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Whenever I get dressed up for a special event, I wear an engraved watch that my father gave my mother in 1935.
At the time dad was 21 and mom was 17. He would marry her the following year, and they would remain married for the next 68 years until dad passed away. I am so proud to own that watch and wearing it always makes me feel closer to them.
Through their love and their values, my parents taught me a lot about how to treat people and what’s important in life. They taught me to work hard, empathize with others, focus less on what I want and be more grateful for what I have.
My parents grew up in Chicago, and they were both part of what Tom Brokaw has called “the Greatest Generation” (a great book which I highly recommend). Their lives were largely defined by the Great Depression and World War II.
They both dropped out of high school to work and help support their families. They both lost people they loved in the war, yet they rarely ever talked about those times.
My parents were working class and largely lived paycheck to paycheck. They raised six kids and made great sacrifices to ensure we had what we needed. They placed a high value on education, and they made it clear that we had no choice but to study hard and do well in school! They taught us the value of hard work, and every one of us worked our way through high school and college.
There was no waste in our home growing up—clothes were passed down, bikes/toys were shared, and leftovers were eaten until they were gone. Everyone had chores, and we all contributed to the maintenance of the household.
I always joke that we had five girls, one boy, and one bathroom in our home growing up. Poor Jimmy, he didn’t stand a chance.
My parents were active in our church, and they practiced their faith. They gave freely of their time and resources to help anyone in need. Their social life consisted of spending time with friends—usually playing cards or talking around a table in someone’s home.
As an adult looking back, I understand how often my parents went without so that we kids could have the special things we wanted. I have a greater appreciation for the value they placed on ensuring that we had a better life than they did. I’m humbled as I reflect on how happy they were with so few material things. Their happiness was directly related to ours. They loved us unconditionally, and they were so proud of all of us. They taught us the importance of family, kindness and service to others.
In so many ways my parents lived a simple life that was focused on God, family and friends. They taught me how important it is to love and serve God and neighbor. They taught me that the most beautiful gifts life has to give are free. They taught me that life is better lived by getting along than by arguing and judging. They taught me that forgiveness, mercy and love are the ways to happiness and joy in life.
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