My parents were married over thirty-three years and after Dad’s death, Mom remarried for another thirty-two years. My brother and I are quite verbal and filled with pride and gratitude when it comes to talking about our mother. Mom was committed to my dad; she was faithful, caring, and she loved deeply. She gave my father his life back after he was diagnosed with polio in 1954. Their marriage vows “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part” were sacred and they were committed to each other. Dad would not have survived without her. Not only did she take care of him and care for him, but she supported our family and took care of my brother and me. For those who didn’t know my dad or haven’t read the previous post… Dad was a quadriplegic with limited breathing capacity who lived in his rocking bed or wheelchair from the age of thirty until he died days shy of age fifty-six. Caring for my dad meant feeding him and putting him to bed every night for twenty-five years and taking care of all his personal needs. Mom was never off the clock except for a few weeks in the summer. She was selfless.
It does sound like this marriage was one-sided, but it really wasn’t. Dad was pragmatic, smart and had a wicked sense of humor that helped in their daily living. His great memory saved Mom from the day-to-day running of the household. He kept track of the bills and finances, planned the meals and knew what groceries were needed… all in his head. He honored her. And he gave her his love and gratitude.
A highlight of Dad’s week was just getting out of the house, similar to moms who stay home with their kids and can’t wait for some adult conversation and entertainment. Mom always made sure that dad got out in the world. Now taking Dad out was not an easy task, especially in the winter when it was snowy and freezing cold. There was a ramp along the side of our house so he could be pushed down to the driveway (no attached garage). There was a hoist on the roof of the station wagon which, with a harness, straps and chains, could move him from the wheelchair to the front seat. The hoist was difficult to operate in the winter as the oil would thicken making cranking difficult. Mom would need someone to help put the wheelchair in the back of the car as she couldn’t lift it herself. Of course when we got older, we could help. Remember this was during the fifties and sixties when technology for the disabled was just developing. There were no vans with chair lifts.
I think our family visited more places and attended more events than the average family during the fifties and sixties. We went shopping, to church, to plays and musicals, to high school basketball games, to movies (no swearing, sex or violence, please), to our gramma’s for Sunday dinner and on trips to visit relatives hundreds of miles away. We went to the Smithsonian and the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing as well as other Washington D.C. landmarks. I have a visual in my head of standing on a catwalk made of metal overlooking the production floor where the printers were printing U.S. paper currency and Dad being pushed between the equipment because wheelchairs couldn’t go on the catwalks. We even went to the New York City World’s Fair in 1964. We pushed Dad through the corporate and country pavilions and exhibits. I especially remember GE’s Carousel of Progress, probably because it still exists today in Disneyworld, albeit updated to retain its relevancy.
It’s said that when daughters get married, we choose someone like our dad. When I got married, I did exactly that! He was smart and educated, had a sense of humor and common sense, and knew how to build and fix stuff. He was industrious, a great cook and from a wonderful, warm and loving Italian family. I did not know that he lacked love and commitment… to me and to his children. Thirty years later, I still can’t believe I chose so poorly. And I am still in awe of my parents’ marriage and of those I know who found the love, commitment and faithfulness that is often so lacking in today’s world!