How to Get to Fifty:  2 + 8 + 4 + 3 + 14 + 5 + 7 + 6 + 1


We Cashwells travel in pairs. We always have. Mom and Dad. Then Pete and David. Then a bit of rearrangement: Pete and Kelly. Then Ian and Dixon. Then Dave and Pam. And then Samuel and Benjamin. Symmetrical and even. I understand that not all families are shaped this way--the Sutkers, Daltons, and Brewingtons among them. But somehow the decision to have two kids, though not required, has always seemed proper. And the fact that they're always spaced two years apart? Probably just coincidence.



The eight-track tape player in the Oldsmobile--I'm not even sure WHICH Oldsmobile--was my introduction to popular music. Mom and Dad had joined the Columbia Record Club ("Get eight albums for one cent!* *If you agree to buy four more albums at regular club prices") and chose to get their selections delivered in the form of eight-track tapes. The eight-track itself, for those of you too young to recall it, was a flat plastic cartridge about the size of a smart phone, and it contained about forty-five minutes of music. Fitting those forty-five minutes onto a single loop of tape was kind of a challenge, however, which meant that the songs had to be rearranged so as to fit evenly. Thus, I listened to classic albums like the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with the songs in a completely different order than they were intended to be. There was also an audible sound when the player switched from one set of songs (known as a "program") to another: a loud ker-chunk. And if the songs couldn't be divided evenly into four programs of roughly the same length, there might have to be a ker-chunk right in the middle of one song. To this day, I expect the middle of Paul Simon's "One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor" to have a loud ker-chunk right in the middle.

We listened to these tapes whenever we were in the car for any length of time, but I will always associate them most powerfully with our trips to the Greensboro Coliseum. There are a powerful set of sense memories there: the chill of winter and the slight rasping of our down jackets as we walked across the parking lot, the cheesy warmth of the Coliseum's pizza, the smack of the Tar Heels' basketballs against the floor as they ran through their layup drills, the roaring of the crowd, and finally the mercury lights glowing purple over our happy faces as we headed back to the car. Then it was just a matter of Dad settling in behind the wheel, Mom pushing the eight-track into the slot, and the two of us nestling in the back seat, with Carly Simon or John Denver singing us to sleep. And every so often, a faint ker-chunk.



People in Mom & Dad's bed when Dad told us we were moving to Dallas. We just didn't want to go. We loved Chapel Hill so much that all we could think to do was crawl in bed and snuggle and cry. And Mom and Dad, god love 'em, decided we weren't going after all. I didn't realize at the time what Dad was sacrificing by staying--a significant raise in pay, among other things--but I knew when he turned it down how much he was willing to endure to keep us in the place we loved. It's a model that has had some influence on me.



The size of our family during an awful lot of my childhood, or so it seemed. Dad's travels for the admissions office were frequent, with his Marine Reserves duties taking him away at least one weekend per month. Add to that his work for the College Board and UNC's diving team, and it's not hard to understand why I sometimes lost track of whether he was out of town or not. I never felt abandoned, though; it was just the way things were--an occurrence so regular that it became something like rainy weather: you couldn't avoid it, but it didn't significantly alter the daily routine. He never failed to return with presents, though, and I still think fondly of the college t-shirts, long since outgrown, that came back in his suitcase: the maize-and-white Michigan shirt, the yellow Cal-Berkley shirt bedecked with a surfer, the Princeton shirt with the understated black and orange trim. It's probably not an accident that the thought of not attending college never occurred to me.

But at home, Mom maintained our lifestyle with such uncomplaining steadiness that I couldn't consider Dad's absence a problem. She drove us where we had to go, dressed us in what we had to wear, and prepped us for whatever sports practices, art classes, or music lessons we might be committed to. I don't recall her complaining about it once; she simply never let us look at our threesome as any kind of problem. It wasn't permanent--we knew that perfectly well--but it wasn't scary, either. The only thing that was different about life as a threesome was that Dave and I knew, without fail, that as soon as Dad left town, we'd be having salmon croquettes for dinner.



Dad's old Parris Island basketball jersey. It was red, with yellow and white letters, and I was fascinated by it. Somehow the fact that Dad had personalized Marine uniforms wasn't a big deal, but his own basketball jersey was something else. I started wearing it when it still came down to my knees, mostly around the house, sometimes to bed. It still just barely fit when I wore it in the Junior Follies talent show at Chapel Hill High; I still think it was exactly the shirt to wear in a band that was playing a weirded-out punk version of the Temptations' "My Girl."



