Secrets of One Long-Term Relationship: 51 Years of Uniqueness And Selflessness.

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The Story of Mom and Dad

My dad’s family was poor even without the Great Depression but it was during that time that my dad lived his childhood.  He was second oldest in a family of nine.  His oldest brother, Lewis, was two years his senior.  Basically they lived off the little food they grew and the handyman work performed by my grandfather.  When my dad was in the sixth grade, he lost his father to pneumonia and the family was left only with selling what little food they grew.  My dad (Everett) and his brother Lewis dropped out of school and went to work in a local slaughterhouse, cleaning up after the carcasses were removed.  At the end of each week they would treat themselves to an ice cream or other snack and hand the rest of their earnings over to their mom who would add it to the money from the vegetable sales and an occasional sewing job. 

Then, without regard to how much money there was, or the amount of bills due, my dad’s mom would count out ten percent and hand it back to my dad and his brother for their weekly errand.  Every Saturday morning, regardless of the weather, the two boys would walk this ten percent to the local orphanage where they would hand it over to the caretaker.  To this day I have never gotten an answer as to why my grandmother did this.  I just assume she was obeying her God.  For more than five years, the two boys carried out this ritual; until they both left to serve their country in World War II.  Lewis joined the Marines and fought in the Pacific.  My father being younger, lied about his age and became a helmsman in the Merchant Marines.  My dad piloted a troop ship across the English Channel to the beaches of Normandy June 6. 1944, one day before his 20th birthday.  During all their visits to the orphanage, the two boys got to know everyone there and even though their own life was tough they quickly learned there were always less fortunate people.

There was this one orphaned child, Eleanor, who was shy and kept mostly to herself.  At the age of 12 she had lost both her parents in an accident and her and her brothers were placed with the orphanage.  With the exception of her oldest brother who joined the army and died somewhere in the forests of Europe.  My dad always went out of his way to try and get Eleanor to talk.  Most days he had to settle for just a smile.  All through his life, it seemed my dad’s number one job was to make people smile and he was very good at it.  Over a period of time, my dad became smitten with Eleanor and they became friends.  Even when he went to sea during World War II my dad remembered Eleanor and kept her close to his heart.

After the war, he visited that little orphanage to find Eleanor now working as the caretaker.  He married her and less than a year later my oldest brother, Alan, was born (July, 1947).  My sister Randi came along in 1952, my brother Ted, in 1956.  I was created in 1963 and where Ted was my mother’s little boy, I was my father’s pride and joy.  Throughout their marriage and our upbringing, we children witnessed many shows of affection between our parents and the wisdom employed by my dad to ensure the marraige and my mother’s happiness.  The greatest was this:

Whenever my parents had an argument that threatened to get out of control, my dad would look my mom straight in the eyes and start singing “You are my sunshine” and it worked.  It worked because my dad truly meant every word as he sung them and my mother knew, in the deepest recesses of her heart, that he meant them.

I like to think that my mom was God’s gift to my dad for all of the weekly tithes his mom provided to the orphanage.  My grandmother lived long enough to see me born but died just a couple of months later.  I wish I could have known her, I think I would have liked her a lot.

We buried my mom on my parents’ fifty-first wedding anniversary and her seventy-fourth birthday.  My mom had a young girl’s dream of being married on her birthday and my dad had made that dream come true.  Through fifty-one years of marriage, he made many dreams come true.  My dad went on to join my mom in heaven in 1999, I miss him.  I miss them both.

© Robert C Burnham 

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