This coming Friday, my mama turns 77 years old.
I write this column every week to talk about Denton. Here, we discuss the stuff that makes Denton Denton. People. Events. Our sense of place.
My mom has never lived in Denton. She’s an East Texas girl who married an East Texas boy, and together they raised four East Texas children, of which I am the eldest. So how does my mama fit into the context of this column? The answer is original and independent, but not unique.
When I was around five years old, I had a playmate down the street, a very assertive, precocious kid. I loved having her over even though our time together often ended with her sauntering off and me in tears. One time as I followed her to the front door, pleading for her to come back with promises that I would play her way from now on, Mom stopped me.
“Let her go,” Mom said. Heartbroken, I listened as Mom explained that friendship doesn’t mean doing everything the other person’s way. It’s good to have opinions and think for yourself. If my friend insisted on her way or the highway, she was not really a friend at all.
The next time the girl and I played together, I tried Mom’s advice. When the girl prepared to leave in her usual manner, I stood my ground in the plot of whatever game we were playing. She was astounded when I simply said, “Okay. See you later.”
She didn’t leave. Instead, we negotiated and found a compromise that allowed the game and our childhood friendship to move forward differently from then on.
In our home growing up, fighting was forbidden. Oh, we had our differences and arguments like siblings do. But we did not fight. The reason was simple. Two wrongs don’t make a right. It takes two to have a fight. Regardless of “who started it,” if an unresolved issue evolved to the level of a fight, both parties were in equal trouble. We learned at a very young age to work things out between ourselves, if for no other reason that self-preservation. No one wanted a spanking, and avoiding that unpleasant consequence was as easy as figuring out a compromise before we were angry enough to fight.
These are just a couple of thousands of valuable lessons Mom taught me through the years that shaped me into the person I am today. They’re the kind of lessons that sink into the psyche and the soul, become values, and design the filter for how we will manage life for all of our days.
The lessons Mom taught, and the example she still lives, instilled confidence to be my original, independent self among other independent, original people. I’ve learned that the world is not an easy place, and rarely do any two people see eye-to-eye on everything. Yet, we must function together for society to work in much the same way that little girl and I had to find equal footing to finally move our games forward.
My Mom did a super job rearing four adults, very different from one another, but all comfortably original and independent within our family unit. Like I said, it is an original independent story, but I don’t think it is unique. It appears to me there must have been many moms that parented similarly, because Denton is as diverse a place as I’ve ever lived. After more than 20 years here, I’ve encountered thinkers and believers of diametrically opposed extremes and everything in between. Naturally, everyone doesn’t always get along. There are arguments, hurt feelings and stand-offs at times. Yet, we function as a unit, like my family does.
Visiting with a Denton newcomer recently, the man commented on this very thing. It seemed impossible to him that such a vastly diverse community could co-exist as peacefully as we do. “It’s just Denton,” he told me he hears from his friends and co-workers.
It is just Denton, but only because the hands that rocked our cradles equipped us to flourish in a place where originality and independent thinking are so fiercely expressed, and more importantly, valued.
Mom faced many challenges as her original, independent kids began to scramble from the nest. It was frightening, watching us take wobbly flight in various directions. I know. I’m a mom, too. Oh, but the feeling when the kids’ wings are strong and their paths sure.
I love Denton and how we, with the quirkiness of our collective, original, independent selves, are together a unit, the unit that makes Denton who she is. And I love my mom for the preparation and the freedom to fully appreciate who and where I am.
Happy birthday, Mama.