My mom, dad and little bro
Today, I want to take a step back and forget about this war, Iraq, the death, the destruction, and write about two people whom I deeply care about. My parents’ 27th anniversary is in two days and since I can’t be there to thank mom for putting up with dad all these years, I will write…
They met at a grocery store in Spencer, Okla., back in the late ‘70s. My father was a sacker. My mother, the checker, was way out of my dad’s league. Part Cherokee Indian, my mom had long, shiny black hair and dark skin. She wasn’t a beauty queen, but she could have been. My friends used to look at their wedding picture and ask “gosh, what did she see in your dad.” Pops was a scraggly kid with a bunch of zits. He was a trouble maker. As a kid, he tormented his younger brother. Once he set a booby trap that resulted in knocking out his little bro. When Russ came to, he asked what happened. “An apple hit you in the head,” my dad said. As ornery as he was in his early years, he matured quickly. He was a man at 16, working two jobs, going to school and maintaining his motor bike. I guess that’s what mom saw in him: a man who’d work his fingers to the bone just to support somebody he loved.
Around the time they met, mom was ironically dating an Army guy, who she canned when he was in boot camp. The man often referred to as “Billy K” went AWOL to get mom back. Too late, though, dad was moving in for the kill. For their first date, they went to a Pizza Hut, where my mom challenged dad to a “hot pepper” eating contest. Mom won, and I don’t think dad’s eaten a pepper since. I’m not sure how long they dated, but I was in the picture pretty soon. I was at their wedding, per se.
Friends offered to pay for an abortion, which obviously, I’m glad they declined. It was rough though, and I’m sure there were times, I drove them crazy. Mom was barely 18 and dad was 17 when I was born. Dad continued going to school and worked two jobs. He worked for a bakery and drove milk trucks. I think he was on a route when I was actually born, so I’m the reason a few folks in Oklahoma County didn’t get their milk on August 1, 1978.
Dad received his H.S. diploma and then enrolled in college. Mom had her hands full with me. He attended a small school, which has since been devastated by tornadoes, called Rose State. He worked two jobs, went to school full time and raised a family. I remember his college graduation. Mom said “Look, there’s your daddy. Look.” I tried climbing a light pole to get a good look, but I fell. It hurt. He came by and showed me his graduation medallion. At the time, I thought he was a war hero or something.
Then, came my baby brother. When mom was going into labor, I thought she was going to die or kill my dad. She was screaming like somebody was slowly driving a nail into her foot and grabbing my dad with those strong hands, not letting go. They dropped me off at grandma’s and grandpa’s and then went on to the hospital. I just bawled.
I later learned I had a brother. What a great joy, I thought, finally somebody else can get in trouble besides me. Nope. I got in more trouble as we grew older, and he got away with everything! My little brother shot me in the eye with a BB gun, and barely got a whippin’. He had mom’s dark skin and dad’s curly hair, and her affection when he broke something. He was my little bro, so I picked on him all the time. But the minute somebody else picked on him, I’d put a hurting on the perpetrator. We participated in the same sports and organizations. We rode bulls and broncos in rodeos, before he got hung up and nearly trampled. So, I made him quit while big brother kept riding. We showed pigs together in the FFA. Yes, that’s right, I was a farm boy and gosh darn proud. Once I paid $400 for a show pig, but of course, I was 14 or 15 and didn’t have any money. But dad, being the loving father he was and is, took on extra jobs just so my brother and I could participate in something together. And mom, she put up with two boys and a grown man coming in the house with pig manure caked on their clothes… not many beauty queens could take the smell of pig crap, trust me.
Then, I went off to college – go Pokes – and joined a fraternity. As I partied, I saw my family less and less… a time I wish I could take back, and spend more time with them. Nonetheless, my folks called all the time, encouraging me and ensuring I went to church. Then, I went to boot camp, where I read supportive letters from my family every day. After I graduated with a degree in agricultural communications – you learn how to talk to cows and pigs – I moved away from the only state I’d ever known. When telling my folks I was going away from home, I could tell they didn’t want me to leave. But all they said was “just chase your dreams, son. We love you.”
I took a job in Milwaukee, a place that is extremely cold and where I knew absolutely nobody. After two years of M-Town, I had a great job, made some wonderful friends and really liked the place and the people. I thought I was on top of the world at 24 and then I became sick.
Somewhere in between all the running in the woods and Army training, a tick bit me and changed my life. I came down with a rare form of Lyme disease. Swelling surrounded the back side of my brain, shutting the nerves off to the left side of my face and causing headaches that felt more like 2 million thumb tacks pressing against my brain. The complete left portion of my face dropped an inch. I looked like a Star Trek character. I went to the emergency room four times; each time being diagnosed with migraines. I put off telling mom and dad, because I didn’t want them to worry and well, I’m a grown boy now. When I called mom, who’s a medical professional, I could barely talk. I lost control of the entire left side and my lip flopped around like flabby man’s blubber on a run. Without hesitating or asking, my mom, my little bro and dad packed their bags and took the 16-hour drive from Oklahoma to Wisconsin. Mom went into the doctor’s office, not asking, demanding I be admitted and looked at by an infectious disease doctor. The way she handled the doctor reminded me of the time she chewed out one of my teachers for spreading roomers about me to her neighbors. “You will not talk bad about me boy, do I make myself clear?” Yes, said the teacher, who looked as if she saw a ghost. When it comes to her boys, my mom is not a lady you want to mess with.
My parents and little brother spent every day beside me in the hospital. And when I was OK to go home, but needed a nurse to hook up a daily IV, they were there to cook for me and clean my apartment and to feed my fish. They never said anything like “wow, this is really bad. The doctor says he’s never seen anything like this.” All they said was “I love you. And everything will be OK.”
Soon there after, I learned I’d be heading to Iraq. A lot of people say they realize how important their loved ones are when they go to war. Not me; I’ve always known. I love you, mom, dad and Jud. Happy Anniversary! Your boy will be home soon.