Submitted by Pam Bellchamber
But as long as you remember what you have seen, then nothing is gone. As long as you remember, it is part of this story we have together.
I sat with my in-laws one Friday evening after insisting my husband share his birthday dinner with his family. My husband, who doesn’t want to make a big deal out of birthdays, was fairly adamant we keep this day all to ourselves. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I feel the complete opposite. Our days are short. We never really know if we will get another, and we most definitely never get two days that are the same.
My in-laws, Big Don (he likes to refer to himself as “Old Don”) and Judy, are the most loving, giving, accepting, and gracious people I know, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. They have raised four completely different children who are gracious and loving as well. And they all still talk to one another, which in itself is not an easy feat in today’s world.
When I mentioned inviting the parents and our children to dinner and then back to our house for cake and coffee, I was met with a little resistance. Okay, a lot of resistance. But being the fairly stubborn and headstrong person that I am (amazingly enough my husband loves me anyway), I invited them! It was the most perfect evening full of chatty conversation, good food, and of course, cake!
Once we returned to the house and the evening started to settle, the conversation turned to Big Don’s childhood and how tough it was growing up within the city limits of St. Louis. He recalled the three-room flat he lived in with his parents and brother and the fact that it was a “cold water flat.” I had never heard this phrase until I met my in-laws. My family roots are in southern Missouri where all the houses were “cold water” because they were fed by a well. When I was a child, the hot water came from a kettle on the stove where you heated it after you pumped it from the well. Somehow it seemed very different to hear about a cold water flat in the city!
I wanted so badly to take notes about Big Don’s childhood but thought it rude, so I refrained. Instead, I tried to remember every detail as accurately as I could. My father-in-law recited his stories like they had happened yesterday. Big Don recalled how his father didn’t graduate and only completed part of his sixth grade year because his mother needed him home more to help with the chores. Big Don went on to state that, after his father served our country and he was on his own, he had a tough time finding work. Eventually, he went on to take a job as a milk delivery man with his own route. Big Don said his father was not able to keep this job due to the toll it took on him. I found this fascinating. Delivering milk is stressful? I was hooked.
When I said, “Really?” Big Don explained that not only did his father deliver the milk, but he also kept track of the orders, the inventory, the accounting, and was also responsible for what we call business development or sales. Wow! When you think about it, it was liking throwing a twelve-year-old into his own business venture! He had to learn the route (there was no GPS or Garmin then), keep the books, try to generate more business, and was also worrying about feeding his family and keeping his boys in school so that they wouldn’t have to struggle through their adult lives. He worked hard to make certain his children were given every opportunity to succeed. He put his family before his own needs and desires. Eventually, he did leave the milk delivery position but that is where my memory fails. Unfortunately, I don’t recall what Big Don’s father went on to do.
I do know that my father-in-law, Big Don, not only finished high school but put himself through the University of Missouri – Rolla. Big Don got married as soon as “his girl,” Judy, graduated from high school – just a year after his own graduation, and they are still married. Then Big Don secured a job working with Ralston Purina in St. Louis. He rose to a very high position within the organization and remained there for thirty-plus years. Yes, to say he came from scarce beginnings, rose above his obstacles, and became a success is an understatement. Big Don had many things on his side including two loving parents and a giant dose of determination.
Fast forward to our next dinner together. Again, I had no paper or pen in hand, but I headed to the computer when the dishes were done and started to type. I thought, “Surely it will come back once I start typing, right? After all, they can remember the past after more than fifty-five years, surely I can retain this tidbit of information for at least an hour?” No. Only the skeletons of their memories remain with me.
“So, Hon do you remember the drapes we bought from J.C. Penny for our first apartment?” Hon replies, “No, I don’t” in a very matter-of-fact way with a twitch of “Are you freaking kidding me?” in his voice. After all, they bought those drapes more than fifty-seven years ago. But he remembers the first car they bought, a ‘55 Plymouth Fury. He even remembers the name of the salesman . . . amazing. Oh, and by the way, the car cost $600, was four years old, and they had to take out a loan…heaven forbid!
Life and family take many shapes and turns, it’s a bumpy road with many hills and valleys, curves, and yes, even potholes. The fun part of the ride is all the people you get to see and wave to while they “sit on their porches” or pass you in a “similar car.” Life is like one giant road trip: it brings so many people and memories into our lives, some for a brief fleeting moment and others for an extended stay. Don’t forget to roll down your window, give a wave, and enjoy the ride!