Updated: Sep 9
A car accident couldn't kill my parents' legacy
When people find out about my tumultuous teen years, most are baffled because I seem so ‘untroubled’ today.
I suppose I am relatively trouble-free. I have a solid 27-year marriage, our three adult kids are making good life choices, we own a home and a car, and the fridge is usually filled (mostly with condiments). There was the breast cancer diagnosis last year but I’m through the worst and am trusting that is all in my past.
You could have turned out so different, I’ve heard.
I would never have known, you seem so happy and well-adjusted.
It could have been so much worse. You could have become an addict or super depressed or whatever.
You just seem so unaffected.
It was thirty-seven years ago so I’ve had a bit of time to adjust to being an orphan and all that has come with it.
When asked what got me through those years and how I managed to turn out ‘okay’ my answer comes without hesitation:
The grace of God and my parents’ love for each other and for me.
Although the physical display of that love was severed the instant those two cars collided, it had already permeated my insides and it lasts even up until today.
George and Jane, as hip and cool as their namesakes in the cartoon, The Jetsons, were a unique couple. Born in Holland and raised in the Christian Reformed Church after immigrating with their families as young children, they were not as reserved as many who grew up in the church.
My dad was the third youngest of nine and my mom was the second youngest of six.
More carefree than their responsible older siblings, they loved a good laugh and to pull a prank or two. They could chat up a storm with anyone. They both dropped out of high school, met at a church youth conference, and married young.
They were the favorite aunt and uncle to many of my forty-seven first cousins. Yes, you read that number correctly. The Dutch ‘go forth and multiply’ and they do it well.
I’ve heard stories of cousins who would confide in Uncle George or Aunt Jane instead of their own parents because my parents were so much younger (and therefore more in tuned with youth perhaps?) than my aunts and uncles. They didn’t have veteran parent status but they were warm and accepting and non-judgemental.
My cousins would babysit and have parties although they knew that was a no-no. After an earlier-than-expected arrival, my parents gave a stern word or two and then my dad would pull up a chair and join the young lads in a game of Euchre. Sighs of relief all around the table.
They didn’t talk down to you. They didn’t hold a grudge. They dealt with things and then moved on.
They weren't Ward and June Cleaver but they listened, they laughed, they didn’t take life too seriously.
When we moved provinces that didn’t stop my older cousins from road-tripping it to our house. Truth be told, I felt a little jealous sometimes. I also wondered what was so amazing about my parents that these guys in their early twenties would want to drive thousands of kilometers just to hang out with my mom and dad.
The coffee was always percolating at our place. No wonder I’m addicted today.
Friends and neighbors knew they could drop in day or night and our door would be open. White Corelle mugs dangled from brass hooks underneath our cupboards. A Bic lighter and a cigarette were always within reach if that was your fancy.
We were not a family of means but we lacked nothing. We had enough for a casserole at dinner and every once and a while, an ice cream cone for dessert. We rarely got the name-brand lunch snacks, I longed for a Flakie or a Twinkie in my brown bag lunch like some of the other kids had. On a special occasion, I do remember a chocolate Wagon Wheel thrown in there.
My mom was home while my dad brought home the bacon. The insurance settlement after the accident revealed that he didn’t bring home much bacon but us kids would never have known any better. I mean, we knew we weren’t rich but we were happy.
And I realize now that happiness, like money, can be banked and it can also be compounded, growing on its own as the years go by.
I’d love to know what my mom did while the four of us were off at school. Honestly, besides the laundry, tidying up, and food prep, I think she mostly hung out on the front porch with friends and neighbors — chain-smoking, chugging java, chatting, and chuckling. I’m not diminishing a woman’s choice to stay at home and the work involved. I stayed at home with our kids. But I suspect I cared way more about home ‘stuff’ than my mom did. She was all about people.
She had her driver's license but she didn't like to drive. I can't remember any car driving experiences with her. Dad was at the helm of the vehicle in every car ride scenario in my brain. I don’t remember her helping out at school (did they have parent volunteers back then?) if we did anything after school, we’d find our own way home. When my brother played hockey and for the short time that my sister and I had piano lessons, my dad took us.
We didn't have a second car so she couldn't have gotten around much even if she'd wanted to. Was she lonely? Did she care? It didn’t seem that way. But I was a kid, doing my kid things and having my kid feelings so what did I know or care?
What I did know and feel was their love for each other and for us.
I’d often catch Dad smiling at Mom from across the room. Our living room might be full of the laughter of friends - legs, and arms splayed across our banana-yellow couch and armchair. She’d be cracking a joke or exaggerating a tale, all eyes on her. He’d be busting a gut just like everyone else. He so enjoyed being with and around her.
The Dutch dish with potato and sausage and her pork chops with scalloped potatoes were some of my favourites. Every spring she baked rhubarb crumble and sugar cookies at Christmas .She wasn't a gourmet chef by any means but he loved every meal she laid in front of him. She couldn’t impress him with a college degree or any specialized skills.
She didn’t need to.
Dad was strong, generous with his time, and hospitable. He wanted the best for her and for us. They weren’t in competition with each other. They were partners and teammates and lovers.
(I found the ‘lover’ part out quite literally when I was twelve and thought I heard a mouse squeaking in the middle of the night. Their bedroom was above mine, and the door always open. I went up to let them know there might be a rodent loose in the house. I caught them, cough, off guard. It was shortly after that I got the most embarrassing sex talk, my mom holding her giggles the whole way through. She would have loved it that I’m sharing this story.)
Jane and George weren’t perfect but they were perfect for each other.
I think Mom longed for her family while living so far away for so many years. Together, they decided to move back to their home province for my dad to start a new career, but I’m sure a big part of that decision was for her to be close to her family again.
It was going to be our last move as a family. And it was our last move. As a family.
My secure and carefree childhood with parents who loved each other was my foundation. And even though I walked a slippery slope for many years, the foundation was set. The love my mom and dad displayed so openly to each other and to all those around them kept me upright.
The impact of their love has lasted decades after their deaths.
Love. It is the greatest of all things.
It is the answer.
And every second of your love counts farther into the future than you realize.