When I think of the things that made me who I am, I think of two very defining moments.
I think I was about 10 years old when my cousins, Larry and Paul, gave me a hampster – complete with a three story cage for her. Her name was Suzie and I loved her beyond words. I had her many years and she left my entire family with many memories. She not only crawled up our arms and snuggled in the nape of our necks, she was also an escape artist and we dragged out the washing machine to recapture her more than once.
One day I came home to find Suzi hanging by a tangled arm from one of the floors of her three story mansion. I’m sure my blood curdling scream was heard around the world. Suzi was half dead. And I was completely heartbroken. My mom took that little hampster and was determined to breathe life into her. She held Suzi in her hands and rubbed her. She took Suzi into the sun to bring warmth to her. My mom cared for that little hampster for two days. And finally, Suzi died.
Suzi’s death was a very sad time. And, as was our family custom, we held a funeral for her. Suzi was buried and life continued on. But, as I grew older, I realized that out of this came a part of my mother that I took with me – the part of my mother that can’t stand to see a person suffer. The part of my mother that would take a small animal into her care, and into her heart, and fight to the end to save that creature. The part of my mother that has a heart of gold. The part of my mother that is sympathy, and empathy, and love.
I grew up in a family of shrimpers, and I remember big, glorious shrimp boats, looking so beautiful at a dock at the end of my grandparent’s long driveway. One year, when I was maybe eight years old, my rather large, extended family took a trip on one of these shrimp boats to an island – an all day excursion, with so many cousins and aunts and uncles, and my sisters and mom and dad. It was a perfect day, full of sunshine and laughter. We swam to the island and cooked out and romped and played on the shore for many hours – until I managed to step on a rusty fish hook, and embed it in my foot.
If you know anything at all about fish hooks, you know they are barbed. Fish hooks aren’t easily pulled out and when they are, well, it isn’t pretty. I was sitting on the beach crying and no one knew what to do. Until my father arrived. I was crying hysterically, but my father looked me in the eye and told me he was going to take care of it, but I had to be strong. In a matter of moments the fish hook was out of my foot, but I didn’t know it. I was still screaming like a hyena. And just as suddenly my father grabbed me and said “Well, you can sit here and scream and cry, or you can go enjoy your day. We’re not going to be on this island forever.” And I got up, limped off, and enjoyed my day.
And I got over that fish hook pretty quickly. And as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that my father taught me a lot that day, and I’ve taken part of him with me. I’ve taken his strength. The part of my father that knows life isn’t always fair. And sometimes life hurts. And I’ve taken the part of him that knows we have a choice. We can sit there and cry about the hand life has dealt us, or we can get up, brush ourselves off, and enjoy what we have left. The part of my father that never gives up or lets life get him down.
I’d like to think that’s what I’m made of – the very best my parents have to offer. The soft and the tough and the very strongest of two people.
I hope I can live up to it.