Growing up both my mother and father worked full time. In our home town in the 1970s, to have both parents working was not a common practice in most households. My father was a paper loader for a local company, International Paper. My mother was a postal clerk in our small town. A job she was offered without even applying. Neither one of my parents graduated from high school and this fact fueled the fear in my mother of never being good enough.
My mother’s day would start bright and early. Like many working mothers she would fit in vacuuming, throwing in multiple loads of laundry and making sure the house was tidy before she left for her second job. There was certainly pressure in those times for all women to keep a clean house and to make the family’s needs a top priority. At noontime, she would come home for a two-hour lunch break. Never to rest or get caught up on her soap operas. It was time for her to prepare dinner, pay bills and complete any unfinished household tasks.
After dinner, mom would take care of her garden, oversee the tasks my sister and I were assigned and would read thick paper manuals to keep up with the changes within the postal service. She wanted to make sure she was prepared for any question that she would be asked; rates on foreign packages, which items would go to “dead letter” when someone had their mail forwarded and scores of other questions. She did not want to be asked a question she could not answer.
My father not only worked at the paper mill but also had a variety of side jobs to bring in extra income into our household. His large red dump truck was used for moving businesses, removing down trees and transporting unwanted items to the local trash depot. I couldn’t wait until he returned, as often he brought me home a “treasure.” It might be a music box, a set of encyclopedias or my favorite, a frame for a bike that we would repurpose together.
At home, he always shared the workload. He would prepare a meal, pass the vacuum or pick up the groceries. Tasks at this time that were not always completed by the man of the house. Then he would move to outside jobs. Mowing the lawn, snow removal and raking the lawn to name a few. But of course, he would not do these tasks just for our yard he would do the neighbor to the right and the neighbor to the left. The neighbors were physically able to complete those tasks themselves but dad would say, “I have the mower out already I might as well do their lawns too.”
With most household tasks completed by Saturday, Sunday was a day for the family. After church, we would go across the street to my aunt and uncle’s house. Catching up on the news of the week, enjoying a home-baked treat and for me spending time with my cousins was always the highlight. During warmer weather, picnics were planned, fairs would be attended and perhaps a camping trip. The whole extended family was sure to attend.
My parents certainly led by example. At this time in their lives, they are no longer able to contribute in the way they did when they were younger. I watched them provide for the family, make family time a priority and show kindness towards others at every turn. I did not realize at a young age the impact this would have on my life. Helping me understand what truly is important. I now realize these values that they instilled were actually the most precious gifts that they could have given to me. Now as my own children have grown, and have lives of their own I can only hope that I have shared with them the gifts that their grandparents shared with me.