Around this time of year you always see columns written about the people in someones life that they are thankful for. We all have them. Sometimes we have too many to thank. I have that problem.
Fact is, so many people have had a great influence on my life that it would be hard to pick any of the ones that aren't relatives and be fair to the others. And as for relatives, my wife knows how much I value her. My kids, well they have been a big influence on me (probably as much as I on them). But I have to go back to the beginning, to the first family I knew before I became a man. That family of course consisted of my mom, dad and two sisters.
The foundation of ones life is extremely important. Some think a tough childhood makes for better people, but I disagree. Some people become better because they overcome their childhood, others are better because they had such a good one. In no way am I perfect, but I think I am better because of the kind and generous core family I had.
My wife always tells me that my family life when I was young came right out of Leave It To Beaver or Father Knows Best. She thinks I had the perfect family. Well, not exactly. I know memories are prone to exaggeration and distortion, especially when seen through the colored glasses of childhood. But I do have to say, in agreement with my wife, mine was pretty darn good.
As a kid I had a lot of friends whose parents had more money than we did. I had a lot of friends whose parents took them on expensive vacations every year and spent weekends camping, boating and fishing. I had friends whose dad's were former all-state one thing or another and whose mothers who were former beauty queens. I had friends who parents were doctors, lawyers and university professors. Tall, blue eyed, blond haired, many of them were. Athletic and smart; smooth and intelligent. Initially I was impressed by these kinds of people, and some of them deserved that reputation. But many of them didn't.
Most seemed very happy, until I dug down in their lives by spending some time at their homes. Then I found no one, no family was perfect. It was then I found out how good I had it.
My mother was an immigrant from Holland. She never made it past the sixth grade because she had to go to work to support her huge family that had come over on the ship across the Atlantic. She started working in a bakery in Salt Lake when she was 13 and stayed there until she was 23 when she married my dad. It was the only outside the home job she ever had. She stayed home from the day my parents were married in 1939 to take care of my dad and us kids. She had no "professional" profession like some of my friends moms had. Sure they could always afford that new car, that Disneyland vacation, that huge Christmas tree and fancy clothes.
But I had something better; time with my mom. She wasn't rushing off to work or to some social function all the time. She was home with us; when I got up in the morning, when I came home from school, when I needed her.
My dad was a dairy farmer, through and through. He once told me he went to high school once. He walked in the front door and out the back door and that was the extent of his education.
While he shoveled cow dung in the manure spreader to fertilize our fields, some of my friends dads spent the day in court, doing surgery or teaching classes. To some his work may have seemed less important than theirs, but I never saw it that way. He used to say he was neither white collar or blue collar; his was a brown collar job.
It was and is people like him that feed our nation. It was a very honorable profession, that farming thing.
He started work at 4 a.m. and other than coming home for breakfast at 8 a.m., for lunch at noon, and for a snack at 4 p.m. he generally worked until 7 p.m. six days a week. On Sundays he still got up to milk the cows at 4 a.m. and worked until 8 a.m. Then he took the bulk of the day to do things around the house such as mow the lawn, fix stuff and tend to his garden. Sunday afternoon rides in the car was one of the highlights of my week as a boy. We would usually leave just after lunch and drive as far as we could go some direction or maybe go to the store. I remember two of my favorite places to go was Evanston, Wyo. and the trip over American Fork Canyon to Heber.
But we had to be back by 4 p.m. because you see those cows needed to be milked a second time, Sunday or not. It took some time to milk 90 cows in those days, even with the modern for that time equipment we had.
It was a 365 day a year job; there were no days off. He worked when he was sick, on Christmas and every holiday. I remember both my sisters got married and had their receptions in our back yard and they had to hold off the festivities to a little later in the evening because, yep you guessed it, the cows needed to be milked.
My parents taught me about hard work, self reliance, loyalty and about honoring your commitments. They instilled that in all three of us. We had a happy life without all the frills because they were so kind, so generous and so gracious. We always came first, not them.
I have never respected any two people, individually or together more than I did my parents.
This past Sunday night it struck me that this Thanksgiving would be the fifth Thanksgiving without my dad and my oldest sister. It will also be 20 years without my mom. I remember the wonderful Thanksgivings we used to have in our small house in west Murray. There were times when my friends went to California or even Hawaii for Thanksgiving week. At the time I sometimes envied them.
But now, with those days well into the past I'm not sorry we had to stay home for holidays.
Those times are memories I will cherish forever, thanks to my mom and my dad.