Seventy -eight years ago, on February 7, 1932, my mother married my father in San Juan Puerto Rico. Their marriage ended on March 5, 1978 with my father’s unexpected death. They were married just over forty-six years. How a child sees their parents’ marriage is rarely accurate – how they see their parents is oft equally inaccurate. I am hardly a child – but I confess to never having seen either my father or mother clearly, much less understood them.
I know very little about my father – I don’t remember many conversations, although he was a distinct personality in my life; but, he didn’t talk much. He wasn’t much interested in the persistent genealogical endeavors that consumed other family members’ time; He never talked about God, except to say thankfulness to “the man upstairs” was important. He joined the same church my mother attended, and was a church-goer.
Long after he was gone, his younger brother and sister, then in their seventies, told me he was expelled from high school. I knew he never finished high school; the reason was never given. I assumed hard times in a small, rural South Carolina town was the reason my father’s education stopped. And he never corrected my assumption.
About 1926, shortly before graduation, the school expelled him and another student, whose lineage was not as old, but whose family was as poor as his. My father was caught in an unfortunate game of “hot potato.” That potato was a new product only recently available in a pharmacy – a condom. The small town, without much else to divert attention marked both young men. I wonder how deep that humiliation went?
Within in weeks, my father boarded the train for Baltimore, where his older brother, an engineering graduate from Clemson, had made a successful start – financially and socially. He earned an accounting degree at night school, and found a promising position with the Federal Land Bank – marrying a beautiful young woman with a few family issues herself.
Not many people are alive who remember my parents, or their anniversary. Horace and Mildred Williams’ life together formed so much about what makes me, me – yet as the years slide by, I see how fleeting my understanding was of the people they were.
So, what’s my point, I can almost hear my son ask?
Take time to get to know people you think you know like the back of hand – whether it’s a parent, a sibling, a spouse or a child, or a friend.