The Flip Side of My Parent’s Friends
I recently wrote about the wacky antics of some of Mom and Dad’s friends, but I didn’t tell the whole story. The real story is my parents always made friends more easily than I do. They are still friends with people they met in college and when I was little. Many of my dearest friends are my parent’s friends. My dad is an extrovert. My mom is shy but she learns people’s names, their children’s names and who is married to whom. Even with dementia, Mom knows our caregiver’s family relationships better than I do. She remembers which in-law, nephew or cousin belongs to whom. I need a playbook.
I am an introvert. My husband and I could sit side by side reading books all day and we are content. My dad introduces himself to anyone. He doesn’t like being alone.
Dad’s personality is good and bad. As a teenager, it was mortifying. He misses social cues. I remember my mom saying, “John, don’t bring “that” up with (Bill, Betty, Jane, whoever he had talked to), it’s a sensitive subject.” Dad was genuinely chagrined by his gaffes. He didn’t mean to hurt feelings, he just didn’t get it.
He used to bring people home for dinner with no warning. He just showed up with extras. He brought friends from work if he thought they needed a home cooked meal. It embarrassed Mom, because she liked being “ready” for company. We often had guests at the dinner table, missionaries, guest speakers from church or someone my dad was “taking under his wing.” Often just friends came over. We had lots of summer picnics.
As embarrassing as I found Dad’s brashness, people genuinely seemed to like him, and still do. Of course there were those who found him obnoxious but he never seemed to notice. He would just go on being nice to them, oblivious of their dislike.
I could relate multiple stories about my dad’s exploits which in my mind robbed me of any coolness as a teen. (I actually never was cool, but teenagers always hope.) In high school he drove me to school in a vintage black and hot-pink Buick—with a hole in the muffler. Not only was it loud, it was a visual standout. He thought it was great, our time together. I would slink out of the car and put as much distance between us as fast as I could.
In middle school the house next door had exquisite green grass, mowed daily. Our yard had dandelions, thistles and other assorted weeds. For some reason the road culvert ended between our yards leaving a water-filled ditch eight months of the year. One day my dad decided to fix it. Without telling anyone, he rented a backhoe, bought drainage tiles and went to work. The neighbors arrived home to mounds of dirt on their green grass. They were pretty teed-off. My dad’s counter was, “I didn’t want to dig up your yard running the backhoe on your side.” I don’t think they ever trusted my dad after that but the ditch was gone, the water drained off in the woods. None of it bothered Dad. Something needed fixing, he fixed it. Weeds? Who cares?
I’m grateful now, for my parent’s friend-legacy. They modeled loyalty, hospitality and commitment in their relationships with others. Yeah, I took some grief as a kid because we were kind of weird–did I tell you my dad had a telephone pole erected in our backyard? It had nothing to do with telephones. He mounted a gigantic ham radio antenna on top of it. Some friend of his was a lineman for the phone company, so of course we needed a telephone pole in our backyard. Who doesn’t? Definitely weird but there are worse things than having a strange family. Our house was always filled with love. We ate dinner together every night. My mom and dad are still together going on seventy years. My childhood was pretty fun and now I have my parent’s friends as my friends.