Auntie Vi’s Wise Advice

November 16, 2019:

Viettia Newcomb celebrating her 84th birthday.

Viettia Newcomb is the younger sister of my wife’s late mother. In the 31 years CarolAnn and I have been married Viettia (the second i is silent) has been a happy part of my life and I consider her my Auntie Vi, too. I love her dearly.

At 84 she is a no-nonsense manager of a Northern California mobile home park. She doesn’t suffer fools and will put them in their place but she also laughs all the time and has the most pure and loving heart you will ever find.

Viettia has known tragedy and hard times in her life but has taken their lessons to heart.

She’s also damned smart. She posted the following piece of advice on Facebook today, tagging and addressing specific members of her family but posted for the world to read. With her permission I am sharing it with you here.

This is the best, most down-to-earth parenting advice I have ever read and it doesn’t require a whole book filled with psycho-babble.

Children and parents of all ages, live and learn…

I proudly give you Auntie Vi:

_____________________

For all my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I have advice. Remember always – advice is free, and you can take it or leave it.

Sing to your babies. Tell them stories, read them stories, and give them your love and attention.

Dry cornstarch is better than any over the counter baby powder you will ever find, and much cheaper.

You do not “spoil” a baby with love. The spoiling occurs when you allow your child to be unruly, or a bully.

Teach your baby love, concern for others, and teach him or her that while you love them, you will not allow them to be unruly. Our basic concern for our children should be that we raise them to be people others will like and admire. We should not allow our babies to be the kind of people others do not want to be around. This training must start early.

To realize the wisdom of this, look at the children of your friends and relatives, and think how you feel about them and how you would wish people to feel about your children.

This advice comes from Grandma aka Great Grandma aka Big Grandma.

I sincerely love all of you, my dears, and I care every day of the world.

 

 

I want a daddy do-over

Tyler’s first day of high school

This past week our youngest grandson, Tyler, started high school. His parents are shocked by how fast he’s grown and I find the whole thing amusing.

Been there, done that.

I was a single parent from the time Jeremy was four years old. The term “single parent” isn’t accurate, of course. Our son had two parents who adored him regardless of our inability to continue living together. Maybe more so because of that. He was the glue that secured the broken bond I had with his mother and he still is. Karen and I remain close because our little boy is 42 now with a rapidly aging son of his own.

I’m just going to say this once because I know he’ll protest and because I don’t want to come across as a nostalgic whiner:

Sometimes I think my son is a better dad than I was.  I want a do-over.

Wait, hear me out.

I’m not saying he loves his kid more than I did. Not possible. It’s just that he’s more deeply involved in his son’s daily life and activities than I was when he was little and I’m sorry about that.

Jeremy & Tyler
Theatrical nuts don’t fall far from the tree.

Aside from the obvious, that one-parent-at-a-time thing, there is a difference in us as people.

For one thing, Jeremy has a sharp mind for mechanics and can build stuff. I’m a mechanical idiot. I will offer that as an excuse for never building him the tree house I always wanted him to have. (That and the fact that we never had the requisite tree, but it still haunts me.) I didn’t have a tree house when I was a kid and I wanted one for both of us.

Jeremy and Emily are scout leaders. I actually tried that when he was little but his Tiger Cub pack of four kids broke up after two or three outings. That group was led by all dads, no moms. Go figure.

More than anything I just wish I had taken my kid to see the world when he was old enough to appreciate it and to give him cherished lifetime memories of the great times and big things we did together.

We didn’t do those things and I’m still kicking myself.

CarolAnn reminds me of all the things we did do when our boys were growing up. We took them on a cruise, we took them to Disneyland and the Grand Canyon; Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone — certainly far more in the way of adventure than either of us had when we were growing up.

Still, there are regrets and I suppose that’s true for every parent who ever watched his or her child leave the nest far too soon.

I should have taken him to New York for Broadway theater, we both love that stuff. Why didn’t I ever take him to London, for that matter? Or to Boston, the cradle of American history?

Regret is just a memory written on my brow, and there’s nothing I can do about it now. -Beth Nielsen Chapman

Missed opportunities never fade completely but like everything else you get over them, you learn to appreciate what you have and reluctantly shrug off the things you just didn’t get around to doing. Sometimes I still want a do-over but these days the thought barely passes my mind before a soothing explanation follows:

Your son is a better dad because you set the bar pretty high and taught him how to clear it.

It took me a long time to spin that story and I’m sticking to it.

 

Every day is Mothers Day

Don & Nancy Williams on their wedding day, Aug. 6, 1950. I was born exactly one year later.

I’m the oldest of four kids born to my mom, Nancy Laura Webster Williams. She was still three months from her 20th birthday when I entered the world. Now, as we approach our 68th anniversary as mother and child I’m still trying to understand our indescribable bond.

