On March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day) the Case extended family will be gathering in a country school house in the cattle country of central Washington to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of Robert and Lovelia Case, my parents. My younger sister, Debby, who lives 1500 miles away, is coordinating the entire affair and my family, who lives 100 miles away, will be showing up for the festivities. My parents are young at heart and young in vitality. They dance. They travel. They are socially active. They are engaged in politics. My father is still employed in business and my mother is involved in community affairs. In short, they celebrate life. And they are both approaching their mid-90s.
As I approach the age of 70, the celebration of my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary becomes somewhat surreal. I have begun to think of my own mortality, and less of my life as a child. However, this celebration of marital union affords me this unique opportunity.
As a kid, I never got the idea that the world revolved around me, even as the first-born son. I had the impression that it was important to my parents for them to live their own lives, free to concentrate on their own interests, and not be imprisoned and held hostage by parenthood. While raising my sister and me was an important part of their lives, those responsibilities were not the center-piece of their existence. They supported my sports activities, but they did not feel compelled to come to all my games, and I would have been embarrassed had they done so. I was thoroughly average in sports, academics and music. So my parents didn’t miss much if they, every now and then, missed my activities, and they must have recognized that.
Growing up in the l950s in Ellensburg was like a Norman Rockwell cover of Life magazine. I roamed freely to fish crawdads in Wilson Creek, raced model cars with the Brothertons and the Hamiltons in their backyards, waited anxiously for the Labor Day carnival to come to Ellensburg, played little league baseball for Leo Nicolson, snow skied at Swauk Ski Bowl, failed at junior high basketball and high school track, took ski racing lessons at White Pass, and water skied at the Potholes Reservoir in the Columbia Basin.
Inside the family, the action for my dad was his business, his involvements (Rotary), and his hobbies (hunting and fishing) which he was quite willing to do with, or without me. Still, he made time to read to me selections from their great books collection (Poe, Lear, Riley, Coleridge), to teach me skiing at Swauk and make Christmas wreaths (which I sold for $.50). I also remember many happy fall nights in the basement preparing my bamboo skis and poles for the upcoming ski trips. My junior high graduation was rewarded by a joint boat building project in the basement which produced an 8 foot junior racing run-about powered by a nifty small Mercury outboard motor.
Meanwhile, my mother had her social circles, her work and her own interests, outside of my sister and me. In the midst of all her activities, she made time to take me to community concerts at the local college, attend piano recitals and orchestrate some junior high basketball team drama. And on a regular basis, she hosted meals for my team mates. In my first year in college when I was looking for something to occupy my time, she introduced me to Dorothy Bonny, thus putting real legs on my political interests.
After my first year at Central, my father came to me (I’m sure at my mother’s insistence) and told me I needed to cut the apron strings and move out, for college or the army. It was my choice. So I did and it was a great move. That was the first snip on the apron. The final snip came when they paid for my quarter in Germany as a senior at UW. But it was really only when I married Kathy that I exchanged one apron for another.
Later, when I was in seminary, mom and dad let us live with them during the summers while Kathy attended Central Washington University to earn a Master’s Degree in Education.
And decades later, they financially supported me in my quixotic campaign for state house of representatives. And Mom even door belled with me in Ellensburg.
Several years ago, the great essayist Joseph Epstein, wrote a wonderful article entitled “The Kindergarchy” in which he described parenting in the mid-1930s through the 1940s. His basic premise is that nowadays every child is treated as a “dauphin,” that is, a pampered member of royalty. Epstein’s point is that Mom and Dad Case’s life did not revolve around the Bobby-Debby constellation. And that is the way it should be to bring up self-sufficient, responsible and independent children.
Rather, after almost seven decades, my life is still circumscribed by the lives of Mom and Dad. An occasion such as this affords me the opportunity to appreciate anew my “Life with Father” and Mother.