Columbia Town Hall

These images from the Virginia town of Columbia were garnered a few days ago while I was on an assignment for the paper I shoot for–The Fluvanna Review. See my comments yesterday if you missed it–there’s more info you might like to be aware of in viewing these images. Anyway–here’s today’s commentary.

Six or eight years before my mom died I was visiting her in her mobile home in North Carolina—the same mobile home where my dad had died about 12 years before. I think I had come down from Virginia to help my brother (who lives near her) to make some repairs.

We had finished up our project and my brother had gone home. I was alone with mom for the evening and did something I’d been meaning to do for quite a few years. And for all the years since—I have been incredibly glad I did. I asked her to tell me all about how she met my father and the early days of their 43 year marriage.

A lot of it had the formulaic sheen of mythology—a number of neat little anecdotal aphorisms—but hey—it was her life to remember and explain anyway she damn well pleased.

I had heard little comments and stories growing up but it was like being in and out of the room while a TV show was on so you came away with only disconnected bits of the narrative. This was my chance to hear the whole story—the story of how I began—a story only my mother could tell. I knew back then quite well—it was a story that would be lost forever in not very many more years—and I was absolutely right.

Mom was a teen-age waitress in some scummy little diner in McAlester, Oklahoma during the Second World War. She had dropped out of school to help support the family. (Many years later she earned her GED. When I—her first child—was born she promised herself she would finish high school before I did—and she did.)

My father was stationed nearby—Fort Sill in all likelihood—where I was trained in artillery warfare many years later. He didn’t go overseas and rarely talked about his military service. He was proud of having served his country but I suspect he was disappointed he never served in a combat theater. He didn’t talk about his service, I think, because there simply wasn’t much to tell—no war stories. It’s just as well. From what I observed of him growing up I’m certain he had a generalized anxiety disorder and could not have tolerated the stress of combat.

Apparently he went into McAlester on weekends and had his meals at the diner my mom worked at. When they met—she was 17, maybe 18 and dad was 36 (I know—huge age difference but what can you say—it was a different time).

The way my mom tells it he flirted with her the first time she brought him his food and the second time he ate there he told her, “You know, I’m going to marry you.”

After several months of seeing her at the diner and visiting her at her home (a shack—literally—in the dried-up little prairie town of Quinton—8 or 10 miles from McAlester) they did get married.

The ceremony was in the Quinton Town Hall—which I imagine to be a lot like the Columbia Town Hall seen here. They bought a license one day and were married by a justice of the peace the next day (mandatory 24 hour waiting period). There were two witnesses, my grand mother (mom’s mom) and a clerk they pulled in from another office next door. They had supper at mom’s “house” after and my father had to be back at the base that evening.

17 or 18 years later—while I was in high school and had just started dating—my mom and I were driving across town and she expressed concern about the possibility of my knocking up a girl friend (trust me—I knew how that plumbing worked and there was no chance of that occurring).

I laughed and told her it just wasn’t gonna happen. Then she suddenly started crying and mumbling something about some terrible secret and “if you knew…” I think I nodded and said something like, “whatever it is doesn’t matter, you’re my mom, I love you and nothing can change that.”

A few days later I dug up mom & dad’s marriage certificate and my birth certificate and—I’m sure you’ve guessed it—there was a 32 day discrepancy. And nope—nothing changed for me in the least. I was having sex (outside of marriage, obviously) by then and mom & dad’s “early honey-moon” helped me to see them as ordinary human beings—nothing more.

It’s easy to forget that parents are just like their children—we all have secrets—things we are embarrassed about or ashamed of but I believe in Karma. Sooner or later we all pay for the things we do with the suffering that inevitably comes our way.

Think about it.

Think about some thing or things you’ve done you’re ashamed of. Then think about the suffering you’ve experienced. That suffering was the price of your immaturity, anger, pride, poor judgment, whatever. Chances are the score was settled long ago.

When we remember the hurt we have caused we feel guilt, regret, shame—maybe even self-loathing. When we remember the suffering we have experienced we feel anger, resentment, indignation. But if you put the two together on the same ledger sheet—chances are it all balances out—the anger and guilt cancel each other out.

If your parents are still alive, in good mental health and you’re on good terms with them—I urge you to spend some alone time with them. Encourage them to share their “town-hall” story with you. It can lead to better self-understanding and a greater appreciation for your folks as human beings—who are just as flawed as you are.

Trust me—the day is fast approaching when you will no longer have the option.

FacebookTwitterDeliciousGoogle GmailGoogle ReaderDiggShare

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge