Friday, November 5, 2010
I Want A Wall Like That
Their peace didn't last long. Just two weeks after they moved in, one of their daughters discovered she, husband and three young boys needed a place to stay while they were between jobs. Of course the Wirewoods couldn't say no to family. Their peaceful haven turned into a lively cottage.
Shortly after that, their youngest daughter was struggling, too. They made space for her.
When the daughter with the three sons moved out, another daughter whose husband had also lost his job moved in. They had four children, two of them twins. They were welcomed.
When that family moved out, the daughter with the three sons, upon finding that a divorce was necessary, moved back in and stayed for another year. The Wirewoods never complained, but rather enjoyed their company. No one in their home acted like they were put out or irritated by the living arrangements.
I got to be good friends with all of them; they were such warm and loving people. In their home I learned to can tomatoes, picked from their huge garden. A musical family, my children and I have sung while gathered around their fireplace. My son took piano lessons from the daughter with the three boys. One dark night, several of their daughters came to my home to 'kidnap' me. I'd just had surgery and they were worried that I wasn't being properly nurtured, so they drove me up the hill to their home to pamper me as only Wirewoods could. I'd needed sympathetic ears that evening, so I talked and they listened. I will never forget that. We still laugh over the abduction.
To say I dearly love these people is an understatement. I am amazed that I was given complete acceptance without even trying, included without having to ask, and that I've had a standing invitation to anything family ever since I've met them. It's just the sort of folk they are.
My favorite part of their home is what I call the Smile Wall. It has to be said that these people all have the most beautiful smiles. Nailed onto this wall in every frame available are members of the family, enjoying each other. Camping trips around the bonfire. Singing together. Anniversaries. Mirth and happiness within each frame. I could sit and stare at that wall all day long, since it is beautiful evidence of a life well-lived.
In contrast: there is a wall in a small western town at this very moment that is covered with awards. Volunteer this or that, or Exceptional this or that, or This or That of the Year. These awards were hung there by a man that desperately needs to feel important. He's had a wall like this in every home and office he's ever occupied. He's hungry to be mentioned in the newspaper, or get himself on tv, and will do anything (picketing, making angry comments in the newspaper, volunteering for sometimes absurd causes) to get some ink or air time. Retired, he spends his days not helping his terribly arthritic wife, but being involved in the community in carefully calculated places where he's sure to be noticed.
Years ago, when doctors told him he had what they thought was a terminal illness, his wife and family simply accepted it. When he suddenly recovered, that was harder for them to accept. He had lived his life for himself; none of them really knew or, sadly, loved him. They had rarely heard him say, 'I'm sorry,' or 'I was wrong'. There had been little tenderness involved in any of his relationships. He called his children 'parasites', and acted as if he believed that people were merely for using, to get into the all-essential public eye. If they were not obediently falling in line to further his power and importance, they were easily discarded. His increasingly crippled little wife did not fit into his picture of fame, so she usually got left behind to fend for herself at home.
This man will gladly walk you through each framed award, and give you long-winded explanations over how he got them. He could talk about himself for hours without once asking how his listeners are doing. Those subjected to the oration have often found it repugnant, but he is too self-absorbed to see it. When one of his children recieved a prestigious award in her community, one she had not sought, she called to tell him. In a child-like way, she'd hoped for some fatherly recognition. Instead she was met with a 'that's nice, here's what I've done throughout my lifetime' speech. Later in the day she was even sent a list it in its entirety for her personal viewing. Her father expounded that he liked to keep that list in his wallet, as a frequent reminder of all of the terrific things he's done, all he's achieved, and of the many ways he's been publicly recognized. What was the message his daughter got on that day? "You are not really that important. But I most certainly am."
If the Wirewood father or mother passed away today, the home would be flooded with people immediately missing them. I would be one of those people. I would be able to walk right in without even knocking. They've told me I'm one of the sisters. I'm sure there would be tears, but there would also be a lot of those big Wirewood smiles, some laughter, and yes, probably even some singing, in honor of Mom or Dad. There's no doubt I would need to spend a moment to myself, once again looking at the Smile Wall and thinking that Mr. or Mrs. Wirewood really did this life thing right. The grinning children with their faces close together within the frame is proof enough. No one needs to present me with a lecture on how important their 'awards' are. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the Smile Wall is surely worth a million of them. There is no need to make a list, or carry a reminder of how great they are around with them in their wallet. The undeniable evidence is walking around in the form of five well-adjusted, happy curly-haired daughters with large smiles, and one musical, curly-headed son. These angel people have been as important as it gets. They've been vital where it really counts...in the place of the heart.
There are Walls of Fame, and there are Walls of Shame. It's entirely up to us which one we wind up with. Awards versus rewards.
As for me, I want a wall like the Wirewood's.