This is a Valentine to the family in which I was raised, quirks, quarks and all.
My mother is an artist, with an artist’s soul and an artist’s eye. I also believe she has an artist’s genes; her grandfather and my daughter were born to the medium of oil painting. Because my mother married a theoretical physicist–a professor–it fell upon her to manage most of the more concrete tasks of life with three children in which I was the middle child and only girl.
My mother has one of the kindest and most sensitive hearts out there. She was the neighborhood mom. A steady stream of young children, then teenagers, would appear in our house and help themselves to bountiful snacks and and the warmth of a household governed by someone capable of being shocked at descriptive words some of our teenage friends would hurl towards their own parents.
One of the things I admire most is that my mother managed to pull this off without having grown up with her own mother, who died when she was very young–too young consciously to remember her, and far too young to have had the benefits of a model in how to mother.
My father still lives the daily lesson of doing what one was born to do, unconcerned with any of its tangible rewards–or the lack thereof (although having one’s own festshrift is a pretty selective honor). He believes in curiosity. And although I am convinced that my father and husband and children have unparalleled mathematical and scientific minds, I know they all would say otherwise. As Albert Einstein is said to have noted, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
Here my parents intersect: they don’t give up, and they did not allow us to settle. Not abandoning the more mundane tasks helped set the tone for later challenges in life. I wanted to take shortcuts. At the age of nine I was ready to hurl a sewing machine bobbin to the ground in frustration, impatient to just get to the sewing part on some bright blue-on-blue pieces of fabric from England, and avoid the byzantine but essential threading process. My mother explained that a few minutes of steadily puzzling out those necessary first steps would get me there much sooner, and enable me to get there again thereafter.
We had a childhood of ordinary activities, and quirkier ones–like annual “theoretical picnics,” the signs for which I can still visualize, and which must mightily have puzzled bystanders; summers at Brookhaven National Laboratories (where physicists were constantly losing their keys in the sand whenever they joined their families at nearby beaches, and the parking lots ended up with passels of cranky, stranded, sunburned children who could be appeased only with Italian Ice); and as a toddler proudly reading Betsey’s Adventure in the Woods to a Nobel Prize winner. (He never let on that my accomplishments paled next to his.)
My big brother has had a very difficult few years. We were non-Irish “Irish twins,” so close together that because I started kindergarten early (I went with my mother to the School Superintendent’s Office and recited the alphabet backwards, upon his request, to show I was ready for the rigors of learning among five-year-old scholars; my mother understandably was ready to get me out of the house), I did the unforgivable and ended up in my older brother’s class.
Despite that less-than-auspicious recipe for sibling rivalry, my brother dropped everything whenever it counted, including flying out to be with me when my husband was last in the hospital and when, finally, my husband came home. Though I was incapable of much coherent actual speech, I know he was always a text away despite what he was going through at the time.
My baby brother has always been an easy-going, steadying influence on all of us. He is the designated Breaker of Bad News because he’s the one we all know can handle it. He drove endless hours when my son was in the hospital and I was too sleepless and shaky even to drive; he abandoned many other things which needed attending when I called him that morning after Jim was diagnosed, and any time I needed him. He magically appeared inside our home after Jim died there; I still don’t know who called and got him there.
And he is one funny guy. His wife is a sister to me, too, a perfect match for my brother, who throws herself fully into both in the work she loves and the arts she treasures. She, too, despite having had some incredibly difficult recent years, has given us unconditional support, and I know it must be especially hard for her with her own trials and loss.
My love to all of you, always and always.
(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon