … even love?
We have five children, including twins, but each is different from the other, almost totally. And each has gone his or her own way. They made their own decisions and they are learning to sink or swim according to their own instincts and their own abilities.
Sitting there in the warmth of the living room and the comfort of my chair, I sometimes wonder what took this son down this route or this daughter this way. Like most parents, I’ll probably never know. But that doesn’t keep me from wondering. And I can’t help but wonder where the road of life will take the other two daughters as one finishes college in the spring and the other heads into high school. Will the West also beckon them? And, if so, will the trail reach that distant shore and then head them back toward home again? Questions, the answers to which are yet to come.
Meantime, Mama and I have to be content with such messages as that which come from the little town of Blythe, Calif., where Judy is working in Vista, the domestic Peace Corps.
One of her gifts to us at Christmas was an embroidered quotation that said: “There are two lasting gifts we can give to our children — one is roots, the other wings.”
And in a handwritten note, she had penned: “Mom and Dad, Thanks for giving these to me! Merry Christmas.
“Love always, Judy.”
I better quit here or I’ll cry.
Darrell Williams is a native of Faith and former editor of the Gaston Gazette, where this column was first published in December 1980. Williams reports that his children “are still widely spread but as Judy, the Domestic Peace Corps kid, said, ‘It is still true about roots and wings. We are still close.’ ”