Today would have been Mom and Dad’s 60th wedding anniversary. They were together just short of 55 years when Mom passed away in 2017; Dad joined her a little over a year later, just a few weeks short of their 56th anniversary.

Theirs was a union that weathered many storms - too many of them, I’m afraid, the result of three thoughtless young sons who hadn’t quite figured out yet just what kind of sacrifices their parents were willing to make for them. I would be an adult myself before I fully came to appreciate just how tempestuous some of those storms had actually been. 

Looking back, I can remember a few times while growing up that I - with that certain “gut feeling” or “Spidey Sense” that comes with being the oldest sibling - had sort of a vague awareness that something may not have been quite right, and that Mom and Dad were facing something that they felt honor bound for whatever reason to keep from us. 

Somehow they always managed to weather those storms, to take strength from one another and emerge from such travails in a better place than they had been in beforehand. And because of that, I suppose, my memories of childhood are mostly sunny. 

Oh, sure, there were those times when I thought I was the most put-upon child in the entire world, whenever Mom and/or Dad would hand out punishments that I felt to the very core of my being that I did not deserve. 

Especially when those punishments were for things that I had not even done, misdeeds perpetrated by one or both younger brothers - and which often occurred when I was not even home at the time of the alleged crimes, especially as I moved into my teen years and I was spending more and more time out with friends instead of being at home.

I know I’ve shared this story in the past, but it came to mind again as I sat here typing that last paragraph: One of my most vivid memories of my high school years was coming home to find Mom giving my brothers what-for over some infraction that had occurred during my absence. And as I made my way from the front door towards my bedroom, Mom stopped yelling at them long enough to turn and give me a good whack across the bottom as I walked by.

“Hey, what was THAT for?” I complained indignantly.

“That’s for being their brother,” Mom replied with that specific tone she reserved for those moments when one of us had really screwed up.

Caught up in the emotion of the moment, I immediately lashed out in response. “Well, heck, that’s not MY fault,” I told her. “I kept asking for a puppy, and you guys brought these two home instead!”

Years later Mom and I would laugh about that moment - a lot. At the time, however, I seem to recall going to bed that night feeling grateful that I had somehow avoided public execution…

In retrospect, the punishments I thought were the bane of my existence were actually few and far between. In fact, it can probably be honestly said that I actually got away with a lot of stuff neither of my younger siblings did. And I can’t help but wonder sometimes if that might have stemmed, in least in part, from the fact that Mom and Dad were both the oldest children in their families, as well. Perhaps they felt a certain sense of sympathy - and maybe even solidarity - with their oldest child.

No wonder my brothers always seemed like they were out to get me…

Every year around this time, I remember that there is a backstory which is most interesting but which, after all these years, I am still only partially aware of. 

Theirs was, according to the information I was able to gather over the years, something of a whirlwind courtship that began when Dad - who was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base at the time - met Mom while she was working at a Midwest City drug store where, as the story goes, he’d stopped in one evening to get a Coke at the soda fountain.

Apparently Mom had been engaged to another fellow at some point, but broke it off; whether she broke it off before meeting Dad, or her decision was in fact the result of meeting Dad, is something I’ve never learned. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, but despite the passage of time I can’t help but be curious. 

Mom didn’t talk about it much, other than to acknowledge that she had indeed been previously engaged but that things worked out the way they were supposed to. On the other hand, Dad - ever the jokester looking to get a rise out of his beloved wife any way he could - used to carry in his wallet a folded clipping of the newspaper article announcing Mom’s previous engagement. 

And occasionally, when the two of them would get into a spat over some silly thing or another, Dad would pull that newspaper clipping out of his wallet and wave it around, saying, “Well, you had your chance!” 

And that would usually bring the argument to a screeching halt - usually with laughter on both sides, although not always right away...

Not having been there at the time, my actual knowledge of Mom and Dad’s nuptials is pretty much limited to what’s on the public record. The only things I know beyond a reasonable doubt are that John Robert Small Jr. and Romania Sue Tipps were married on Aug. 31, 1962, at Crest Baptist Church in Midwest City, Okla.; and that I was born exactly nine months later, on the morning of June 1, 1962. 

Now it’s no great secret that I’ve never been much good at math. But even I was able to do the computation on THAT one when I became old enough to understand such things…

Once, in fact, when I was a teenager and Melissa and I had been dating for a couple of years, I sort of casually remarked to her once while out someplace with my folks (probably having lunch at the local Bonanza Steak House one Sunday afternoon) that I had figured out that I was a “honeymoon baby.” 

Upon hearing this, Dad - usually the one who would go out of his way to make ribald and risqué comments, just to see how Mom would react - suddenly seemed embarrassed and muttered something about how I had actually arrived earlier than expected.

To which my mom - much to the surprise of all of us, Dad most of all I think - just sort of grinned mischievously and responded, “Wanna bet?”

I can’t really explain why, and to be honest I’ve always been a little reluctant to put too much thought into it, but that moment is one of my favorite memories of my parents…

I had great parents. They gave me many gifts, most of which are not the kind that can be measured in terms of monetary worth. And because of those gifts, their legacy lives on.

Thanks, Mom and Dad. Thanks for teaching me to read at such an early age. Thanks for supporting me when I decided so young that I wanted to become a writer myself... and for being my biggest fans when that dream finally came true.

Because of you, and the equally strong support of the good woman I married, I've been able to have the career I dreamed of as a child. Truth be told, I don't know very many people who can actually say that. I may never be rich or famous, but that's okay. That wasn't why I wanted to do it, anyway. And the love received from you, my wife, my sons, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, and all the marvelous friends and colleagues I have met along the way... Quite frankly, that means more to me than all the money in the world. 

By that reckoning, I am a very rich man indeed. And I owe it all to you, Mom and Dad. Thank you. 

I love you, now and forever.

(Copyright © 2022 by John Allen Small)