The number of years Mom and Dad had to tolerate having one of their kids on another continent. A little over five, really, since I spent a year in England and Dave spent a semester in Italy before he went on to do four years in Japan. Having had our own kids overseas only twice, each for less than a month, I can see how this might be a source of stress, particularly when you consider that when Dave and I did it, there was no internet, no Skype, no nothing. We communicated almost exclusively by letter, with a twenty-five-dollar overseas phone call on special occasions. Mom and Dad literally didn't get to see our faces for months at a time, unless we happened to get film developed and tucked a photo into one of our letters. I wish I could remember what I said in my letters; I'm sure they'd be strange things to look at now, nearly thirty years after my return from Manchester, but if I really want to see them, I have complete faith that my mother has them tucked away somewhere.



That's how old I was when we moved to our house on Sugarberry Road. I have always loved that house more than any of the others we lived in. Maybe it was the location, down in the valley of Battle Branch, close to a great sledding hill and a great yard for football and Bruce Crumpton's basketball goal and all the woods you could ever want to explore, but I think it was the rooms. Upstairs was a huge open dining room/living room with a fireplace and a deck overlooking the creek, as well as the kitchen and two bedrooms--the master bedroom and a guest room. Downstairs, though, was where Dave and I had our own space: a bedroom apiece, and a huge family room, with the back end covered in short spongy carpet and the rest decked out with a deep shag. Every room had its own color, not a pale echo of one, but a bold, solid block of it. Mom and Dad had a banana-yellow wall in their bedroom, while the guest room mixed milk-chocolate brown and burnt orange. The family room was carpeted in red, a deep wine in the back corner, where Dave and I spread out our Legos and rolled our Hot Wheels, and a lighter, brighter red shag in the part near the TV.

The crazy thing, though, was that Mom and Dad actually let us pick out the colors for our own rooms. At seven and five. Both of us had been bitten by the NFL bug by then, and we decided to show our loyalties with our choice of decor. Dave was a fan of Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel, so he decided his room would be a rich royal blue, while my own allegiance lay with Jets QB Joe Namath, and therefore my room had to be green. But I didn't want the ordinary forest green that the Jets wore; no, I wanted something lighter and brighter. So for the next six years, when I nestled into the bottom bunk of my bed, I did so in the glow of a wall that was a green so vivid that you would probably find it only on the Incredible Hulk, or maybe on the backside of a parrot. It was mine. I'd been trusted with it, and I had made my choice. And I loved every square inch it.



Bagels in a bag. And in our childhood, the only place we could get a bag of them was at Gottlieb's Bakery in Savannah; North Carolina still hadn't discovered bagels yet. We'd get maybe five dozen of them every time we went south to visit Mama Lea & Papa, plus a load of bialys, and onion rolls, and water rolls, and challah bread, and usually a batch of chocolate chewies to boot. The trunk would be brimming over with baked goods, but that didn't matter. There was no way in hell my mother was going to let her kids grow up without knowing the delights of a kosher bakery.



The only number that matters, really. I've tried hard to think of the big lessons Mom and Dad taught me, but I keep coming back to that idea of oneness. What they did for me wasn't just a long list of lessons, like how to use a stick shift, or the words to any campfire song ever written, or the proper way to peel a shrimp. All those lessons were a part of it, but they all came down to a single principle: e pluribus unum. Out of many, one. Mom and Dad encouraged me to experience whatever I could: to express myself in Mrs. Anderson's art class, to become expert in the proper way to make a bounce pass, to read anything I could get my hands on, to take the stage in front of an audience, to visit strange countries on my own. From all these experiences, I became my own person; Mom and Dad didn't fear that I would grow up doing things they hadn't, or appreciating things they did not--that's what they had in mind all along. They wanted their kids to be individuals, not copies of themselves or each other--and by gosh, that's what they got. And from those individuals, something greater than any individual has been created

When Suzanne Sutker and Richard Cashwell decided to get married, they united--literally, they became one thing: a family. Each of us has come into that family in his or her own time--each of us has been the newbie--but the thing we've come into has had its own life for fifty years, and that's of course what we're here to celebrate. But even though all these numbers add up to fifty, they really only add up to one, and it's that one thing, that union, that has mattered the most.

Mom, Dad, that will not change in year fifty-one, or year fifty-five, or in any year, because it is the thing from which everything else depends: every generation, every spouse, every in-law, comes back to this center, this one thing that the two of you made together. 

I am blessed to have been here for so much of it, and we are all of us blessed to have had your love to sustain us and your example to follow. Happy Anniversary.

0 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Golden.

TrackBack URL for this entry:

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on August 26, 2012 5:29 PM.

Overt Bed Birth was the previous entry in this blog.

LBJs is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 4.0