Sunday, April 20, 2014

You Know What I Miss?

I had a charmed childhood and family life.  I didn't always know or appreciate it at the time, but I did. As I read through Mom's journals I am reminded of that fact.

I don't ever remember my parents having a fight;  an occasional disagreement perhaps, but I never heard them raise their voices to one another in the 21 years I was with them before Dad passed away.  That's pretty amazing to me.

We went on a vacation every year that I remember - the Grand Canyon, San Francisco, Yellowstone National Park, Disneyland, Universal Studios, Lava Hot Springs, Craters of the Moon, Bryce Canyon, Ricks College, and one whirlwind journey to Seattle, Vancouver, and other parts of Canada were among some of the places we saw together.  Mom, Dad, and I also went to New York together, and after Dad's death Mom and I toured Belgium, France, England, Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands together.

We also did a lot of family outings when I was growing up - Lagoon Amusement Park, the Heber Creeper, the Alpine Slide in Park City, Hogle Zoo, Temple Square, Hansen Planetarium, the Museum of Natural History, various parks and monuments spread throughout the Salt Lake Valley, drives and picnics in the canyons that surround the valley, going out to eat or out for dessert at McDonald's, Su Casa, Baskin-Robbins, the Cultured Cow, Chuck-a-Rama, Arctic Circle, Sunday outings to my grandma's house, Christmas Eves at my great aunt's house, Thanksgivings with friends and neighbors, movies and plays galore.  I have such fond memories of those times.

Rarely would a trip happen where we didn't have car trouble.  I'm sure it frustrated the hell out my dad, but it just seemed like a trip wasn't a trip without pulling over for some car issue.

We were (and still are) a game-playing family.  Dad, Mom, and my two older siblings would play a card game called 500; Mom and my older brother played cribbage a lot; we played Trivial Pursuit, the Ungame, Pictionary, Scattergories, Taboo, Skip-bo, Uno, Apples to Apples, Monopoly, Life, Sorry, the Mad Magazine game, Hearts, Catchphrase, and so many others.

We had truly magical Christmases, even in leaner times.  I sometimes don't know how Mom and Dad afforded to give us so many great gifts or take us on these incredible trips and outings.

Dad would come home from the store with a candy bar for each of us kids as a special surprise.  Mom might bring us some candy from the ice cream store she worked for at the time, Snelgrove's.

I remember dyeing eggs and having Sunday morning egg hunts at Easter and the candy baskets that would be prepared for us.

Birthdays were almost always great affairs.  Treasure hunts, videos of Disney movies, lots of friends, and Mom would often make a special cake for us.  I remember getting one shaped like a train and another like a castle.  Or we'd go to Farrel's for ice cream.

We had a huge backyard where we played croquet, tried to plant a garden, jumped on the trampoline, swung on swings, and did yard work together.

Mom and Dad would film us with the Super 8 camera they had or take pictures of us, and I have now inherited a plethora of family memories captured on film

We were a church-going family.  All of my parents' children served missions and served in many callings.  We held Family Home Evening on Monday nights when I was growing up filled with lessons and family discussions and activities.  I remember fondly one where we made chocolate chip cookies together.

We had meals together growing up.  Mom wasn't a great cook, but she made us meals with a lot of love and we ate together and discussed the goings on in our lives. 

We prayed together, and Dad would give everyone in the family a blessing every year before we started school.  Mom served as a Primary teacher and Relief Society teacher among many others and Dad was the ward clerk for what seemed like forever.

My siblings and I got along.  Sure, there were times when we got on each other's nerves, but overall we were a very happy family growing up.  It wasn't until I met friends whose family lives were less than ideal that I realized not every family was like mine.

Home was a place I really enjoyed, especially since I was bullied a lot in school.  Home was a place of refuge, love, safety, and comfort.  I remember coming home from school and having great discussions with Mom and later when we worked together we'd have really great after-work discussions.

Of course, eventually everyone got married or went to school or moved or went on missions or (in Dad and Mom's cases) died, and so that affected the family togetherness I remember so fondly as a child.  I miss that closeness and constant camaraderie.  Sure, we still get together and do stuff, but it's not the same.  I don't suppose it ever will be.  But I loved it when it was ours and I miss it a lot.

It wasn't perfect, but it was great.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Parting Gift From Mom (And Dad)

Sometimes when I'm watching a game show I feel that if I won some money, even a small amount, it would change my life.  I'm one of those people who would go on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and be happy just walking away with $16,000 or $32,000 rather than attempting to go for the whole million.

I am right.  Money can change one's life (or at least make certain things easier).  In no way am I saying you'll be happier with more money.  I don't believe for a second that money can buy happiness.  However, it can make things less stressful if you're smart about it.

My dad and mom made some good investments during their lifetimes.  This turned out to be quite a blessing when Mom had to move to assisted living.  With all of Mom and Dad's investments, including the sale of their house, we probably had enough to take care of Mom for 6 or 7 years, so that was a comfort.

Mom would have hated to know that the money she and Dad had saved would be paying for her to stay in a place she initially hated.  We were glad we had that money, though.

Obviously Mom's death made the use of that money null and void as far as her care was concerned (although we used a portion of it for her funeral and burial, any unpaid medical costs, and her remaining taxes, none of which was nearly as much as I would have anticipated).  We have been actually been quite blessed by what remained to be split among her four children.  All told, each of us has ended up with about $86,000.  And that is life-changing money.

Mom (and Dad) would be delighted to know that the money they intended to pass on to us would be used for the betterment of our lives.  And it will be, I hope.

I, for one, have been able to pay off my student loan (which I've been paying for the last seven years) and put a down payment on a brand new car (I've never had a brand new car until now).  Jonah and I hope to take a trip somewhere and maybe make some improvements to our home, things we've dreamed of doing but never had enough money to really do.  Instead of feeling like I'm living paycheck to paycheck, I finally feel like I can save some money away for our future.

My sister, who has been drowning in debt since she got married, may finally have a chance to get on top of things if she and my brother-in-law are smart about it.  And maybe she, too, can take a vacation, which she's not really had a chance to do too often.

My brother and his his wife can help pay for their son's wedding and their other son's mission and maybe make some good investments.

My other sister and brother-in-law, who have been through bankruptcy themselves (mostly due to my brother-in-law's first wife's medical bills) now have enough to make home improvements and support their family.

It truly is a blessing, and Mom and Dad would be so happy.  My parents were two of the most generous people I've known.  They would be overjoyed that all they worked for is helping their kids and grandkids.  And it's a gift that will keep giving (for a while at least).  Mom and Dad have oil and gas rights inherited from my grandfather and grandmother (who smartly invested as well), and we'll hopefully get about $2000.00 a year each from that as well until the wells eventually run dry.

I miss Mom and Dad every day, but they left us a great legacy of good values and a nice financial one to boot.  It is such a blessing for this struggling artist.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Thinking About Dad

As I have been transcribing Mom's journals, it's been fun and, sometimes, enlightening to read of her life and experiences.  Mom and I were very close so there haven't been a lot of surprises or shocks.  If anything, she only reinforces things I already knew about her.

I have been moderately surprised when she has talked of jealousy she had over how my grandmother favored her daughter (my aunt) over her other children or dissatisfaction with her service in the church, but I wasn't too surprised by things like that.

What did take me aback, which I never knew until just this week, was that there was a period in 1988 when Dad was on antidepressants and seeing a psychologist.  I never knew that at all.  I talked to my sister, who is older than me, and she knew nothing about it, either.

Here's what I did know:

1. In March of 1984, Dad had a small stroke.  Between then and about January of 1988 he had at least one more and possibly a third, undiagnosed one.

2. In early 1988 Dad's boss was concerned with his performance and ordered him to be medically examined on the company's dime.  Dad at this time had slowed down and his memory and ability to learn new concepts was impaired.

3. Dad disliked his job and found it very stressful.  While I didn't know all the details, I know Dad had difficulty with his boss and work environment and was not happy in his job for many years.

4. Dad eventually was given a medical disability and retired in April 1988.  He was happier as a result but continued to have serious strokes and health issues until his death in October of 1992

Apparently, as a condition of his company-ordered medical examination he saw a psychologist.  Mom indicates that Dad was very depressed during the time we was still employed and seeing this psychologist.  Apparently she prescribed him some antidepressants, which he took for a short time before he retired.  I never knew any of that.

Dad was a quiet guy who never talked much or complained.  He was a good man who worked hard to provide for his family.  I loved him very much, but I do wish he had communicated more.  According to her journals, so did Mom.

I sometimes feel bad because for years Dad was stuck in a job he didn't seem to like very much.  Even in the early eighties, Mom indicates that Dad has desires to quit and yet he worked there for 28 years, and on some level, I've always thought his job was partially responsible for his health problems and his early death.

Mom told me once that Dad would have liked to open a record shop.  Dad loved music and that was one thing he talked about doing early in his relationship with Mom.  Instead he went into computer programming and worked for a life insurance company.  I often feel that Dad did so out of a duty to support and provide for his family.  While I admire him for being a good provider (and he did a good job at it), I also feel his job interfered with his personal health, satisfaction, and happiness, and watching his experience is one of the reason I've always tried to do the kind of work that brings me fulfillment and happiness even if it's not always as financially lucrative.  I think that philosophy has served me well even if it hasn't always served my pocketbook as admirably.

I miss Dad.  He was a good man.  I always think of Dad as "behind-the-scenes" rather than "on stage."  Without him, the success of the "production" that is our family would not have been what it was at all.  But he was very unassuming and quiet about how he did things.  He quietly paid bills, planned vacation itineraries, and worked hard to earn the money needed to provide for us and give us a little extra so we could take those vacations, which are some of my most cherished memories.

He would stop at the store on the way home from work and buy each of us kids a candy bar.  He would drive me to school on his way to work.  He would sit quietly in the living room and listen to music or watch a game on TV to relax.

Dad and I didn't have a ton in common.  He was big football fan, loved to fish, and enjoyed country music, none of which I cared for.  He wasn't a big talker, whereas I loved to talk.  I just naturally gravitated to Mom, who loved old movies and theatre and who loved to talk about anything and everything.  I adored my dad; he was hard-working, loving, thoughtful, even-tempered and was a terrific example of quiet endurance.  But I didn't know my dad very well.  I didn't always know what he was thinking and he never shared much about his life.  And he died relatively young when I was only 21.

I have great memories of him, though, and I wish he would have been more personally fulfilled.  He made the choices he made and they greatly benefited our family.  Like my mom, he lived for his family.  I just sometimes he could have found a better balance with living for himself.