Occasionally, something really big happens in my life that causes me to veer completely off track and prattle on about something entirely unrelated to my blog and my running efforts. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of my parents and I can think of no better reason to diverge from my typical fitness woes and use this platform to rave about the two folks responsible for my upbringing for a few minutes. While their big day is still a few weeks away, we celebrated last night at a fabulous party thrown my my sisters and me. This is the toast I gave in their honor.
I’m going to tell you a story about love. I wasn’t there for the beginning part, so any and all errors in the early history and sequence of events should be blamed instead on my parents, who were responsible for the retelling of events and who now after 50 years of marriage cannot wholly be trusted to produce accurate, reliable, or truthful information.
This is my dad, Eugene “Gene” Witherup.
He was raised in a Catholic family and after high school went to St Mary’s Seminary with the intent to enter the priesthood. Had that worked out, I wouldn’t be here and this would have been an exceptionally short story. Fortunately for me and all of his descendants, he decided that wasn’t the path for him, and he graduated from St Mary’s with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy. Afterwards, he decided to pursue a master’s degree in Business Administration, but needed to get a job first and complete a few pre-requisite classes in order to make that happen. He took a job working full time at Polk State School and Hospital for two years, which is where the magic happened.
Mom was working there during her summers and they met during a work related Christmas party in 1964. Mom knew the son of the head of the school and he brought Dad over and introduced them. Now, in asking my parents for information about how they met and while talking about this party, they offered up that neither of them knew how to square dance. So, not only was this a party, but it was a square dancing party.
…While I wasn’t there at the time, I do know my dad, and I know that it usually takes something dramatic to coerce any sort of dance moves out of him. Dad was apparently smitten because he asked my mom to dance. A dance he didn’t know how to do. That speaks volumes right there. And my mother agreed. That also speaks volumes. So I don’t know what sort of moves they pulled off on the dance floor, but it didn’t matter because little heart shaped fireworks were obviously all either of them could see.
So, the little love birds started dating and Dad pursued his master’s degree in Business Administration at the University of Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, my headstrong mother obstinately insisted on pursuing her dream of becoming a physician, even though her parents tried to steer her toward a then more socially acceptable career as a nurse. She graduated from Grove City College and was accepted into the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. For anyone Pennsylvania challenged, this meant a long distance relationship with about a 6 to 8 hour drive between the two sweethearts, which could not have been easy for a young couple.
This is a photo of my mother that recently surfaced on Facebook, taken sometime during her freshman or sophomore year at med school. To complicate matters, one month before entering med school, my mother was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes. At the time there were no disposable syringes for insulin and she had to boil her glass syringe every week. Back then this diagnosis meant a life expectancy of 20 years. She was 22 or 23 in the photo, which means she was expected to live until about the age of 40. Let that sink in for a minute. …This had just happened folks, and they got engaged during that Freshman year anyway.
They maintained their long distance relationship and my dad drove the 6 to 8 hours to Philadelphia to propose to his sweetheart anyway, and they got married on Aug 19, 1967.
I’m bringing this up for a reason.
My parents did not know what life had in store for them and as a young couple in love, they faced a slew of tough decisions with a very uncertain future. And it wasn’t just an uncertain future, it was a future that had been condemned by the current medical data available at the time. They got married anyway.
They had not one, not two, not three, but four children, not knowing whether my mother would be around in 20 years to see their children off to college, or married, or to meet her grandchildren.
This had to be difficult for both of my parents. Perhaps this is why my mother has chosen to lead a life where every opportunity for adventure and play is seized and savored. Whether exploring distant lands, zip-lining through the jungle, indoor sky-diving,
or trying to learn the latest dance craze, she has taught all of her offspring to get off the sidelines and experience all you can while you can, because you can. Dad, who tended to be weighed down by things like common sense and rational thought, and a defibrillator, would often roll his eyes and offer up a “good grief.”
But for all those exclamations of “good grief,” he has embraced many phenomenal excursions and experiences just the same, typically with the entire family cheering both of them on.
Fortunately, they persevered and now here we are: 50. Years. Later.
So what do you get when you combine two brilliant minds, one with a penchant for medicine, the other for tinkering with radios, electronics, and computers, with the right amount of love, compassion, humor, tenacity, and drive? They got us: four strong, extraordinary women.
For starters, Margaret.
Mag is a successful environmental and health care lawyer, a member of the Board of Directors for the Chesapeake chapter of Habitat for Humanity, President of Professional Women in Building Council of Maryland, and a self made scout leader for both her son’s and daughter’s troops. And to round things out, she dabbles in the occasional community musical theater.
My parents could have stopped there, because they really hit a home run with her, but they kept going so I’m going to keep going.
Next came me.
But I’ll come back to me.
Kristiann is a compassionate social worker who has dedicated her life to helping persons with mental illness.
She is a dependable part time animal rescuer, and a newly anointed political activist who recently created a local group to support and protect human rights and equality, and her group membership is up from 1 to now approaching 70 people.
Jennine is an engineer for Lockheed Martin, a bona fide rocket scientist who has travelled the planet making defense systems that are classified, which works out perfectly because I wouldn’t be able to explain them even if I had blueprints and bar graphs splayed out in front of me to help.
Dad, that electronic toy loader thing you gave her as a child totally paid off. She’s a freaking rocket scientist. For real.
And then there is me: Laurilyn.
I am an Occupational Therapist and a Certified Hand Therapist. I’ve dedicated my life to helping others heal from injury and illness. I’m a part-time writer, author of now two books. I’m a wannabe runner and athletic enthusiast.
We, along with their grandchildren,
each with enormous potential and brilliant futures in front of them, are my parents’ legacy. Some say Dad was outnumbered in a house full of girls, but I believe he’s always been a feminist of sorts because he chose Mom: a strong, fearless female who was never one to back down from a challenge or an adventure. And she chose him.
And both of them have always been our most adamant supporters.
So I raise my glass, and thank God that my parents made each and every one of the decisions they did (except for making me eat lima beans, I didn’t learn anything from that) and I also thank God for the medical advancements that have allowed both of their continued presence in our lives. Cheers to them and 50 wonderful years!