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Tribute to Parents on 50th Anniversary

Tribute to My Parents on their 50th Wedding Anniversary

by Rosalind Wright Picard

They say that you don't really appreciate your parents until you become one, but that is not true. While I admit I probably never truly appreciated your cleaning up after me when I vomited all over myself, my bed sheets, my stuffed animals, and the rug, until I had to do this for my own sons (parenting has significantly elevated my threshold for "gross"), there is much more to say. On this very special occasion of your 50th anniversary, I would like to share some ways that I have greatly appreciated both of you, and especially your staying married for half a century.

While most children appreciate their parents for giving them biological life, I don't know to whom I owe that. And while everything for which I am grateful is ultimately conditional upon the decision a teenage woman made, I was an "accident", "unplanned", and my gratitude is that she believed that somewhere out there was somebody like you, with whom I would be so much better off. The fact is you are the kind of couple whom so many love, the kind who inspires others with your friendly welcome, generosity, and kindness to all. Your regular acts of goodness change the mood of those around you: they turn road-raged insensitive maniacs into the kind of drivers who not only let you merge in front of them without ramming you in the rear, but who stop on the road to give you a helping hand and a smile when in need. You are a couple who has a positive impact on the world, and this impact has the power to counter the despair of a young women in trouble, helping her know that it is worth choosing life for her little one, because of incredibly loving parents like you.

These are not empty words. First, let me give an example with Dad. This one never hit me until I moved to New England where people talk differently, to say the least. I'll never forget when I first noticed, when calling home from Boston, "Gee, Dad is really starting to get a southern accent in the last year; he didn't have such a strong one when I lived in Atlanta." But a friendly southern accent only slightly captures the richness of what Dad communicates through his voice. When he answers the phone, it is in stark contrast to most of the world. While a typical response when I call someone is a harried hello?" that usually prompts me to politely ask, "Is now an OK time to talk?" Dad's musical, "Hello -- this is Bill Wright," sounds like I've reached a wonderfully warm and welcoming soul. It has the quality of making me feel like you are simply delighted I've called. In this day of Caller ID this may not be a big deal, but you sounded this way even years before caller ID, even when I might have been a telemarketer calling to try to sell you new vinyl siding at dinnertime. You make everyone who calls feel wonderful. And phone calls are just one example where you achieve this. What a kind gift you give to our world.

Here's an example with Mom. Once when we were out shopping (I have a hard time thinking of outings where we didn't sneak in at least a little shopping) we got hungry. Actually, we always got hungry shopping, but this time we decided to have lunch in a fancy little cafe with white tablecloths and a well-dressed waiter. In those days, Mom didn't wear a warm-up suit and sneakers to shop, but looked like she was dressed for a ladies tea, the perfect modern southern belle in her coordinating winter white suit, shoes and bag. Now, I don't recall exactly what went wrong after we sat down, but I do recall that there were some real problems. The waiter did not handle things properly. It wasn't something like forgetting to bring tea, or merely keeping two low-blood sugar women waiting 30 minutes without so much as bringing the menu, but that is probably how it began. I think some things were spilled on Mom, without apology and without help cleaning up the mess. Perhaps it was split pea soup. And then maybe one of our lunches came 20 minutes after the other, and they did not prepare it as requested, so most of it could not be eaten. Maybe he then overcharged us for other things that were not what we asked for, and was surly. I don't remember the details, but I do remember we were in a hurry, we were both getting increasingly irritated, and I was ready to go complain to the manager so he would know what had been happening. Mom told me she would handle it, and trusting her, I accompanied her to the manager's desk. To my shock, Mom completely suppressed her anger, and was positively charming, downright sweet. Oh, she did not mince her words: She spoke quite clearly about what happened. She simply did so with no flames, no harsh words, and no spite. And this really got his attention. She was effective, not only in getting an apology, but more so in getting the respect and admiration of us, who witnessed her grace. I don't recall if he gave us the lunch for free or what the outcome was, perhaps because a free lunch never covers the cost of being mistreated. What I do remember clearly was how she modeled what I learned later was called "emotional intelligence".

I admire how you both have tremendous skills of emotional intelligence, including empathy, compassion, love, and grace. You make others feel welcome, and always seem to enjoy doing so. You are always willing to lend a hand and to reach out to someone who is lonely, troubled, or could use a sandwich. And, you make the best sandwiches any of us have ever had (although I miss those incredible tomatoes that Dad used to grow. I can't seem to grow them as well. I wish I could get some of that Georgia red clay up here to mix with our soil.) Not only is Mom a great cook, but Dad, you also make great Campbell's soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I know this because once when Mom was in the hospital for over a week, we ate this every day. Dad, you also make delicious homemade soup, awesome boiled peanuts and cheese straws, and homemade dill bread and wine and cheese bread.

