Sunday, July 26, 2009

Learning Passion from Your Parents

My husband and I are coming up on our 15th wedding anniversary. It hasn't been an easy road to maneuver. I was lucky enough (or cursed...not sure which) to have parents who were passionately in love with each other as my road model to marriage. In this case, the word passion can describe the good times and the bad times. There were more good times than bad times, but let me tell you, when the bad times came there was a lot of passion about who was right and who was wrong!

My early years were spent in a small town outside of Boston, Massachusetts. This was the town that both my parents' family had settled in when they came from Ireland. My grandfather was the superintendent for schools. His wife, Catherine, however died when my father was only two years old. She had tuberculosis. Dad was raised by different members of the Collins family and a housekeeper who took most of the cash given to her for the weekly groceries and fed my father a concoction of white rice and raisins which left him with a permanent grudge against and rice products. Because of my grandfather's standing in the community, they were considered to be a well-off family. Members of the local yacht club, housekeeper, and only two kids in the household. As an Irish Catholic family this was not the norm, even in the Great Depression. My dad was born in 1930 and my mom in 1933.

My mom on the other hand, grew up, technically on the wrong side of the tracks. She was the youngest girl of 13 brothers and sisters. There were two younger brothers after her. My grandfather Cahill worked multiple jobs to make ends meet for his large family. He was also the main cook, disciplinarian and bread winner of the family. He was totally devoted to my grandmother and my mother was his baby girl. He did things for her that the other sisters (and brothers) did not get. For instance, he bought her a car when she was old enough to drive. She didn't have to "help" with the chores around the house. In other words, she was a spoiled young lady!

I give you this brief history of my parents and the way they were raised so you may have a little insight to my parents "passionate" marriage. My mother came into their marriage with little knowledge about being a wife. She didn't know how to cook. She didn't know how to keep house. She definitely didn't know about sex and devoured all my pamphlets on the monthly miracle we woman have been bestowed when the school had "THE TALK" session in 5th grade. The pamphlets seemed to answer a lot of questions she had but still wouldn't talk to me about it. She went from a home that took care of her into another home where she was to be taken care of.

My dad, on the other hand, was brought up with a distant father who lamented the loss of the love of his life and never really got over it. He was not close to his children because he left it up to everyone else to raise them. My father hungered for a home of his own where he felt loved and wanted. Where someone would take care of him and he would take care of his special someone.

And then he found my mother. She was the best friend of the girl his best friend, Donald, was marrying. The only problem was that my mom was engaged to another guy. That didn't stop my father. He wooed her until she broke off her engagement and went out with him. On their first date, my dad leaned over as if he was going to kiss my mom but instead whispered in her ear, "You are going to be my wife."

And in a year, on June 4th, 1959, they were married. It's the stuff movies are made of...or at least a mini series. There was passion and drama and humor in their marriage. My mom even learned how to cook a few dishes when they lived in the attic apartment of a nice old Italian couple. I was born into that apartment and my older brother and I called them Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma taught my mom how to make spaghetti sauce from scratch and lasagna and pizziola.

When I was in third grade, some drama came to the marriage. Wedding vows, Commandments, etc. were broken. A new music teacher came to down and she was a "gay divorcee" which in 1970 was still not that common in a 98% Catholic town. I do not know when and how they met but a relationship was formed with Miss Beaver (yes that was really her name) and my father. All of a sudden, I was getting asked to sing solos at the assembly the chorus groups had for parents. Miss Beaver would miraculously show up to the places we were. She was a bit of a stalker I'm afraid.

Soon after the shady coincidental meetings started to happen, a dark blue Cadillac started appearing in our driveway when my dad was at work and we were at school. As I rounded the corner to walk down our street to our house, I could see it leaving our driveway. A dark-haired man driving. When I came home early one day because of some kind of malfunction at the school, the man was still at my house. They were both a little shocked when I walked into the house but I did not catch them in a compromising situation. They were sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee. I found out this was the man my mother dumped to marry my father. It turns out that my father had the affair first...really a mistake, one-night stand (was his version 20-years later). My mother wanted to retaliate by sleeping with Adrian Z (I can't remember his last name but it was Italian). Once they were "even," their marriage went on like nothing happened. But, within the year, we packed up everything, left family and friends and moved to Florida where Mom and Dad didn't know a soul and really had to depend on each other for love, companionship and friendship. Their marriage grew stronger. This is the time that they learned how to be each other's best friends, confidantes and partners. Life was good for the Collins' house in Florida.

Growing up in Florida was wonderful. Our land was covered in orange, grapefruit and tangerine trees. We had a pool and our house became the central entertainment house on the block. All the kids and all the parents used to hang out there. My parents brought to Florida their ability to socialize regularly. Any one of the half-dozen families on the block would stop by for cocktails at 5:00 pm sharp. A beer or a highball at the ready. I get my passion for entertaining from my parents. Not only did they party at home but almost every Saturday night, they would take off for the Moose Club with their new best friends the Wilsons to go dancing.

Even when they were fighting, it took on a sense of humor. I remember one spat about friends of my father who wanted to come to Orlando and stay at our home. It would require a lot of bedroom re-organization to accommodate a married couple and their hyper-active kid. My parents were sitting outside by the pool and every time my father said they were coming, my mother said, "No!" and bopped him on the head with an empty paper towel roll. They were giggling and laughing. All of a sudden my father picked my mother up, lawn chair and all, and threw her into the pool.

In 1977, however, their marriage took on another twist. My mother had a massive heart attack and needed to have a triple by-pass surgery. One important item to note here is that both my mom and dad were intensely uncomfortable with the medical world. As children, we did not go to the doctor unless our arms were hanging limply by our side, our head was cracked open or we were hacking so bad from bronchitis that they thought our insides were going to come out our mouths! My parents never even thought of going in for an annual check up. The only time you went to the dentist was if you had a toothache. There was no such thing as preventative care.

In the 70's a heart by-pass wasn't as routine a surgery as it is today. There was a lot more risk associated with it. My mother didn't want the surgery. She kept saying that she was alive today and she couldn't take the risk. So she didn't have the surgery. As the years went by she steadily lost the use of her legs. The doctors kept attributing it to the lack of oxygen going to her limbs. My dad expanded his care taking to include her.

What the doctors missed was that my mother actually had multiple sclerosis. Until her death in 1992 my father was by her side. He retired from work at 55 so he could be her caretaker full time. Their devotion to each other was incredible. After my mother's death, my father passed away within a year. I think he died of a broken heart.

My husband and I have had our ups and downs in our marriage but at the end of the day, he's my best friend, my lover and my partner. His strengths match my weaknesses and my strengths match his weaknesses. I know we can overcome the downs and share the joy of our up times!