Frequent contributor Jim Peters shares his thoughts with us . . .
I promise to have an article about Native Americans in this area in the next installment. I have been doing quite a bit of thinking lately, mostly about my father who is wrestling with cancer, mesothilioma, if I am spelling it right. It is asbestos-induced cancer affecting the lungs. I do not know how to watch a healthy, bright man get sick and then sicker without losing a little piece of myself to him. I want to know just what to say when I call on the telephone. I want to know that all of my pictures are in order, and do I have enough of them to capture the essence of the man? All of these things keep crossing my mind as time ticks away.
Death, which is imminent, is really something we have no control over, nor should we. It is intensely personal. My father has fought the good fight. Three years plus ago, he was given four months to live. Then, when four months passed, it became eighteen months. When eighteen months passed, it became two years. Now, it is three plus years later and I am struck by the easy way he has of conversing even today. Picking up the telephone is solace to his kids. Hearing him talk, albeit with a certain tiredness in his voice, is uplifting to our mutual souls. We all know he is getting too sick to have long conversations but he keeps asking about old friends in Lowell. “How is Dick Howe doing?” Senior and Junior seem to be doing well. “How is Armand LeMay?” He is well, Dad, I saw him last summer and he said he was well. His memory for names is not great, but he remembers a lot of people in Lowell.
They remember him, too. For his 84th. birthday, it was our intention to send 84 birthday cards from various friends. He easily surpassed that. Last year he got me a subscription to a magazine from my home state of Iowa. That’s right, I am an Iowan. I tell my kids that their heritage includes Irish, German, Norwegian, English, French, and other nationalities but that really they are half Greek, after their mother, and half Iowan. So he got me a subscription to “Our Iowa,” which includes sections of the state that I have never visited.
It is a good, polished magazine, and we would do well to have an “Our Massachusetts.” Good stories by good writers about the average, even the mundane. Where am I going with this? Remember, these are my meanderings. One thing I have noticed is how much time in Massachusetts is spent on recognizing political figures. In Iowa, if they have not made Cabinet rank, they are not mentioned. How wonderful would it be if we did not have to start every political talk with, “And now I would like to recognize…” while everyone from the governor, to state representatives, to the dogcatcher is cited. And, what is the thing about educators? A teacher is usually a marvelous person who enhances your outlook on life. But, we spend, in my opinion, and I was one for twenty years, far too much time sanctifying the teacherhood, and far too little time sanctifying parenthood. At the end of the school day, it is the parent who is responsible for the progress young Sal is making in Mathematics or History. It is not the teacher, necessarily. But if you listen to the politicians, teachers are primarily responsible for most of the ills and a few are even responsible for the good in the world. If you ran the schools like businesses (as if that could ever happen – I have been in business too, years ago), then students would know what was expected of them and they would show better progress.
I do not really buy that, but that is the age old argument. You have to buy into the idea that businesses know what their mission is, schools do, but I do not know about businesses.
There are some business people we would do well to have our children emulate. One who comes to mind is Buntha Malone, the Branch Manager of the Enterprise Bank on Gorham Street. She donates extra time to the Girl’s Club, raises her baby, and tries to get you to take out your mortgage at her branch in the same day. There are plenty of other good, responsible business leaders we could have our children emulate. Maybe their own mothers and fathers even. But that is family, and in our society, families count for less and less of the whole.
So, how did I get back to my father? Oh, yes, he was the essence to his children of a hero. He could do anything, including educate you, because he was in education. He could console you, because he had taken so many psychology courses. He could tie a good fishing knot, although he never successfully taught me to do the same. But my brother Tom took to knot-tying like an intrepid sailor. He and my mother could make sure that you did well in school, participated in family outings, went camping all over the United States. He was, and is, remarkable. That is what I will miss the most, that and his voice over the phone telling you to straighten up, fly right, and do good to others. I will give it my best effort, Dad.