My Mom and Dad will be celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary in a few days and I hope that you will forgive me for using this space to honor them, their perseverance and love, and the passions and values that they have passed down that have affected my life, and the lives of many others.
My Mom has always loved to dance. As a teenager she went to the “sock hop” dances at the YMCA with her sisters. It was at one of those dances where my Mom and Dad first met in December of 1948. Dad was staying there while he attended WMU. He wandered down to the gym and noticed Mom through the crowd, but was too shy to ask for a dance. But Mom spotted him across the crowded dance floor and told her sister, “That’s the man I’m going to marry.” As the dance was ending my Mom went over and introduced herself. My Dad never had a chance. They were married a little over a year later. My Dad still talks about the sweater she wore that night.
They loved to dance together and they wanted to share that passion. They became expert ballroom dance instructors, owning their own studio for a time. Altogether, they taught ballroom dance for 63 years, at various studios including, the Fred Astaire Studio in Kalamazoo, the Arthur Murray Dance Studios in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek, The Douglas Dance Studio, at area schools, privately at home, and ten years at the Coover Senior Center, where they taught for about $2.00 a lesson, just for the love of teaching and sharing it. They are dearly loved by their students. They were both in their 90’s when they were forced to finally give it up. It took a broken hip, two strokes, and a heart attack to stop them.
Dad has always loved to sing, and he has a beautiful tenor voice. In high school he sang in the boys’ chorus, the a cappella choir, and the boys’ quartet. One of my most precious memories is standing next to him at church listening to him sing out loud and clear, completely unashamed, always, without fail.
Another passion of his is making people laugh. He always says, “it’s better to laugh than to cry,” and he always has a joke to make sure that happens. No matter where they go he is determined to make someone smile. To my Dad there are no strangers. He will stop cars in the parking lot to ask the driver, “did you know that all four of your tires are going around in the same direction?” Even though he has a beautiful voice, he started an unbreakable tradition in our family of always singing the Happy Birthday song completely off key – everyone in a different key, everyone singing as horribly and loudly as they can – no matter where we are, even in public places. This, much to the continued mortification of grandchildren, and now, great-grandchildren. Sometimes, when they were out dancing, my Dad would follow my Mom out onto the dance floor faking an exaggerated limp and as she turned to him he would straighten right up and they would sweep away like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. She never knew, but it made a lot of people smile.
Mom has had a life-long love of learning. Hard times during the Great Depression forced her to quit school midway through her senior year of high school and help support the family of thirteen. But she never gave up the dream of graduating and she received her GED in 1969, the same year I graduated high school. Mom went on to take classes at Orchard Lake Community College, University of Michigan (earning an A in psychology), Western Michigan University, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College, where she received her Associate Degree in Computer Science. She always told me, “You can learn something from everyone you meet, and every situation.” Though they were expert ballroom dance instructors, teaching at the “gold” level, Mom never stopped learning – and creating – new steps and techniques. Her message was clear: Don’t ever think you are done learning. Don’t ever think you know it all.
My Dad’s all-time favorite saying has always been “Keep your nose clean.” Whenever we left the house to go to school, for a date or a party he always said it. When we each moved out of the house, he said it. And still today, whenever I pull out of the driveway, he taps the side of his nose and we smile at each other. Keep your nose clean. Do the right thing. Stay on the good path.
Wherever they have lived they have always left the place better than how they found it. They fixed it up, sometimes finishing the whole inside. They also always landscaped the yard, planting lots of trees and flowering bushes. I can still drive by our old houses and see the trees they planted. And flowers. My Mom’s amazing flowers. Even if they only had a postage-stamp square of dirt at an apartment complex. Even if just a cement stoop, it displayed flowerpots. Nobody has a green thumb like my parents. People still slow down to look at the flowers.
Thank you Mom and Dad.
Leave the world better for you having been there
It’s better to laugh than to cry; cheer somebody up today
There is no such thing as a stranger
You can always learn something else; don’t ever think you know it all
Be who you are; share your passions and gifts
Praise the Lord with all that is within you, completely unashamedly
Do what you love, even if you don’t get paid much for doing it
Keep your nose clean