They wanted #039;better#039; for us

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 4, 2001

For as long as I can remember I knew I would one day go to college. It wasn't a subject my parents chanted like a New Age mantra to put me to sleep every night.

They never browbeat my two older sisters or I into making all "A"s either.

We simply knew they valued education deeply and wanted us all to have the opportunities in life they missed out on.

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"Do your best, girls, that's all we ask," they'd say.

For the most part, I think we did.

We knew their road had not been easy.

My dad was the son of a well-to-do local landowner and entrepreneur.

Daddy had several older siblings who graduated from Auburn University.

By the time Daddy's own high school years came around, the nation was in the middle of the worst economic depression in its history. Grandfather made my dad rise at dawn and spent hours every morning milking cows and doing other farm chores.

Daddy was one tired teenager before he even started his school day at Butler County High.

My dad never did finish high school.

He was so worn out by his work schedule at home he finally dropped out at 16.

I'm sure at times he looked at the greater material successes, the white-collar positions that his brothers and sisters had climbed to and wondered, "Why not me?" He wanted 'better' for his girls.

My mother grew up in the hills of East Central Tennessee surrounded by a loving brood of eight brothers and sisters who had very little in the way of material wealth.

Circuit riding preachers like my grandpa didn't earn much money.

My grandmother worked long hours in a laundry to help out with finances.

Still, the 'ends' rarely met in the family budget.

Mama attended school at Pleasant Home Academy, a private boarding school geared toward the sons and daughters of the wealthy.

Mama earned her keep as a day student there by doing the ironing for some of the girls.

"Those boarders looked down on us as a bunch of country bumpkins . . . they didn't want to lift a finger to do for themselves," she recalls. (To this day she does not like to iron.)

Still, Mama was getting a good education, one that would allow her to go on and receive training as a practical nurse.

It was exciting to work in a real hospital.

One of the staff doctors, a lady M.D., was so impressed with Mama's skills she wanted to take Mama to India with her.

There my mother would complete her nurse's training and become a certified R.N.

Oh, the possibilities open to her . . . the places she might see!

But she chose instead to stay behind, opting eventually for marriage and motherhood and working as an L.P.N. at the old Spier Hospital in Greenville.

She wanted my sisters and I to have the chance to get a higher education without having to go overseas and leave our families to do it.

She wanted us to have all the books and music lessons and art supplies that her own family could never afford to supply for their houseful of children. She wanted 'better' for us.

My dad has a real gift for "ciphering" he passed on to my eldest sister Debbie, who became a talented R.N. like my mom.

I often wonder, if he'd been given the chance to complete his education, what sort of career Daddy might have had in the field of mathematics.

My mom is a very giving and charismatic woman.

I sometimes imagine she might have become a sort of Baptist "Mother Teresa" in the mean streets of Bombay or Calcutta. Instead she raised a daughter, my sister Sara, who unselfishly gave of her time and talents to help the visually impaired as a rehabilitation counselor for the deaf and blind, winning "Caseworker of the Year" on more than one occasion before health problems forced her to an early retirement.

And there's me, the unexpected, but nonetheless loved, youngest child. I am a curious mix of both my parents: a father who is imaginative, likes hearing and reading about the "old days", a whimsical soul who always wants to find

"a little laughter in life"; a mother whose heart is hopelessly tender toward the young, the helpless and the frail, someone who can be full of

fire and emotion, touched with a

righteous indignation when she sees injustice in the world around her.

My parents made sure we had the basics of life: food, clothing, shelter--and a chance to broaden our horizons.

They gave up many things in order for us to don our caps and gowns and receive those coveted degrees.

They knew, long before the term became a catchphrase for a national organization, that "a mind is a terrible thing to waste."

Thanks, Mama and Daddy, for giving us all a gift that keeps on giving.

Your efforts were not in vain.