This morning while sitting in the Jeep in the bank drive through, I glanced over, smiled at the teller and complimented her on her earrings. She grinned back and thanked me and told me that she had gotten them at the shore this past summer. I joked with her about them being such a wonderful reminder of warm summertime in the midst of a mid double digit, East Coast ‘chilly bears’ day. It was then that it occurred to me how my parents, Moish and Selma had a knack for engaging in conversation with any and everyone who crossed their paths and passed that gift and one of my greatest joys, on to me, much to the embarressment of once upon a time teen aged son. At 24, he has gotten used to his mother talking to strangers, since I remind him that everyone we now know and love was once a stranger.
My father, in particular was the king of compliments, finding something to speak well of about most folks. It helped that he had grown up in multi-cultural South Philadelphia where, if you were Catholic, you referenced your neighborhood by parish and if you weren’t (Moish Weinstein was a nice Jewish boy), by street corner. He lived at 5th and Wolf and 4th and Ritner at various stages of his life. He learned to adapt to the environment. My dad was a big flirt (in a harmless, friendly way) with the nurses that took care of him at the end of his life, calling them “Doll Baby” and asking them to tuck him in and kiss him on his cheek. My mother would smile, knowing that she was his ‘one and only’. My mother was the best listener I have ever known, the ‘rock of the family’ who could be counted on to come through no matter what. My friends (including an ex-boyfriend from my teens) would turn to her for support. Our house had a ‘helping hand’ sign (for those of you who didn’t grow up in the 60’s and don’t know what I am talking about), which signaled that ours was a safe house to go to if a child was in danger in some way. My mom had told me many years later, that it was in response to a kidnapping in our erstwhile safe South Jersey community.
Since they have both passed (my dad in April of 2008 and my mom in November of 2010), I have recognized more of them in me. I hear myself sounding like my mother, when encouraging people to refrain from actions that don’t serve them with a lovingly kick-butt “Knock it off!” the way my mother would have offered. I have become a better listener, more often, but not always, witholding comment until the person had expressed their feelings, rather than jumping in to fix things (although as a social worker, it is still an occupational hazard) as I would have in the past. I ask more questions that have them finding their own answers, as she had done with me. I have become the family matriarch, being a listening ear for my son, niece and nephews. I am an even better schmoozer, finding common ground with people from all walks of life, like Moish. When I look in the mirror, I see my mother’s eyes gazing back at me, my father’s dimples and the salt and pepper hair that I no longer color, since I proudly claim my place as a ‘seasoned woman’. I have re-established my workout schedule over the past 2 years, like my father ‘the gym rat’. A few years prior to his death, he still worked at a gym and a year prior, he continued to work out there and when Parkinsons took its toll, he walked around the condo with his walker and did seated exercises with my mother as his ‘personal trainer’.
There are some parental traits I have adopted that don’t always serve me that include my father’s Type A workaholic tendencies that sometimes spill over into an inablility to sit still for very long. My mother’s “broad shoulders” as she called them that could seemingly carry the weight of the world, have translated into my ‘savior behavior’ that have had me believing that I could heal, cure or save anyone, kissing emotional boo boo’s and ‘making it all better.’
I’m sure that I can think of a million other ways I emulate these amazing (but not perfect, lest you think I am idealizing them) people who set the bar really high for a loving lifelong partnership (and beyond) that I desire to experience, since being widowed. I am grateful that they are still around (in Spirit) to shine their light on each day, beckoning me to continue in their footsteps. Last week, a friend was talking about his mother who had passed and the concept of ‘losing people’ when they die. His sentiments echo mine “I haven’t lost them. I know where they are.” Yes, I miss their physical presence, but I feel them with me through my day and call on them for guidance still, although I have internalized their wisdom in many ways. I am honored to be my parents’ daughter who raised me to be able to live without them.