Until this past year I could talk with my mother. We’d laugh and love with the sparkle in our eyes meant only for each other and with words that couldn’t begin to explain the depth of who we are together. But this past year she lost her words and laughter.

She lives but she barely knows my name and voice.

Mother’s love is peace. It need not be acquired, it need not be deserved. – Erich Fromm

I’m not sad. Her memories of us may be scrambled but she gave them to me for safe keeping.

I remember the songs she sang at home and the silly sense of humor she taught me. I remember her hugs and kisses and all the smart things she said; the pain and tears she shared and the sunshine of her smile that followed.

My mother loves me. She has checked every box in the official Maternal Love and Devotion handbook every single day of my existence. I’m in her heart if not quite secure in her mind.

We are the science of genetics combined with all the flowery words of poets.

Today can be a good day or a bad day. It’s up to you. – Mom

We are a mother and her son.

I will tell her again tomorrow that I love her. She might not hear me but she knows.

Cleaning for the cleaning lady

by Dave Williams

Today is house cleaning Thursday. I always dread it.

A long time ago in an earlier life house cleaning day was Saturday.

Every bloody Saturday.

While the rest of the world slept late and then enjoyed coffee and a leisurely breakfast while weighing their options for a fun weekend, I awoke hating Saturday knowing I’d spend it dancing with the vacuum and mop.

This was my first marriage. We both worked during the week and Saturday was the only time available for house cleaning.

Every bloody Saturday.

“It’s a beautiful day!” I enthused. “Let’s go on a picnic or just take a drive in the mountains!”

No, she explained with thinly-veiled annoyance.  It’s Saturday, cleaning day.

I was a very young man then, never even taught to clean my own room or to appreciate the neatness and order that just seemed to me like the natural state of things. My mother had done it all.

My equally young wife, on the other hand, had been taught to do her share of family chores, to do them correctly and on time.

I tried telling her that the house wasn’t going to get any messier while we were gone but she was disciplined. I hesitate to use words like rigid or inflexible, though they leap to mind. My first wife and her parents were happy, fun-loving people when off duty but they were always sticklers for planning. When I suggested we should “just take a drive a drive in the mountains” I was challenged for a specific destination and plan. I never had one.

It took me years to understand in retrospect that I should have planned to have a plan and not be so spontaneous. It couldn’t have worked, of course. It’s not who I am.

Fast forward: my now and final wife of 30 years, the lovely-and-feisty CarolAnn, is spontaneous like me. We love doing things at the spur of the moment specifically because we’ve made no schedule. Sometimes we even plan ahead to make no plans. Our home has never gotten any messier while we’re away goofing off and we’re both happy with that.

But the problem is the same as it was 40 years ago: we both still work; now in our sixties we’re too tired to clean house and far too rigidly spontaneous to change or care.

And yet, somebody has to do it.

Paying a woman to clean our home every two weeks is a luxury that stretches our budget but as long as I’m still employed it’s worth the expense.

Now I have a new problem:

I have to clean the house before the cleaning lady gets here. It’s better than giving up my Saturdays but it’s still a pain in the ass.

Talk about your spoiled man-child first world problems.

 

Father’s Day in Judgment City

by Dave Williams

Jeremy and me, the early 80s, Fairytale Town at Land Park, Sacramento..

One of my favorite movies is Defending Your Life starring, written, and directed by Albert Brooks. It’s about a man who dies on his birthday and wakes  up in Judgment City, a Purgatory-like waiting area where he must justify his life in order to proceed to the next phase of existence. It’s warm and funny and will keep you examining your own life for a very long time.

My son Jeremy loves this movie as much as I do and today is his birthday.

On my birthday 17 years ago, shortly before he died, my dad told me he couldn’t believe he had a son who was 50. I know the feeling.

Jeremy was born 42 years ago today. Like all loving parents at this age I understand that he’s an adult with a family of his own and our relationship has grown with us. But like all parents, in my heart he will always be my little boy.

You have to be careful about that when you talk to a middle-aged child. Occasionally I still have to stop myself from calling him, “Kiddo”.

I’m not going to wax poetic about Jeremy and me. Many fine words have been written about ideal father-son relationships and the bonds of love that can’t be described. I have nothing to add. We know how we feel and how we’ve enriched and informed each other’s lives.

I will say this, however:

I am a far better person for his existence than I would be without his love, influence and instruction.

Parenting is a two-way street. You get as much as you give; you learn at least as much as you teach, probably more.

If you’re happy with who you are today you can thank your children in large measure.

When I arrive in Judgment City I will point fearlessly to my boy and testify, “This man is my justification for everything.”

