January used to be a melancholy month for me. Before Mike. His coming into my world livened up my life on so many levels that it's now almost like every other month. I lost both of my parents on January 21, 1981 when I was 29 years old. It was an emotional, physical and intellectual explosion of sorrow, fear and confusion. They were in different cities at the time, died twelve hours apart from each other - and neither knew the other had died. For them, what a wonderful way to go. But for me - and my siblings, it was cataclysmic. I remember suddenly feeling as though I was in a tiny little wooden boat in the middle of a tumultuous ocean without oars to steer, the waves pushing my young son and me this way and that. Lost. That was almost 27 years ago.
My parents' names were Helen and Arthur. They were married in Peking, China (now Beijing), and loved Chinese art and the Chinese people. Growing up, we had hand-painted scrolls hanging on our living room wall. I remember them flapping with the breeze when my mother had the house fan blowing in the summer. My father always wanted to go back to China, but said it wouldn't be the same as when they were there, so never did.
From my perception, they were so different from each other.
My father was an introvert, I am sure; his favorite things done in solitude... gardening, fastidiously storing special stamps and coins in perfect, little containers while holed up at his desk in the corner of the bedroom, and traveling for business. Taking him to the train at the Emory depot was an adventure when I was little. My brother, two sisters and I would run along the tracks until the dinging of the train's arrival came, when we'd scramble up to the loading platform and give daddy a hug goodbye. He would give my mother a peck and then board the Silver Comet passenger train and slowly disappear around the bend and trees as the train left the station. He would always bring us little presents when he came back home. My favorite was a small stuffed monkey, whose arms and legs could be moved. My father taught me about plants and growing them and about loving animals. When our first dog, Missy, had her puppies, he came and got me - not my brother or two sisters - but me - to show them to me. I was in such awe that I know my eyes bugged out of my head looking at the little creatures - and I guess he just knew there would be a great and permanent connection. He watched me play with bugs my whole childhood and instilled in me that all living things were important and should be cared for. My father was serious and thoughtful, literary and neat, mechanical, angry enough to say "damn it" at times, and a hard worker. But he could be light and silly and tell funny and poignant stories at the supper table. He was self-contained and I never got to know him as well as I wanted before he left.
My mother was more gregarious, open and happy. She loved poetry and if she'd not married and become a "housewife" would have loved to dance. She played the piano, and I remember many nights falling asleep to her playing our old upright. She loved to read - and read to me when I was younger, as I was smushed up tight next to her on the couch. She was an optimist on the one hand, but worried about silly things on the other. She didn't like spontaneity and when I was old enough to hang out with friends and date, I'd have to ask her permission to do something weeks in advance. She didn't care about fashion or makeup and had a closet so small that I'd have a hard time putting all my boots and shoes in it - let alone any clothes. Everything bad seemed to happen when my father was out of town and she had to take care of things. She was independent in her own way and ran the house and us, and handed down most of the discipline on a day-to-day basis. Her best friend was Hannah, who had arrived recently from Austria, and they spent many afternoons drinking iced coffee underneath the maple tree in the back yard that daddy planted. My mother was both callous and sensitive, confused and sure, an emotional timebomb occasionally, yet cheerful most of the time.
I think I inherited the best of both of them. I still miss them. I guess missing doesn't ever really stop.
They would love the farm - and I wish they were here to see it. My father would walk around the entire property and tell me the names of all the plants growing there. He was a plant encyclopedia. My mother would like it, but would probably wonder how I'd enjoy being so far away from "everything". She liked being around people more than I do. But they would be very supportive - and I bet they would like Mike. Well, everything except his potty mouth. He curses like a sailor.
He's my family now and because of him January is now filled with love, hope and happiness. I think about my parents and wonder... and smile...