Growing Up in the Midwest


Grandma Watkins used to love to tell about how my Dad, and his two brothers, Major and Charlie, as well as their Dad would come in the house in the evening and if they saw Grandma had baked a pie, they would all fall on the floor and fake fainting.

Mom on the other hand was a saucy and classy farm girl. Mom’s father hired my Dad as a hired hand and he quickly won Mom’s attention. He was three years older and attended the same school. I have seen the picture of Mom’s classmates. There were a few stunning young ladies in the group, but Mom was one of the prettiest. I don’t think Dad ever told us why he fell in love with Mom, but I am certain her beauty was a significant factor.

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Guess she was probably the pick of many men that observed her, but somehow he was handsome, gentle, and sweet enough to win her eye. They made quite a nice looking couple all through their lives. I have no doubt that my father’s eye never lost his focus on his first love—the prettiest rose in a garden of a thousand vegetables and a hundred flowers.

Polarities explain much of my life. The Jewish rabbis teach that two opposites can both be true and I remember both Mom and Dad in conflict with each having a valid reason for their positions. Those differences enriched the life of our family. Differences between two people can be good or bad. It’s all in how they blended. My folks had very different character traits that they employed to complement each other. When Dad was gentle, Mom was forceful. Dad had the last word on critical questions, but Mom made most of the day-to-day decisions. Neither seemed intent on controlling the other, nor were they bent on changing the other. When Dad chose to retreat to his silent comfort zone, Mom took leadership. When Mom was weak physically, Dad moved forward to take the reins. They both agreed on the important issues of life. My folks never argued in front of Carolyn and me, but they did voice their perspectives in normal voices. Dad usually ceded when there were serious differences of opinion. There were times when I wished my Dad had been more forceful. People would say that he chose carefully where to stand his ground; and when he set his feet, he was not to be moved.

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My alpha farm-wife mother modeled a Renaissance lifestyle demonstrated by no one else in our community. She would often say to my sister and me, “Today, we are going to dedicate the afternoon to making visits.” She explained that we needed to relate to a variety of people and experiences. One Sunday afternoon we would deliver a basket of sweet corn to the only dwarf in our county, another day she might load us into our 1953 bright and deep green Oldsmobile to visit older neighbors to learn from their wisdom, or she might take us to town for hickory nut bread and tea at the only highbrow bakery in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. Seldom did a week pass without a visit to the library or a reminder about the importance of manners and personal initiative. We learned about finger bowls and lobster bibs without lobster. She modeled an inclusive world-view, taught her children an entrepreneurial approach, and encouraged me to write. She often stated her mantra for us, “You can do anything you want to do. Dreaming, planning and performing is the blueprint for success.”

 

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