Saturday, January 20, 2007

My Mom & Dad, H.Donovan & Linda B. Morris


My dad was born Harold Donovan Morris on July 23, 1937. Here are the things that stand out most about him (to me):  

1) He was a musician in the truest sense of the word. He taught himself to play the piano, wrote his own music, and even made records and became a weekly performer on the WWVA Jamboree in the early 70’s. It didn’t make him rich, but he accomplished more than a lot of other aspiring musicians.

2) He never swore. Not once. I truly believe he never uttered a single swear word, and every time I want to curse I’m reminded of how much he didn’t like that.  

3) He was cursed with alcoholism.  It was a strain on our family, particularly for Mom.  I always knew that it was a “disease”, and how hard it is to overcome. But he never tried until much later in life, because he either wouldn't or couldn't believe it--he denied he had a problem to to the end.

Dad with my 3 sisters (left to right) Donda, Courtney & Shawn in 1977;  teaching me how to ride the bike I got for my 8th birthday

My dad certainly wasn’t your typical father in many respects, but was very typical in others. He kept most of his feelings to himself and wasn’t physically affectionate with his boys. (For as early as I can remember, his idea of showing love was a goodnight handshake!)  He loved my mom very much, and I respected him for that, but his attention to her over everyone else was so strong that I often saw him more as my mom’s husband than as my dad.

He was enormously gifted with artistic talent--in the 60s, his Christmas 'toons were always printed in the local paper.  (This is one thing I've gotten from him--I've drawn for as long as I can remember.)  He was very funny--he always reminded me of Bill Cosby, with his hilarious reactions to people (usually my mom). 

I remember one time at the mall, Mom was busy talking to us kids about something as we headed in--Dad was quietly walking along beside her, wearing his dark sunglasses & had his left hand directly underneath her elbow, while using his right hand in a subtle "I'm blind, what's in front of me" gesture.  He purposely walked into a display, causing other shoppers to look angrily at my mom (she had no idea Dad was playing a blind man); but when she found out...! 

Dad’s publicity photo for the Jamboree, early ‘70s

Dad died on February 12, 2001. He lived such a brave 3 years trying to beat various cancers...he was only 63 when he passed.

But in those last few years, he tried to come to terms with who he was, and attempted  to get closer to his kids, us boys in particular.  I will never forget Christmas 1999; I was home for the holidays, and that morning Dad & I were the first ones up.  He asked me if I wanted to sit with him at the dining table and have a cup of coffee, I said sure, thinking he wanted to talk to me privately about something.  He said "Tell me about your job..."  I said "Well Dad it's just computer programming, pretty boring stuff..." and he said "No, I really want to know."  I went on about it for an hour.  I wish he was still here so we could’ve gotten to know each other more.

Mom, getting ready to go with Dad for one of his shows, 1973

My mom was born Linda Beryl Belford on August 7, 1940. There are a couple of things about her that will always stand out to me:  

1) She never drank. She hated everything about alcohol (for good reason) and because of that, I don't drink.  (Well, rarely.  I think I had a glass of wine 4-5 years ago.)  She always warned us that “alcoholism was in the Morris blood” and best to avoid the risk, and while that may be so, my main reason for doing so is out of respect for her. She lived with it enough.

2) She always claimed to not be very bright, but had the quickest (and sharpest) wit of anyone I’ve ever known. And she used more swear-words in more imaginative ways than anyone else I know as well!   Mom had a very loving side, but a quick temper as well.  There were times as a kid that I couldn’t believe some of the names she would call us when she was angry.  But I always felt sympathy for her (well I tried), as I knew that most of the time she had to play both Mom & Dad--she was the one who had to be the bad guy most of the time too.

3) She was fiercely protective of all her kids to the outside world.  God forbid she hear anyone say a disparaging word about any of us!

I always tried to remember the fact that unlike Dad who grew up in a large family with a loving mom, my mom had a sadder and abusive childhood.  Her father died when she was very young.

Mom's Birthday, 1971
Mom and her large brood, 1971; how in the world did a 30 year old woman cope with five children?  And a few years later—a sixth!

Mom worked full-time in a department store for as long as I could remember, but scrimped & saved every penny and did more with her paycheck than 5 other workers combined. It was because of my Mom that we always had nice birthdays & wonderful Christmases, my favorite memories of being a kid. On Christmas morning, the entire living room would be filled to overflowing with toys and gifts...I knew it was her handiwork. She’s the one that shopped year-round for each of us, she knew what each kid liked best and wanted the most.

Mom with Dolly Parton, early 70s

What I got most from my mom was two-fold; there were times when her anger could absolutely wreck you, but at the same time she always told us that she truly believed we were each special and there was more to life than a hard-luck existence of bars, bills and babies. That always stuck with made me feel I had every right to want & deserve better.  
Mom sadly left us on December 23, 2004.  Taken far too early by uterine cancer, something that us kids are still wrestling with daily, it seems.  She really was what a good mom should be, right until the end.  She loved gardening and crafts, and was gifted with terrific humor and insight into people.  But most of all, she loved her kids fiercely.  I truly hope she knew how much she was loved by us. 

How I’ll always remember them