In childhood June was a month of celebration, a month when my parents celebrated their respective birthdays. My father, being more reserved of the two, would have a quieter dinner among family and a few close friends. But, my mother on the other hand, it was open house. There was a steady stream of people who would visit the home to enjoy her company while my father sat quietly with an indulgent smile as he watched her play hostess. He remained besotted with my mother until the day he died suddenly at the age of 54. At 46 and in her prime, his indulged bride became a widow too soon. They were one month short of celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. She masked her grief, but her loss would have been incalculable. My mother died a few years ago in her early 80s.
I have been reflecting on what it has meant to be my mother’s daughter. Beautiful, gracious, hospitable, well groomed with impeccable taste, she was well known for her warmth and largesse in the community. I have inherited none of her attributes. Physically or personally I do not resemble my mother, yet every so often I catch a glimpse of her in the mirror and it takes me aback. A look in the eye, a turn of the mouth, a wistful gaze … and I see her. What I see in the mirror is how I wished I had seen her in my youth. Vulnerable. Strong. ‘The show must go on’ type of person, albeit, in silk and pearls. But, I strained hard and taut against the apron strings and cut loose in my mid teens. It was highly unusual for the times and I could not have done it without the support of my father. From an early age, my father trusted me to do the right thing. I treasure that trust to this day. If tempted to veer from what I believe is the right thing to do, I remember his words, “personal integrity is what you do, when no one is looking”.
A man of some intellect, I have inherited my father’s love for books. He loved words. Loved doing cryptic crosswords. He loved ballroom dancing, as did my mother. When they danced, people gave them space, and caught a glimpse of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. He loved the big swing bands like Benny Goodman. He loved hearing Julie London sing, ‘Sway’. He loved Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. I once heard her sing in San Francisco, she was within touching distance. I was mesmerised by her voice and her soul, and, suddenly, it was a visceral response. It all made sense. My father loved the arts. It is a gift from him, to me. It is where my world stays balanced.
My parents introduced us to the world of books, music, good food and to the concept of being with people without judgement. Any and every person who stepped over the threshold of our family home, was treated like royalty. They were a guest and were treated as such. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, I can recall my father coming home with hippies in tow. One group, an Australian family with children, camped on our front yard in their Kombi for several days. My parents introduced us to the concept of sharing, like one has plenty to give, and the joy inherent in helping others.
Interestingly, my son has returned to university to do a another degree. And, when he graduates, he too will be part of the ‘helping profession’. The cycle of life!
Is there a better way to celebrate one’s roots?
Until next time …
A dawn bird