Taylor and I did a purge of our house last week, and finally parted with some belongings we were unnecessarily holding on to- just in case. Among these items was a giant bag of sort-of-ugly vintage polyester fabric just in case I ever wanted to make some sort-of-ugly flammable quilts (not to be confused with my stash of sort-of-cool vintage polyester fabric which made the cut), some half-broken chairs on our front porch (just in case we ever had a lot of friends over at one time that didn’t weigh very much, and were all too lazy to stand), and an overhead projector (just in case it was one of the two days out of the year when Taylor wanted to use it for an art project, or a day 10 years from now when our not-yet-existent children wanted to play “school”).
I put an ad for the overhead projector on Craigslist, half-way assuming it would go unanswered and end up at the Goodwill down the street. To my surprise, it was answered within about an hour of posting:
“Howdy. I’m Gene at Candler (Author’s note: Candler is a town west of Asheville). I’m old and have never painted anything (except a few rooms). I bought a couple of canvasses and some art supplies. I think your projector would be useful in giving that art a try. Thanks.”
Through a few email exchanges I learned that Gene is approximately 80 years old, has been retired for 20 years, and drives a red Miata convertible. I congratulated him on his initiative to take up a new hobby, and assured him that it would make him live longer. We agreed to meet at the Toys R Us (his idea) to make the exchange.
I was running some errands in the neighborhood, and showed up a bit early, and, in true grandpa fashion— so did Gene. He hobbled out of his convertible, shook my hand, and presented me with a stapled packet of printed copies of our five email exchanges, the original Craigslist ad (color picture included), and an envelope of money for the projector that said “For Sarah” on the front. These obsessive-compulsive, overly-thorough, organizational gestures made me smile, because I’ve seen glimmers of Gene in my own parents’ anxious (and heartwarming) habits. We talked for about 15 minutes (well, Gene talked for about 15 minutes), thanking me profusely for encouraging him in his new hobby, and telling me all about himself. His wife (whom he called his “Travel Buddy”) had died eleven years prior. He gave dating a shot a few years ago, but found all the women wanted a serious relationship, and he wasn’t really into that. He told me how he had written a short, historical-fiction story a few years ago about his ancestors coming to America and sent it to all of his living relatives, and never heard anything back from any of them— one of the reasons he wanted to give painting a try. Then, he told me he had some grandkids to go see, and that he thought I was a smart girl, and we said goodbye. I couldn’t help but smile the whole way home, totally overwhelmed with how proud I was of this stranger-grandpa.
And then I started thinking about my own parents, and how it feels like in recent years, our roles have been reversed in a way. There comes a time in your life when you realize your parents aren’t perfect parents, and they aren’t perfect people. For some, this healthy realization happens in childhood, but for others, like me, the illusion lasted into my twenties. It felt like a light switch was turned on, and while discovering this fact almost felt devastating, it gave me an overwhelming sense of pride for them. Because they try— they try really hard to be perfect parents, and perfect people.
The pride I feel for my parents almost feels like the pride a parent would feel for their child— I know the frustrating parts of their character, their mistakes, their weaknesses, but I still gush love for them, and am so proud of the people they’re continually becoming. Recently, between the two of them, my parents have become Democrats, started fly-fishing, eating kale, meditating, growing tomatoes, going on hikes— my mom even went out and got herself two brand new knees! It’s impossible for me to put my sense of pride into words for these two perfectly-imperfect people. Watching them continually grow into amazing people, and seek the influence of their children in that process has been rewarding beyond measure.
Though he will never read this, because he probably doesn’t know how to read the internet— Thanks, Gene (and thanks Mom & Dad), for reminding me that there is no age when one should quit trying to add value to their life.