By Theresa Blume
It is a fact that our life experiences make us who we are. Of course most things are our choice, like if we had bad parents we may vow not to be like them. The nice thing about being raised by both my parents is I had two opposite personalities from which to choose. One of their traits was generosity.
My mom was generous to the point of putting others before herself. My dad grew up in the Depression and was exceptionally poor, and he chose not to be generous. He had a lot of wonderful qualities, but he was always in fear of going without, and he made sure he had enough first.
When I got older I taped an interview with my parents, hoping to secure their history for my own family. I took the opportunity to question my dad about his refusal to give generously because his Catholic religion clearly stated he should do so. My dad told me this story:
His father died suddenly when my father was 1 year old. Before then the family had done well enough, but his death changed everything. With my dad being the youngest, he only knew extreme poverty growing up.
His widowed mother was told that she should move to Chicago to receive help from her family, but she stubbornly refused to give up the farm. She relied on her children to help with the hard labor while she went to work in town cleaning houses for rich people.
Dad remembered watching out the window for her to come home every night, afraid that the welfare people would take the kids away. It was a long way to walk to and from town in all types of weather, yet she sacrificed everything for her family. My dad recalled eating lard on bread sometimes for supper.
One thing that especially frustrated my dad was that when anyone came to their door, his mother would not let the visitor leave until she fed him or her. It did not matter the person was or what his or her family had, she insisted on feeding them. One day she gave away their last can of peaches. “The very last can of expensive peaches,” Dad emphasized.
I saw that scared, starving little boy in my dad’s eyes, and I finally understood. It seemed like he had some type of breakthrough by telling that story after so many years. I was saying my goodbyes when Dad suddenly got an inspiration.
“Wait!” he insisted. He ran into the house and came out with a can of peaches. “Now these aren’t just any kind,” he said. “They’re expensive, and I’ve been saving them, but I’m going to give them to you in honor of my mother.”
I was very young when dad’s mother died, so I do not remember her. I only knew that she was stubborn, Polish, and Catholic, but I felt her love as I accepted those peaches, and I felt my dad’s sacrifice and love as well.
My dad has been gone for a few years, but I am thankful for that conversation that day. I saved those peaches for a long time on my shelf, but with moving I do not know where they are anymore. I think they disappeared into my heart.