back to the Black Table

Last Thursday was my parents’ 31st wedding anniversary. Now, obviously, that’s a figure that blows me away. 31 years. Now, ignoring that I haven’t been on earth that long, and ignoring that I’ve never even had a relationship that lasted longer than a year, just simply let that roll through your brain for a while. 31 years! My parents were married during Watergate! And yet when I see them together today, I can’t get a word in edgewise. Mom’s making fun of Dad’s recently developed beer gut, Dad’s making fart noises and blaming them on her and they’re just like a couple of kids so comfortable and enamored with each other you feel like you stumbled across them on their honeymoon.



Now, I’m supposed to be pithy in this column, full of cute little snide comments about my Midwestern family, how they don’t get it, how they’re getting old and crotchety. And don’t get me wrong -- there are times when my parents are so silly and out of touch that I expect them to move to Branson and start decorating their home with novelty stained-glass frogs. But my parents are normal, hard-working, straightforward people who have set an example for me that sends off internal alarms any time I feel I might be betraying it. They just returned home from a week-long New York visit, and the whole trip served to remind me why I think my parents are so great.

Four examples that immediately come to mind, out of the thousands:

They recognize and enjoy that they have weird children. My mother was telling me about a conversation she had with a doctor with whom she works. She was telling him about her son who writes in New York, and her daughter, who wants to farm grapes for wine in France. The doctor stopped her. "Sally, I have to tell you, you have the most interesting kids. Most people around here who have kids your age, they’re married with a kid, living just down the road. Your kids are out there, really trying to live life."

My mother beamed when she told that story. She couldn’t have been more proud if the guy had told her we should run for Pope. My parents never blinked, not once, when I told them I wanted to be a writer, and they never blanched when I moved to Los Angeles, to St. Louis, to New York, following a senseless flight of fancy. My parents have never pressured me to do anything other than what I believed in, unless you count eating Brussels sprouts. This is a rare, rare quality in parents. My father couldn’t find the "T" button on a computer if it were four sizes larger than the other keys, but he has supported this mad dash of mine since before I even knew it was what I wanted.

They’re really just mother lions. The night before they left, we went to the ESPN Zone in Times Square to watch a Cardinals game. A friend of mine showed up who, coincidentally, happened to go to high school with my ex-fiancee, who had left me just months before our wedding. This fact was brought up to them, and they, simultaneously, squished their faces as if they’d just stepped in dog manure. "It’s a good thing I never saw her afterwards," my mom said, "because I think I would have just beaten her." They loved my ex-fiancee and were nearly as devastated as I was when she left. To this day, the mere mention of her name draws their ire, far more than it does mine. I don’t even think about it much anymore (really), but they never forgot how much that experience gutted me, and they likely never will.

They never fail to tell me how much they care, but don’t embarrass me by actually saying it. We are not a lovey-dovey, touchy-feely family, and I wouldn’t want us to be. I know my parents love me, and vice versa, so we don’t need to go on and on about it. They always pick the right times to show it.

On Sunday night, two nights before they left, the subways on the way up to Inwood, where I live, were under construction, and it would have taken me more than an hour to get home. I had gone to dinner with my parents, and afterwards, I asked, if it were OK to crash on the floor of their hotel room, so I would get more sleep before heading into work the next day. They gleefully obliged, and we ended up ordering a movie from the SpectraVision, eating pizza and laughing along to "Old School." It was a Sunday movie night, just like we used to do when I was a kid. I fell asleep on their floor to my father’s snores, maybe for the first time in two decades. They were to head home Tuesday morning, and after we watched the baseball game Monday, I readied to head home, using the no-longer-under-construction subways. My dad looked almost crestfallen. "You’re not staying with us? Oh … OK." I explained to them that I had an apartment, where I paid rent and, you know, kept a lot of my stuff. It was so cute. They loved having their little boy safe in the room, and, frankly, I kind of liked it too. I did go home, though; I can smoke there.

(Side note: Parents nag. It’s what they do. They wouldn’t be parents otherwise. But my parents really only nag me about one thing: the fact that I smoke. Surprisingly, this doesn’t bother me. Smoking is horrible and addictive and will likely kill me if I don’t stop. They should nag me about smoking. When you actually appreciate when your parents nag you, all is well and good, methinks.)

My friends can’t believe they’re as old as they are … and they’re not even that old. I was conceived just three years into my parents’ marriage, and my mom wasn’t even old enough to drink when she got hitched. And they both still take care of themselves. My dad has all his hair, has retained his young face and keeps in reasonable shape just through relentless physical labor, and my mom inspired a bit too many "MILF" comments from my friends for my taste. When I told my parents that my friend A.J. said he thought my mom was "hot," they were far from mortified. Mom leapt back in delighted surprise, and my dad chuckled and betrayed more than a little bit of pride. My parents are not decrepit old people; they insist on remaining as young as possible, and by doing so, they keep me young too. (Though, for the record, next time they’re in town, I’m steering them clear of A.J.)

I am getting to the age now where some of my friends have lost their parents. It makes me so sad, just to think about it. They’ve done their best to fill that cavernous gap, and they haven’t done it the way I suspect I would, through alcohol and months, years of aimless wandering. How? I can’t even begin to imagine. I would be so lost without both my parents in my life. I know that’s dopey, and certainly not very hip. But I love my parents, and simply the privilege of knowing them, let alone being able to call them my parents, is my boundless good fortune, and it’s one I will never take for granted.

Happy anniversary, guys. May you have 31 more. Please.


Life as a Loser runs every week. Join the Life as a Loser discussion group at: