When do children first become fully aware of the love of their parents?
A recent winter ice storm reminded me of when I first came to the realization of just how much my father loved me; I was not yet a teenager when I experienced my father’s devotion and care in a special way. Sure, these parents who were married for 17 years before they had children adored us, but my brother and I never thought about it. We were too busy having a happy childhood.
The Sunday afternoon that I became ill was a typical Sunday at our farm. The cold day was brightened by the huge wood fires in the fireplaces and the hearty food Momma prepared for dinner. Our relatives from Montgomery had come for a visit. I remember them talking about the end of the bus boycott and how Uncle Frank had gotten all dressed up in his Sunday suit and ridden the bus downtown. He drove a long-distance truck and was out of town when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the others took the first ride in the front of the bus.
My cousins, my brother, and I were playing in my room. We did not have a television set, so we amused ourselves in other ways — we played games, and my cousin Edward made a sophisticated projection set, drew pictures, and projected them onto a sheet hung on my bedroom wall. Then I began to have chills that made me shiver uncontrollably. When the chills stopped, I was burning up. I stretched out on my bed, wrapped up in a quilt. I didn’t want Momma to know I was sick for fear of what she would give me for medicine. By the time the day was over, though, I didn’t care if she knew. I was really sick.
The next three days passed in a blur of agony. The headaches were severe. The high temperature was a particular worry for Momma, but I am not sure why they didn’t take me to the doctor. We didn’t have a car, and the dirt roads were probably impassable. They might just have been low on funds. I don’t remember much about those three days. Momma tried to feed me broth, but it was no use. I moaned and prayed aloud to the God that Momma said loved little children. What I do remember is my father’s treks to the store. The country store was over seven miles from where we lived by the road. Momma made Daddy go to the store every day, and one day he had to go twice — I believe he knew a shortcut through the woods that cut the miles down some. She needed medicine for me. As she hovered over me with the worry showing in her face, she would think of something else she could try to bring my fever down or ease my pain. I was aware that Daddy never complained when Momma called him and told him to go to the store.
During the time of my illness and Daddy’s trips to the store, we were having a terrible ice storm. Our power had been out for days, but we had the fireplaces lit and the cook stove was wood-burning. For light, Momma brought out the old kerosene lamps she had used before rural electrification came through the area. When I was finally able to sit up in bed and look out the window, I saw the icy world outside. I simply gazed at the iced branches of the trees and marveled at the way my dad had set off every day to get medicine for me. I realized at that moment how much my father loved me, and how that love was all wrapped in a word called sacrifice.
I am sure that parenthood is still alive and well in America, but it also seems that far too often we hear about parents who harm the precious little ones entrusted to their care. All too often, Child Welfare Services cannot intervene in time, and another tragedy occurs. A prophet of old spoke of the “hearts of the father’s being turned back to the children” (Malachi 4:6). Let us hurry the day.