***************

 

 

The Happiest Place on Earth

She must have been about ten, maybe a little younger. Holding her daddy’s hand she walked solemnly down Main Street next to me, surrounded by  hundreds of other people, all headed toward the exit.

Snowfall on Main Street, Magic Kingdom, Disney World

Bright colors fired both sides of the street; joyous music came from nowhere and yet everywhere. Imagineered snow flakes floated in the air all around us.

We all wore silly grins for no reason at all except that we were together, ageless and happy.

The little girl’s daddy leaned over and said, “Isn’t it pretty? It looks just like real snow, doesn’t it?”

Her reply was succinct, matter-of-fact and grown up:

“I think I’ve had enough.”

“The important thing is the family. If you can keep the family together  — that’s what we hope to do.” – Walt Disney

I told Mickey, “I’ve loved you for more than 60 years.”

CarolAnn and I celebrated our 30th anniversary at Disney World in Orlando this past week. For all the technological magic and excitement we found everywhere we looked our greatest pleasure was watching young families and remembering our own. 

The small moments that bring families closer together work their magic on everyone nearby. We love being collateral beneficiaries of joy and sharing with each other the children we still are at heart.

“A dream is a wish your heart makes…” 

Hang the expense, it’s worth every penny and more.

A father’s advice: part one

Dad and me, c. 1967

by Dave Williams

Today I have some words of advice for my sons and theirs. We dads are very good at this. Even if the advice is sometimes nonsense we never stop spewing warnings, admonitions, analogies, metaphors and stories that begin with, “When I was your age…”

My own dad was a master of the art. He’s been gone for several years now but every day of my life things happen that remind me of something he said or did largely created the better parts of the man I am today. I still seek his advice and he still delivers.

Whenever I am faced with a perplexing decision I only have to ask myself, “What would Dad tell you?” The answer comes to me in a flash.

Jeremy and me camping c. 1986

It works very well the other way around, too. Sometimes I have a dilemma that just can’t be sorted out by weighing the pros and cons of alternative actions or decisions. If I simply ask myself, “What would you tell Jeremy or Nathan to do?” I get my answer immediately with clarity and confidence.

These wise tricks of fatherhood are excellent tools and I highly recommend them. They almost always work.

Almost.

So, the first piece of advice I must give my sons is: have faith in your wisdom but embrace your honest ignorance. There’s no shame in it.

Repeat after me now the three little words that are the most powerful item in a father’s bag of tricks:

“I don’t know.”

Say it again, fearlessly, as if you mean it this time.

“I don’t know.”

The more you say it the easier it becomes but you also must understand that these words should never be used except in sincerity. Your eternal responsibility to your children requires that you make every effort to help them find their way through life’s labyrinth. You, of course, are still finding your own way through the maze and sometimes they will encounter an intersection you’ve not seen. So, again with feeling, please:

“I don’t know.”

It’s getting kind of warm and charming, isn’t it? Maybe later we can address the other three words you need in your toolkit which require much greater skill and caution:

“Ask your mother.”

Post Script: After she read this my wife, the lovely and feisty CarolAnn Conley-Williams said, “You need to add the other three words that are the most important of all: ‘I love you.'” I replied, “That’s obvious.” She said, “No, it’s not. Many fathers can’t or won’t say it.”

She’s right, of course. I didn’t think of it because we Williams dads have no problem with it at all. You can read her comment below.

2006: Isaiah says Grace

by Dave Williams

“Nana, can I pray?”

“You mean you want to say Grace?” Nana and I are both surprised but try not to show it.

“Uh-huh. Like at school.”

“Sure, Honey.”

Isaiah goes to a Christian preschool so the fact that he’s used to a blessing at mealtime doesn’t surprise me but this is the first time he has offered it at home. Normally we don’t pray over meals, except at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter family gatherings but it’s nice. I like this new wrinkle to the developing man who is still our four-year-old grandson.

We all bow our heads and Isaiah begins:

“Thanks for the food we eat….um…the good food and, and…thank you for this beautiful day and….ummm….”

Isaiah has clearly been properly coached in the manners of Grace but he’s momentarily stuck for a big finish. I know the feeling.

“And….and….bless Nana and Grandpa and Daddy,” he continues, gathering steam, “And please make things grow and make things green and make Paige’s mom feel better and make Angela’s dog come back and make Nana’s bottom better! AMEN!”

I think Nana managed to mutter “Amen,” before her head snapped up and I started snickering.

“What did you say about Nana?” she asked with forced and admirable restraint.

He apparently thought she was hard of hearing so he answered very loudly, “I SAID MAKE NANA’S BOTTOM BETTER!”

Wise Grandpa and veteran husband that I am, I try to change the subject.

“Did Angela’s dog get lost?” I asked him.