I will never forget the beginning of the bread-baking years, when we had that Sourdough starter and it almost took over the house. It kept multiplying, and we had to make new things with it every week. After we had made all kinds of breads, biscuits, and rolls, Dad decided to try to make cinnamon rolls with that really yummy and sticky sugary sauce. The first cinnamon roll he made rose so much it was larger than a 3-layer birthday cake. The request, "Can I have a cinnamon roll?" has made me think twice ever since. For some reason, after the basketball-sized cinnamon rolls, the sourdough starter disappeared and we didn't have to make countertops full of bread every week.

Parents teach their children whether they try to or not. Mom, I am grateful that you made sure I could plan and cook nutritious meals; you made it clear to me that ketchup was not a vegetable, even if the Georgia schools said it was. You not only helped me earn girl scout badges in all the basic camping and domestic stuff, but also taught me how to make icing roses on cakes, how to arrange flowers for seasonal centerpieces, and how to cut out little shapes to make fancy tea sandwiches with designs inlaid into the bread. When it came to things like sewing, you didn't just teach me to hand-stitch and machine-stitch and put in buttonholes, and such, you demonstrated learning to sew by tackling enormous projects such as teaching yourself how to reupholster the living room furniture. The sofas and chairs came out magnificently, despite it being your first time. I won't say there wasn't any cursing, and maybe that's why I stuck to sewing simple sundresses, but I did get the more important message that I did not have to know how to do something before trying to do it. This kind of lesson is a truly profound one, and probably accounts for a large part of my willingness to tackle big things. My parents taught me by doing: They were not afraid to tackle enormous projects and learn things through trying.

Dad, you taught me similarly, but as an engineer. You took a real interest in the math I would bring home, and loved to pull out your old slide rule. I never once felt that it was bad for a girl to be good at math; you were proud of my work, and let me know. I really appreciated when you enrolled me in the local YMCA "how engines work" and "how to tune up your car" classes, and let me tune up our cars. I especially appreciated when you came to my rescue that time when I accidentally dropped the vise across the terminals of your car's battery and stood stunned, as I watched large electrical arcs shooting across the battery. You quickly ran over and knocked the tool onto the driveway. I think you then calmly explained how the battery was going to explode if I continued to stand there with my mouth open and eyes wide. (Mom, did he ever tell you about this?)

You both also helped teach me to drive, despite the time that I confused the accelerator with the brake when Dad let me drive his golf cart down a really steep hill at Big Canoe. I never knew a golf cart could go so fast! I remember how excited I was when I was 16, and you helped me pick out my first car, that bright yellow V6 Mercury Capri, which had been lovingly cared for by its previous owner. I recall how nice it was after we had finished our negotiations and Dad and I went to pick up the car, and saw the previous owner had washed and waxed it so it was gleaming bright. When I got in it was freshly vacuumed and filled with gas. Dad is not only a good judge of cars, he is a great judge of character, and a superb model of it as well; whenever he sold a car, or any item, he practiced the same honesty and care in his dealings. I have parents of integrity, and this is a precious gift.

Dad and Mom, while you are different in many ways, and the tension between your styles can make its own kind of spark, it has been a good example in helping me find enjoyable balances in my own life. Dad, I think of you as not just an engineer, but also a risk-taker, with your Navy Pilot background. Also, your tendency to take risks is revealed by the fact that when you met Mom for the first time, she was dating your roommate. Mom, your background as a teacher and your refreshing artistic ability, together with your refined style, bring creativity and sparkle to your life together. Your diverse ways had direct impact on me. While Dad encouraged me to get grease under my fingernails, Mom encouraged me to conduct a proper manicure, painting my nails to hide those last bits of grease that were hard to wash away. While Dad's favorite store is K-Mart, Mom taught me about quality, and yet showed me how to be a bargain shopper. While Dad struggled with smoking for many years (boy was I impressed when he quit cold turkey), Mom emphasized nutrition, exercise, and health. Mom taught me yoga postures and breathing long before it was normal (and even cool) for Americans to do yoga. Today I see the influence of both of you in so much of what I do. Now I'm a risk-taking professor who loves to learn, and who mixes engineering with art and design. I never realized till writing this that I adopted so many of your interests, although I do prefer to pass on the golf, football, antique furniture refinishing, and tomato aspic.

Mom and Dad: of the things I value most is that you never pressured me to show interest in any particular directions, or to pursue anything just to please you. I especially remember you saying that I could go to school wherever I wanted to, even an expensive private school, and you would find a way to help me afford to go there. This was spoken during some very difficult years financially, and showed your love and trust for me, and your willingness to sacrifice. You always made me feel loved and supported to do whatever I wanted. Unlike some of my friends' parents who told them just what to do and never let them talk back, you always listened to what I had to say. In doing so, I felt that what I had to say mattered, and that I mattered.

