They were the first ones who told me I should think about saving money early on so I could do something big later in life. He taught me a few things about writing, she taught me a few things about photography. He challenged me to think carefully about the the world around me. She gave me an eye and a ear for talking (and more importantly listening) to the people living in it. He passed on his passion for exploration, she taught me her knack for getting the practicalities of it done. And each thing I've listed either of them doing, the other had a hand in as well.
A lot of parents in their position would have preferred me to do something sensible-- maybe go to grad school and/or get a job, earn a living and start a secure future somewhere near the family. Some would have tried to stop anything different. Many parents would have lectured. Some would have simply asked repeatedly. Others still might have tried to subtly hinted just to make things uncomfortable enough that I'd give in. But not them.
To this day, I can't think of a time they ever questioned my resolve to go out and do this, to drop everything after college, stuff some clothes in a bag, and run off to Mexico telling everyone I'd see them in a "year" after I'd been around the world. Not once did they ever voice or even imply any misgivings about my dream or doubts about my ability to see it through.
So here we are. I've almost done it. It's been the longest I've been apart from them in my lifetime, and now we're all back together. Not much has changed. My father still makes the same jokes at the dinner table, and my mother still has the same exasperated reactions. My mother still takes photos at every opportunity and my father still has a cascade of things fall out of his shirt pocket every time he bends over. My father can still recite more facts and background information than almost anyone I know about nearly anything, and my mother can still spot exactly the right thing that is called for in nearly any social situation or dynamic. He still holds his title as (as one writer put it) "an eater of serious scope." She still reads whole paragraphs in the time it takes us to finish sentences.
Their traveling style took me a bit to get used to. We've been doing a checklist of the big sites and following the crowds, staying in one town before flying to the next. The tourist shops I avoid like the plague for selling flimsy kitch for outrageous prices have a gravitational pull for my mother ("I just want to find a snow globe with the Acropolis in it!"). I slow my usual walking pace to about half, and still have to stop every few minutes for them to catch up. But if there is one difference in travel style that I appreciate very much, it's the budget and ability to eat very, very well.
Thanks to about a week in Corfu long ago with one Greek Taverna that had a six-foot-long menu with only three items on it, they'd been bracing themselves for Greek food. But what we had in Athens was some of the best I've had in a long time, the climax being our last night eating succulent lamb falling off the bone cooked with tomatoes and eggplant on a rooftop terrace with a perfect night view of the Athenian Acropolis. And that was before we went to Italy and then France. The staples, pizza, pasta, and gelato, then croissant, wine, pates, and cheese were only the very beginning. If anywhere in the world takes food seriously, it's Italy and France. We sat outside in one Roman restaurant, told our waiter the words "antipasto misto," and he zipped off and came back with six heaping bowls of six different dishes with prosciutto, vegetables, marscapone cheese, and more. Then he brought out two more bowls. Then two more after that. And then he asked us what we would like to order for our main course.
When we weren't eating, we were busy seeing the historical treasures of the Western world. Wake up, breakfast spanikopita, Parthenon, lunch souvlaki and olives, Ancient Agora, ice cream snack, break in room for choosing restaurant, gourmet dinner with retsina, walk home through back alleys of Athens under a nearly full moon. Wake up a couple days later, hotel breakfast buffet, Vatican Museum, Sistene Chapel, St Peter's Baisillica, prosciutto sandwich for lunch with gelato, walk past castle and Ancient Roman bridges to a postcard-perfect neighborhood at sunset, gourmet Italian dinner with local wine. And now we're lazing about in a small village off the southeast coast of France with some good family friends in their house, getting croissant fresh from the bakers for breakfast. I would have come a long way just for the smell inside that bakery, let alone eating the goods.
A lot of people would "put up with" their parents to get all that. But my parents have never been people I've needed to "put up with." Combine that with what we've been doing, and I don't see how I could be any luckier than I am.
So this is for them. A small thank you for encouraging me to come as far as I have and for meeting me on the other side.
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