One day, a 6th-grade boy with dark brown hair and thick horn-rimmed glasses noticed a new 5th-grader running in 501 Levi’s across the dusty Nevada playground, her braided pigtails bouncing as she laughed and played; she was oblivious to her secret admirer. As my dad tells it, “I knew right then that this was the girl I wanted to marry.” He was just a stinky eleven-year-old boy who wore his socks day after day until they could stand on their own, but he was irrevocably devoted to the blue-eyed, blonde-haired beauty. But her father worked for the Civil Service, and stretches of residential consistency were rare for the family who called South Africa, Alabama, California, Nevada and other locations home. Before my dad could work up the nerve to express his intentions of future marriage, she was gone.
Six years passed. Sandra had adventures around the world, while Frank stayed put in rural Nevada. Imagine his elation when, at the beginning of his senior year, she reappeared. Determined to never let her slip away again, my dad devised a plan. He knew that Sandra lived on a ranch an hour from school in the farming community of Big Smokey Valley. The ranch was a green oasis and lay nestled at the base of Pablo Canyon. A couple of miles on either side of Pablo’s canyon were two more. One weekend, my dad made the hour-long drive to Smokey Valley and intentionally got his truck stuck in a muddy bog of one of the neighboring canyons. Sandy had a brother Don, just one year older than her, with whom my Dad had become friendly, and Frank was sure Don could help his plan to fruition. So, he left his truck, stuck in the mud, and walked to Pablo Canyon Ranch. He found Don and explained his helpless “predicament.” After they pulled the truck from the mud, my dad hung out at the ranch long enough to meet my mom. I laugh when I think of the ordeal he went through just for an introduction. Wouldn’t, “Hi, I’m Frank,” in the locker hall or cafeteria have been easier?
But it did the trick. Though my mom was at first luke-warm towards my dad, it didn’t take long for his genuine heart and thoughtful disposition to win her over. They dated for two years and at ages 17 and 19, just three days after my mom graduated from high school, they were married. That was 45 years ago today.
They were kids! I know young marriages were common back then, but still. A little over a year later, they welcomed their first baby, my brother Tony. I followed two and a half years later and my sister, Angie nearly five years after me.
So, Mom and Dad. Happy Anniversary. I have a couple of things I’d like to say. You were the best parents. You ARE the best parents. You both endured incredibly challenging childhoods. You each would’ve had every excuse in the book to be poor spouses or parents yourself. You were not prepared for the task, but you rose to the occasion. You created a home full of love, peace and security where we were free to grow and develop with confidence. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I really understood that. Because you scrimped and saved and sacrificed so that every birthday and Christmas was magical and so that we had new school clothes every September. You opened your home and your dinner table so that our friends wanted to be there too. I’m sure you had disagreements, but what I remember more than anything was the steadfast love you had for one another.
If you’re anything like me, you may second-guess yourselves as parents frequently. You shouldn’t, because here’s the facts. You’ve got three kids, all happily married. One for 21 years, one nearly 20 and one for 13. You helped us understand how happily families can function and we all decided to have large families of our own. You took your less-than-ideal childhoods and made ours so much better.
Dad – I watched how you treated and continue to treat Mom. It had everything to do with the man I chose. With a dad like you, I was unwilling to settle for anything less. Thank you for taking us to church every Sunday. Thank you for sacrificing so much of your time to serve others. Though it often meant less time with us, it was an example to me of how important being generous with our time and talents is for a meaningful life. You taught me to be honest in all of my dealings. You taught me to work hard. You taught me that we don’t need extreme extravagance to find meaningful and lasting joy. We just need each other. I watched you care for Grandpa Cecchini when he was dying. I watched as you showered and fed him and took him on rides. I watched you do the same for your step mother and your step father. Did you know I was watching? Do you know how that’s impacted my life? You taught me through your actions about loyalty and love.
Mom, I know that I gave you hell. I don’t know why you didn’t ship me off to boarding school. I have to remind myself of the patience you had with me as I’m embarking on the “raising teenagers boat.” This is hard crap! Thank you for cooking dinner every night. I took that for granted growing up. But as a mother now, I understand what a commitment and act of love that is. Thank you for holidays and birthdays filled with excitement, fun and magic. Thank you traveling to the hospital every single day for six months to care for Grandma. We missed having you at home, but I know now how very important that was. That it was a sacrifice that you gladly made to care for your mother. Please know that I would do the same for you. Thank you for being as excited for my successes as I am. Thank you for praising me, even when I really don’t deserve it. Thank you for your support.
You two must know how much your twelve grandkids love you. Dad – thank you for teaching a boy with autism to drive. Thank you for letting him decide where to turn and how fast to go. Do you know how much that means to him? And to me? And thank you for teaching a boy WITHOUT autism to drive. And for taking him shooting and chasing him around the house and sword fighting in your bath robe.
Mom – thank you for making them each feel like they are your favorite. Thank you for rocking 12 newborns and reading hundreds of story books and adding DVD’s to your collection, just for the kids. Thank you for decking the halls for Christmas so that the kids feel like they’re at the North Pole. Thank you for not being afraid of holding a sick baby, then suffering for weeks afterwards because you did.
They ADORE you – the entire dozen. Grandma and Papa’s ranch is the closest to heaven on earth for each of them. Because you’ve invested equally in all twelve of them. Your parenting didn’t stop when your kids grew up. Your hearts simply expanded to allow more special people inside. These kids don’t love you by chance. They love you because you loved them first.
Thank you for loving each other. Happy 45th Anniversary! Here’s to many more!