I also remember during High School when times were tight and many of my friends had to get jobs in fast food restaurants. While I tutored kids and babysat and did some chores that paid, I wondered if I should consider getting a job with substantial hours. I remember Mom telling me that "high school is a special time" and "a rare chance to engage in clubs and other activities you'll never get to do again." You both told me "you'll have to work the rest of your life" and encouraged me to get involved in school activities instead. You started an allowance for Rob and me, despite that money was scarce. This was a generous gesture and enabled me to really enjoy exploring lots of things that most kids never get to try, like skydiving(!). I had so much fun. I never felt like I needed to rebel against you. I appreciate so much your faith in me during those high school years.

From your love of the ocean, and us always living near a coast -- Boston, Monterey, Key West, Keflavik, and finally Atlanta (well...we went to the gorgeous mountain lakes) -- I find myself drawn to coasts too. I have many fond memories of our times in the water, Dad teaching me to swim in the canal in our backyard off Raccoon Key: "Swim just a little further, just swim to me" as he would keep backing up, keeping the distance between us constant until, with weary arms, I protested. I'll never forget Mom teaching me (on the rock slide in Big Canoe) to be very careful where I stepped because it was really slippery if I stepped on the shiny part. I remember how you went the extra mile and demonstrated this, stepping there and slipping, hurting your tailbone (ouch).

I have fond memories of vacations, especially trips to the beach. Rob and I especially loved when you would let us have those inflatable rafts and we could ''surf'' the waves. I remember once in Jacksonville, FL, getting wiped out by a big wave and going under for some time. Dad rushed to my rescue, pulling me out of the water, saving my life. I seem to recall he also stepped on me first, while trying to find me, so I had a large bruise on my thigh, but I was immensely grateful for his action nonetheless.

I love seafood and I'm sure this is in part due to how both of you love seafood and how much of it we ate. I have fond childhood memories of you "tickling" lobsters to get them to come out from the holes in our seawall in Key West, and then filling laundry baskets with them to hose them off before supper. Our beloved Snuffy would join me in making a lot of noise when they climbed out of the baskets and we chased them around the yard.

Mom, I'll never forget how you indulged me in my purple phase. I felt like a princess on my 7th birthday when you threw me that party in the dining room with purple goblets, fine china with painted violets and gold trim, and a homemade cake with violet frosting and flowers on top. You also made me my favorite purple clothes. While I struggled with shyness for a number of years, I have never struggled with security. I always felt loved, and very special. I have fond memories of sitting in Daddy's lap as a little girl, while he read me The World of Pooh, by A. A. Milne, and taught me poems by Rudyard Kipling. I hope my children will have as happy and healthy a childhood.

I also feel grateful that you always enjoyed entertaining, and passed this love on to me. I remember you both going to many black-tie and white-tie events when we lived in Iceland, and once hosting a fancy event at our home, where you let me serve caviar and colorful drinks to guests. You are always the perfect hosts, not because everything you serve is perfect or the house is perfect (although Mom comes as close as anyone I know) but because your guests feel loved and welcome. I hope some of this has rubbed off on me. I admit to feeling pleasantly surprised and even a bit proud yesterday when Michael and Chris came in with two new boys in the neighborhood (almost their ages, 6 and 4). They welcomed them into our home, saying "This is our house," and then "Please come over here and meet our little brother." Then they walked the guests politely over to Luc and made introductions, "Luc, this is Scott and this is Patrick; Scott and Patrick, this is our little brother Luc, who is 2." I don't remember ever teaching them this, but if they learned it from Len and me it's because we learned it from our wonderful parents. It's so nice when good things get handed down without even trying.

I once heard someone say that they had never heard their parents fight. While I don't recall you ever throwing anything at each other and I suspect you did your best to hide problems from us, there were times when I really worried that you might give up on each other. I think a 50th wedding anniversary is a kind of a miracle deserving of a very special tribute. Not only do most marriages not last that long, but few people last that long! (OK, I'm almost done). I admire so much how you have worked to stay together in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, and in raising Rob and me.

Mom and Dad, your honesty, integrity, love, patience, gentleness, kindness, commitment, and willingness to forgive shine as a strong inspiration to me to strive for the same in my marriage. You have been blessed with the fortitude and faith to stay together, despite a multitude of forces that aim to pull a couple apart. The example of your marriage reveals something much greater than any individual can ever attain.

On this very special occasion of your 50th wedding anniversary, with a heart of deepest gratitude, I give you my honor, appreciation, admiration, and love.

May God continue to bless your marriage, and may you enjoy your celebration on April 16, and throughout this Golden Year.

I love you,