That's MY Kool-Aid!
The most effective of life’s lessons are not taught using words but, rather, actions. Actions speak louder than words for the obvious reason that words are only so much hot air, and require little energy to expend. Getting up and going to work every day of your life makes a bigger impression, than carefully explaining why you are not working because you refuse to work beneath your station in life.
In emphasizing the work ethic during yesterday’s post I revealed much about the inner workings of our family, while growing up on Fellowship Street. I humorously portrayed myself as the victim of an unrelenting Mama, who had the unmitigated gall to withhold 80% my paycheck, each week, much to my dismay.
I now declare that the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth was all a front, mere posturing for that one commodity that was always in short supply, attention. Oh, sure, I could always have used some extra loot but it wasn’t necessary.
Plainly speaking, I can emphatically state that I honestly did not begrudge the money that Mama demanded-er, uh, requested-from me each week. The reason is diabolically simple: Our family needed the loot. With nine of us when we were all assembled, plus the ‘rents, it required a mint just to keep food on the table. I just hated that there was no element of choice.
From Papa on down, everyone pitched in because to not do so, was to swim upstream. As Brian stated in the comments yesterday, in the beginning we kept a nickel of what we earned for every dollar we brought into the house; I got a nickel an hour to weed the berry gardens; I got a nickel a week for an allowance.
|Mama bringing Kevin home from the hospital, 1966|
This was a valuable lesson right here to learn, that every kid started at the bottom and worked his way up. There was huge incentive to make forward progress. But even as a child, it was not difficult to grasp the concept that I got paid in other ways than money for setting the table or cleaning out the fireplace: I got to eat good meals and sleep in a warm bed.
Yes, Mama would occasionally remind us of these things, not in such a way as to begrudge them, but merely by way of explaining the reality of the universe-our universe. We were constantly reminded that it didn’t matter what happened in other people’s houses-what mattered was what happened in R.P. O’Neill’s house.
As explanations went, it was always enough.
When I reflect that I can never remember being told I was loved, I am almost embarrassed to be thinking that I needed to be so informed: I did not. Love was woven into the fabric of our home in so many ways, that the words themselves would genuinely have seemed superfluous.
Papa went off to work every day of my school life (6:45), before we were even allowed in the kitchen to either eat breakfast or to make our lunches. We were already back from school before he got home at 3:45, so that was a pretty bold statement about love right there.
Papa taking us camping every summer, while cooking and doing the dishes himself, so us kids did not have to, was love. His insistence that our stacks on Christmas morning, be heavily weighed in favor of toys and books, in lieu of socks and underwear, was love.
Mama walking me all the way to Baldwin School, with four-year-old JT determined to keep up, infant Matthew in the stroller, and Grover the dog tagging along, because I was too frightened to go on the bus, was a pretty bold statement of love.
Mama, providing comfort for me, the evening following my first panic attack, and uncannily providing the exact advice that the best therapist I have ever had, provided, was another sign of unconditional love. She told me to go to a place I loved, inside my head, and build a wall around myself to keep out, whatever it was that was causing me pain.
Nothing for 48 years was powerful enough to stop the attacks, but Mama’s advice worked for all of the thousands of times when I dreaded an upcoming venue, because I was afraid of another attack. Anticipation, you know?
|Eric and John-Bryan, January, 1973|
Like attending mass every morning of my school life, in a freezing church, while expecting some kid to faint and hit the tile floor with a boom, like the first time it happened?
And folks wonder why going to church is not on my top-ten list of fun to-do things…
Home was the opposite, a warm and cozy environment, where the same sibling that was ready to tear your hair out by the roots, over the last glass of Kool-Aid, would turn around and rip that same hair out of the head of anyone who tried to hurt YOU.
No matter how intense the bickering may have been, the bonds that formed the fighting ring when we were close, were the same ones that fused us together when we were apart. Noel going off to school at Dominguez, made us realize how fragile/powerful those bonds were.
Fragile because any one of us could go off, for a short or a long time, and it would hurt, but powerful because as a unit, we knew nothing could stop us. Then Eric went off to school in Chicago for two years, leaving on that train when I was in eighth grade, and returning for for summer vacation, and completing the circle of family for a few months.
Brian went down to Guadalajara for a six-week immersion course in Spanish, and stayed for a year-and-a-half. I went and did the dumbest thing of all, and got myself drafted, and spent the next 21 months in the Big Green Machine.
On top of everything, we were told the story of Uncle Bobby, Mama’s brother, who walked away from an automobile accident when Mama was young, seemingly OK, only to pass suddenly from internal injuries not immediately diagnosed. His death left a hole in her heart that never fully healed, and she instilled that sense of loss in us all, lest we take one another for granted.
It goes without saying that Mama was able to do all of these things because she was in the home, and not working, like so many of today’s young parents, who must both work. I am not going to bird-walk into politics, but need to acknowledge that today’s young parents mostly cannot do what was done back when family values meant something, politically, and greed was not running the show. More’s the shame.
All of our unrelated experiences back home on Fellowship Street, combined to keep us readily aware of how powerful those bonds really were. Not only that, but those existing bonds, already an integral part of my makeup, got passed down to the next generation in some predictable and fortuitous ways.
If I am quasi-coherent tomorrow morning, it is my intent to zero in one of the most prominent of our family’s value, that of the work ethic, and how it got passed along.