Musings On My Parents: Part One

The more I begin to know my parents–through memories and the things they left behind–the more I begin to understand their relationship. Why it happened. What went wrong. Why there was never another woman for my dad. Why my mother moved on to men who were in many ways a lot like my father, and one who even looked just like my father only older.

My mother had a type, I’ve discovered. First of all, her men had to be brilliant craftsmen of one sort or another.

One boyfriend from her college days was a talented painter who now owns a successful gallery in Provincetown (yes, he’s gay, but according to him they made wild love in the sixties). Her first husband is a photographer, an eloquent and frequent letter-writer, and a surprisingly good Christmas present-wrapper. My father was an expert welder and metal fabricator, a good carpenter, a good mechanic, a great teacher, a human road atlas, and he had an impeccable driving record in both cars and 18-wheelers. The man after him was a metal worker as well, a passionate chef who made his own pasta, a motorcycle-rider, and a green thumb, particularly when growing hot peppers. The next (and I think last) one was a finish carpenter who made and collected boomerangs, played the saxophone, cooked with a wok like he was Asian, and introduced me to the concept of sarcasm (and a lot of weird jazz music).

My mother’s lovers were very different men, with many very different interests and a few common ones. The thread that connected them all, from her college days until she became too sick to really have relationships anymore, was talent. Not just the ability to do something, but the innate gift of doing it well. Doing it better. Doing it with an identifiable style. She liked men who were already so good at what they did that they couldn’t help but teach other people.

She, too, was that talented.

My mother was a silversmith, a goldsmith and a blacksmith. She worked with leather, wrote poetry, drew compulsively, and cooked without recipes. She played the guitar, the oboe, the flute, and the piano. She sewed her own clothes, and clothes for me. She grew exotic tulips and tomatillos in the garden, taped music off of public radio, and loved to sail. She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty; in fact she loved getting her hands dirty. It was what she lived for.

She was my father’s type, to a tee.

My father had no patience for incompetence, and by his standards nearly everyone was incompetent. He respected people who worked hard to be the best at what they did. He was so tough himself, he probably would have laughed at a woman who was too squeamish to gut a fish. He loved to have long conversations, and would have quickly become bored with a woman who couldn’t challenge him and occasionally win. He detested what he called “cookie cutter” women, and always encouraged me to have my own personal style.

My mother had style. Hers was part carpenter, part hippie, part Jackie O., and part Isadora Duncan. She wore gorgeous silk scarves with jeans, handmade leather sandals and giant movie-star sunglasses. She drove a black MG with red leather interior, smoked marijuana, and drank Kahlua and cream out of the same thumbprint glass goblet every night. She had diamond-paned windows in her house, and named her cat in French.

I know she had no problem matching my father in conversation or argument. She’d never let a man bait her hook, or complain that her nice clothes might get dirty.

Of course they were so much alike, it’s no wonder they didn’t get along…

~ by saltgirlspeaks on 15 December, 2010.

One Response to “Musings On My Parents: Part One”

  1. Martha, thank you so much for sharing this wonderful tidbit about your folks. I remember you mom, though I don’t think I ever met your dad. I remember her, before she became wheelchair bound, as a very hippie-ish lady, and I remember that your house was always very artsy and sort of had that “unfinished” feeling–but of course, we were only little kids then. It’s interesting as adults how we can reflect on our parents and on their relationship and why it didn’t work. Mine didn’t talk like normal people for 20 years, and then this crazy thing happened………now everyone is really great friends! It’s crazy. anyway, we could talk parents for hours…..but I’m really looking forward to musings part 2!

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