I’ve often talked about the culture I grew up, my parents’ various toxic teachings and attitudes, and you may get the impression that my childhood was all bad all the time. That’s not even close to accurate. Today I was thinking about the things I have to thank my parents for. The ways that they laid the foundation for who I am today. When they were raising me as best they could, they were seriously misguided about a lot of things. But they were right about a lot of things too. I just don’t think they ever imagined those things would lead to me being a progressive. But, here we are.
None of these lessons were perfect, but today I am leaving aside the toxic aspects and focusing only on the good.
So, dear Mom and Dad, thank you.
Thank you for teaching me respect and compassion. I don’t remember how you did it, but it was part of my life as long as I can remember. We treat other people kindly. We are careful with inanimate objects. We are gentle with animals. This, more than anything else, laid the foundation for me to grow into a healthy member of society.
I remember when I went vegetarian, you never said one word of objection, you just asked me to suggest some meals for our menu every week. I remember long before that when a young neighbor purposely tore some leaves off the maple tree I’d planted from seed. I was so upset I cried, partly for the poor tree and partly for a little boy who could be so mean as to hurt a tree for no reason. That sense of compassion for every inhabitant of earth is your greatest legacy to me, Mom and Dad, and I thank you.
Thank you for teaching me to care for the environment. Thanks to you, Mom and Dad, the first question on my mind when I look at a new town to live in is, what things can I recycle here? Because you were recycling long before it was cool. You recycled long before curbisde pickup, before we could recycle almost anything, back when you had to take the labels off the cans and jars, long before our town started instituting a rewards system based on recycling volume which now has every person on our street doing it . We have a picture of me at two or three years old, both feet on a soup can, squashing it down to take it to the recycling center. Squashing cans and milk jugs was so much fun! So was feeding bottles into the bottle return at the grocery store.
We had a vegetable garden for most of my childhood, and taking care of those vegetables and the profusion of flowers around our home ensured that I perpetually had dirt under my nails and a working knowledge of plant life. You told me about how air quality regulations significantly improved the sustainability of American manufacturing. You took me to state and national parks. Dad, you were the first person to ever tell me about biodiesel.
Speaking of that vegetable garden,, thank you also for teaching me a strong diy ethic. It may have been because we always had a hard time making ends meet. It may have been because of how craft-y you are, Mom. Whatever the case, you taught me how to do all kinds of useful things. I can cook any meal from scratch, a skill which has really helped ease my shift to veganism. The beautiful quilt I have on my bed right now is one that you taught me how to make. You would sew us dresses from scratch, a level of commitment I just don’t have, but thanks to you I have modified more than a few thrift store finds.
Dad, every time I build a campfire I do it how you showed me. I also know how to paint a wall, how to saw a board, and how to keep a lawn looking tidy, all because you taught me.
Thank you, Mom and Dad, for instilling in me a lifelong love of books and music. You kept more books on your nightstand than a lot of people have in their entire house. We would go to the library every couple of weeks and return home with five or ten books each. Mom, you read out loud to us kids at lunch time every day, and to the whole family on road trips. That was a brilliant way of getting us kids to settle down in the car, by the way, because we couldn’t be fussy or get into fights when we were busy hanging on your every word. One time, you were reading Lord of the Rings to us and were within three chapters of finishing Return of the King. So we all got in the car and took a spontaneous day trip up the thumb of Michigan just so we could finish the book.
Music was part of daily life. Whether we were singing hymns during family bible time, or putting on marching band music and making up silly dances, it was a rare moment when there was no music to be heard. I remember us kids sitting under the piano while you played it, Mom, because we wanted to get as close as possible to the sound. I also remember you playing a piece called “Midnight Fire Alarm” over and over while we pantomimed rescuing everyone and everything from a fire. Or we would all be in the living room, playing with the couch cushions (which made an excellent fort), or coloring (because you always encouraged our creative endeavors too), with a tape or a record playing in the background. Later on, you didn’t really like our teenage music choices, but you would have never told us to stop listening.
Thank you, Mom and Dad, for constantly modeling generosity and hospitality. You never had much money but you were always willing to share. You would often invite people to come home with us from church for Sunday dinner. Our home was always open to friends passing through, and since we lived near the Detroit airport, that happened quite a lot.
I know you always had a lot to deal with. Raising three children on one small salary, several recurring health problems, and later on, Dad losing his job altogether. But it was never a question that we would give whatever we could to those in need. We would always donate used clothes, books, and toys. Mom, you coordinated the women at church to bring meals to people who were sick, having surgery, experienced the death of a family member, or had a baby. Whenever there was an opportunity to help anybody, we would show up. Mom, you have spearheaded a wonderful effort to make beautiful quilts for newly married couples and to make baby blankets and quilts to give to new mothers and to donate to women’s shelters. Even now that you have a full time job, you can still be found making meals for others and endlessly sewing or quilting for those in need.
I haven’t stayed true to the doctrine you taught me but in a more important way, I strive to live up to all the important values you modeled and instilled in me. So for these things, I am grateful to you every single day.