“Yeah, he ran away.”

“And Paige’s mom is sick?”

“Uh-huh.”

Isaiah’s interest in explaining his prayer was fading quickly. I couldn’t drag it out any longer but I did fight back most of the grin as I asked my wife, “Honey, what’s wrong with your bottom?”

“He knows I fell on the stairs months ago. That’s what he’s talking about.” As she said this I clearly saw for the first time the look on a person’s face always described as “chagrined.”

A thought struck me.

“Isaiah,” I said, “Did you say that same prayer at school today?”

“YES!” he shouted proudly.

And then Nana bowed her head in prayer again.

Photographic Treasure

This is the only picture I have of my entire family together. (I’m not in it because I was holding the camera.)

I’d like to say my family always looked this happy but that wouldn’t be true. It wouldn’t be true of any family. Old photos allow us to keep and embellish the good times when everyone was smiling because we were all really happy together, at least in that moment.

My old pictures invoke a nice warm feeling of a time when life was less complicated and when my family was together for everything including mealtimes at the table, visits with our relatives and family vacations.

This was our family vacation in McCann, Northern California, along the Eel River in August of 1964. We were there for a week which included my 13th birthday. My parents gave me a stamp collecting album and a wonderful variety pack of international postage stamps to study, sort and paste.

I also got a new, official National League baseball which my dad and I tossed back and forth for hours that week right in the middle of the dirt road outside our cabin’s front door.

McCann  was already a ghost town when we were there.

It was smack dab in the middle of no place, Humboldt County. It had been a stage coach station in 1881 and a post office soon after. It tried to be a town but stumbled and failed in the thirties and forties. By the time we got there in ’64 there were no living businesses, just the dirty old windows of store fronts that had been abandoned decades earlier.

As I remember it we were there for an entire week without seeing another soul. The only traffic we saw and heard were the Northwestern Pacific freight trains that rumbled and shrieked just a few feet past our cabin in the middle of each night. When that happened we all woke up and giggled in the dark, not just us kids, our parents too.

We had no TV in that cabin and couldn’t even get a radio signal. I know because I tried. Instead we just played together. We hiked down a steep river bank to get to the water’s edge. I held my little brother’s hand as we waded into the Eel. I held onto the blowup raft with my little sister aboard and grinning from ear to ear.

Dad and I fished with salmon eggs for bait and I saw beavers playing in the water not far from the lodge they had built from the branches of young fir and redwood trees along the shore.

My mom burned my birthday cake trying to bake it in an ancient wood burning oven in the cabin. It was edible, just toasty, and I loved it because it was mine and Mom made it for me.

On my birthday I wrote a note to the future, shoved it into an empty tin can and stuck it deep inside a hollowed chunk of a tree that was still very much alive. I imagined that the tree would grow over that hole and preserve my message. Someday, I thought, someone would cut that tree down and find my hello from the past.

Wouldn’t it be something if it was found now, in the 21st century?

I remember all of that from one picture taken 55 years ago. I probably have a lot of it wrong. I just remember it as I wish to.

This picture makes me happy.

Nothing special

This morning I took my almost-four-years-old grandson to school.

His parents are out of town and though he spent the night with his maternal grandparents they both leave for work very early. So, I had the pleasure of driving to their home at 4:30AM and being on hand when Tyler awoke around 7:00.

He was very pleased to see me.

“Oh, yeah!”

Still wiping the sleep from his eyes he suddenly remembered that I would be here for him this morning. He flashed a drowsy grin and ran to me, bare feet slapping the wood floor, his favorite soft baby blanket slung over one arm. His arms went up as mine went down and I lifted him high over my head. We hugged and smiled as is our habit and standard greeting.

I guess he thinks I’m sort of special and for that great honor I know he is right.

At first I just sat on the couch and held him on my lap, allowing him to wake up gently.

I don’t like brisk, lively beginnings to a day. I like slow, quiet starts and I think Tyler does, too. At least this morning he did. I held him in my big, bear-like grandpa arms and spoke to him softly.

“Did you sleep good?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you ready for a great day?”

“Yeah!”

We talked like that for maybe ten minutes, me asking leading questions designed to put him in a happy frame of mind, him responding affirmatively and with increasing animation. Finally, we decided it was time to get dressed and off to school with a stop at McDonalds for breakfast.

And that’s the way my day began. No big deal and yet quite remarkable.

As I look back on nearly sixty years of life I am always amazed at how little of it I remember with any degree of detail or certainty. I remember the big things but not much of the ordinary and that just makes sense, really.

On a cold, dazzling-bright February morning Tyler and I ate eggs and sausage at McDonalds surrounded by old men in ballcaps sipping coffee and solving the world’s problems.

He’s not going to remember this.

I will never forget it.