It wasn’t the place I expected any kind of good news. It was at my dad’s funeral. We had all gathered at the church after the burial for a luncheon with the crack-infused food (Oops – I mean the love-infused food. Crack just seems more affectionate). Nothing tastes better than ham and funeral potatoes freely made and donated with loving hands for the grieving. If you’ve never been able to eat church ham and potatoes as part of the 10% tithing package, you’ve never had the best food mankind has to offer.
Anyhow, I had run out in the hall to find my wandering 2-year-old. And there it was…the best compliment ever. As I was heading back to the cultural hall empty–handed wondering where in the world that little devil Max had disappeared to. The compliment came in the form of Brother and Sister Atkin. Okay, okay. Their names are Roy and Pat, but we have this brotherhood thing in the Mormon church. I’ve called them Brother and Sister Atkin my whole life, which is kind of weird because they are like second parents to me.
Brother and Sister Atkin were heading back home to California. We exchanged hugs. I told them how much we appreciated them being there. They had traveled ten hours. They insisted they would never miss it. Then, Brother Atkin hit me with it.
“Alice, you really are the best of both of your parents!”
Sister Atkin then agreed.
I did my best to hold back my tears, but I probably failed. I thanked them, and I’ve continued to think on that compliment for the last year and a half.
The best of both my parents.
There isn’t a better compliment than that. If you don’t believe me, it’s only because you’ve never met my parents.
Let me tell you about my parents.
My dad was (as I am sure he still is in some spirit form waiting to be reunited with his body) the strongest man I know. I’m pretty sure he could lift a car all by himself. We affectionately called him Superman sometimes and McGyver others. Yes, it takes a superhero who can fly and throw planets around with x-ray vision as well as a man who can fix anything with a piece of bubble gum and duct-tape to describe my dad. I could count on my dad to do anything and everything he promised. He even seemed to be able to time-travel: working a full day 45-145 minutes (depending on the traffic) away in downtown San Diego, while driving a commuter bus there and back as his second job and still making it to my volleyball and softball games often. He would leave us donuts and $3 for lunch on the kitchen table every school day. He would always have pink bubble gum sticks in his briefcase for each of us every day he arrived home from work. He went to the convenient store on the bottom floor of his building every day on his way home. He knew the worker by name and she knew that he was looking for that pack of gum to take home to his 7 kids. He would need a new pack tomorrow because they may or may not sneak an extra piece or two.
My dad was also a gentle giant. He was an animal whisperer. Dogs took to him as if he was a combo of Cesar and Bert from Mary Poppins. It’s like he danced through life singing “Feed the Animals.” He had a huge soft spot for others. His hard abusive upbringing made him extra aware of everyone around him. One time I woke up to find that he had taken my best friend Kristen’s car and put four new tires on it. When I complained that I needed new tires and he got her some first, he reminded me that he was never far away to rescue me when I got a flat, but Kristen’s mom worked full-time and her dad lived 2,000 miles away. Wise and kind: my dad. He was a combination of Joseph, the father of Jesus, King Solomon, the wise judge, and Sampson, who could move mountains. My dad would wake up early every Saturday (after working a 60 hour week) and do 6 loads of dishes by hand and then make a buffet-style breakfast for his family + whichever kids happened to be spending the night. My dad built on three bedrooms and a bathroom with his own two hands to accommodate anyone and everyone who needed a home. One time he let some immigrant workers sleep in our shed in the backyard. My dad was the adventurer extraordinaire. When I was terrified, he insisted that I climb on top of the floating iceberg in the Prince William Sound because it was a once-in-a-lifetime and a great way to die if we were going to die, and he always took a bucket to the beach so we could take it underwater like an antique diving helmet. He would always use his last $5 to buy us ice-cream on the way home from the beach.
My dad’s the greatest guy. When I sang this song as a kid, I knew it was written about my dad. No other dad was as amazing as mine.
That’s my dad. Compliment enough already, right?
So, let’s move on to my mom.
I’m not sure my cheeks can handle the tears that the rest of this post is going to require. I’m all cried out.
Just those two words will have a lot of my friends shaking their heads in laughter. There is no one in the world quite like my mom. She’s that crazy lady you saw at the wrestling match waving her sweater around her head in circles while whooping it up as if she wasn’t actually Caucasion. She would cheer for our time as much as she would cheer for the opponents. My mom is as beautiful as my dad is handsome. Look at them on their wedding day. They were high-school sweethearts, and never quit being in love like they were 16.
My mom’s best meal was something she made up on the fly one night. It’s called Porkchops and Noodles. She was always making do in the kitchen. Feeding seven kids is not cheap! One night, while cooking, she found that she didn’t have any canned soup to make a sauce for the noodles. She threw a little butter in the pan and then the noodles and wha-la, the most delectable pork-flavored butter noodles were born. They live on to their fullest potential in my kitchen. My mom single-highhandedly (with a crew she organized) did all the make-up and hair for the Buena Vista Elementary School play called Rainbow Connection. She had 5 kids in it, so of course she wanted to help. There were about 300 of our classmates in that play. As we were leaving the cafeteria and walking to our car after she provided three hours of the finest Broadway-inspired gussying, I was terrified because she passed out in from of the school office from exhaustion. Somehow she picked herself right back up, went home and cooked dinner, got her own kids ready, took pictures, and showed up with a smile on her face to the auditorium where my brother Adam starred as Mr. Coleco. I was an old lady. Shannon was a dancer. I can’t remember what Sarah and David did. To top it all off, Mom makes friends wherever she goes. She talks to everyone! She tells them they are important and they are loved. She always has a word of advice, whether you want it or not.
My mom can find anything at a thrift-store. I mean ANYTHING! I have a fancy portrait on my living room wall. People always compliment me on it. I tell them with pride that my mom found it at a thrift store. This woman knows how to get it done. She took great care of her kids with a husband who was almost never home and very limited resources. She loves books and knowledge. When we were kids, we had this train with the circus alphabet peeking out from the twenty-six separate train-cars hanging like fancy crown-molding all around where the dining-room walls met with the ceiling. She would take out the old family Bible and point to a verse just so we could see how we could apply it to our current position. She made a literary analyst out of me. My mom made Christmas a big deal. I really big deal. We would spy on Santa every year. Oh what fun! Like my dad, she taught us to take care of all the people around us. I can’t tell you how many times I would find my mom making a meal that looked exquisite only to be told that it was going to a neighbor. Something in my heart knew my mom had it all figured out as I reached for the mac-n-cheese or cereal for the umpteenth time. As animals took to my dad, plants took to my mom. Not that the animals didn’t love my mom too, but her real secret lied in our whole house smelling like fish food at least one day a week. My mom taught all of her kids to sing. Car rides were never complete without at least two songs: On Moonlight Bay and 100 Bottles of ________________ (fill in the blank, we always did). My mom is the reason, I always sing to my kids one of my favorite songs from Sesame Street.
I don’t have enough internet to write all that my parents are to me. I appreciate them more every day. What a lucky girl I was to be born Alice Elaine Wills.
Being the best of both my parents is too high a compliment. In fact, it’s impossible to live up to. I would have to be double super-human. But, it’s a compliment I’ll never forget. And, I’ll gladly keep striving to live up to it.