As I write, Thanksgiving is a mere three days away. There will be family and food, and we will eat until we can’t take one more bite, making resolutions to lose weight after the holidays. We will think of all the things for which we are, or ought to be, grateful.
I sometimes remember to give thanks for the things we tend to take for granted—like light at the touch of a switch, and the clean water that flows out of the kitchen tap on demand. I buy bottled water—just in case—but millions of people long for the stuff that runs freely down my drain.
Lately, I find myself thinking a lot about my parents. I miss them, especially at this time of year.
Growing up I had no idea how really lucky I was—lucky to be loved, treasured, nurtured and appreciated. My parents taught me that education was important, and instilled in me the lifetime gift of a love of reading. I have a photo of myself nestled in my father’s arms. I am three months old (the writing on the photo says so), and he is reading me the Sunday comics.
Every night, before I fell asleep, one of my parents read me a story. It didn’t matter if they were busy, or if they had company. We read.
Recently, I attended a local production of Beauty and the Beast with two close friends. Turning to them when it was over, I said, “That was always my favorite fairy tale.”
“Really,” said one. I wasn’t familiar with it.”
“Didn’t your parents read to you?” I asked.
“My parents never read to me,” she replied, to which my other friend nodded solemnly.
I was aghast—one more thing I had taken for granted. How could I have known back then that I was blessed?
In addition to instilling in me a love of reading, my parents provided unflagging support to all my creative endeavors. There were dance lessons, tap and ballet, as well as art and drama lessons. If I had wanted music lessons, I would have gotten those too. Music was not one of my gifts. Writing was, and it was encouraged. Mother was especially thrilled with a love poem I wrote in the seventh grade. She thought I had written it for her. I was heartless enough to tell her the truth. It was written for my unrequited love, Tommy Grubb. He was a year older and didn’t know I was alive. Sorry, mom.
Those art lessons were a sacrifice of both time and money for my parents. When I was nine, and for several years thereafter, my mother drove me, every Saturday morning, to the Wyomissing Institute of Fine Art. Boy, how I looked forward to those Saturdays! No one ever said, “Art is a waste of time; you’ll never make any money doing that.”
When I wanted to be an actress, my parents enrolled me in the Will-O-Way Apprentice Theater. The times I spent there are some of my happiest memories. Incredibly shy, I became someone brave and beautiful on stage. No one ever said, “Acting is stupid; you’ll never make any money doing that.” And, when I played Maria in West Side Story, my mother laboriously reproduced for me every costume that Natalie Wood wore in the movie. Thanks, mom.
So, today, I am grateful for George Wally Heck, a metallurgical engineer, and Louise Tremaine Heck, a housewife—my parents. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for affirming that I was gifted when I was full of doubt. You gave me the courage to dance, and paint, act and write—to send my work out into the world to face the critics (of which there are plenty). Thank you for nurturing my talents. After life itself, and unfailing love, it was your greatest gift.
My Mother, Once (a poem I actually wrote for my mother):
My mother, once, was just Louise,
who dreamed of love and wished that frogs
might morph into princes,
enabling love’s first true kiss
to make a Mrs. of a Miss.
She came of age in time of war,
and thought her sailor was a prince.
He asked, and she said, ”Yes.”
To be a mother and a wife
was all she ever begged of life.
I see her gaze with youthful eyes,
expecting good with confidence.
She smiles, for why despair?
It’s safe to think, as Life unfurls,
that good things come to pretty girls.
If she had seen the sorrow thrown
like dice across the coming years,
would she have run or stayed the course?
She loved, but at tremendous cost…
a husband and two children lost.
Those babes, long gone, both rest in peace,
my brothers, seldom seen, but missed.
Her first was here a brief three days,
the second never took a breath.
at birth his life was claimed by death.
I am the only hope that lived.
I am the daughter that survived.
All her dreams live in me.
It is a fearsome destiny
to be my mother’s legacy.