Born when my parents were in early-middle age and my two sisters were teenagers, I did wonder if that was the case. It did not matter, however, as I was no less loved nor nurtured nor disciplined than my older siblings. Raised mostly as an only child, without actually being an only child, put me in an interesting position in our family.
Raised in a rather patriarchal German family, with five brothers and one sister, there was no doubt that my dad idolized his daughters. It was no secret that he would have cherished a son and undoubtedly wished he had one to pass the family business on to. But that was not to be, and he made the best of it.
When I think back to what my father did with his life, I have tremendous admiration for him. Beginning life in Iowa, he moved with his family when he was six to a hard-scrabble homestead on the prairies of eastern Montana. Times were tough; the family could not succeed on that land and moved to town to work in the greenhouse business. As was not uncommon then, Dad quit school after eighth grade to work and help support the family. After years of hard work, meeting and marrying my mother, and more years of hard work, they bought their own floral/greenhouse business. Times were still tough, but they began to make headway - it is no wonder, really. They were equal partners, but I'm thinking of Dad today, so will concentrate on him.
When they were established in their community and business, and I was barely a toddler, Dad and Mom bought an older house in good shape from a defunct mining town outside of town. With minimal help, Dad disassembled part of it, hired someone with a big truck, and moved it into town next to the business, where they proceeded to make it a home. Living right next to your business has pluses and minuses, of course, but it did allow me to be raised by parents who were always right there - not exactly stay-at-homers, but the next best thing.
And so my dad was always nearby and I observed him closely. He was, first and foremost, a grower - with two large greenhouses to plant and maintain. He built the long wooden benches, poured the concrete sidewalks, mixed and hauled the soil. He planted, fertilized, watered, sprayed, and picked what he grew; climbed up on top to replace broken glass panes (all greenhouses were made of glass back then.) and maintained a boiler in the basement for hot-water heat for both the business and our home. He was a designer - turning out large baskets, funeral sprays and casket pieces, corsages and rose arrangements lickety-split. He took evening business courses and was a meticulous record-keeper, delivered every order himself for many years and somehow found the time to remodel the house and maintain the yard. For many years, he worked 12 hour days...And yes, he found time for us - small snippets of time, perhaps, but all the more treasured. Besides, I was under foot - a LOT!
Dad was tall, thin, with premature gray hair and a winning smile. He followed a strict code of ethics and was one of the kindest, gentlest, most honest people I have ever known. Being a total tomboy, I guess I was the closest thing to a son that he was to ever have. We both knew, however, that I could never fill that role and it caused us both some grief. I'm ashamed to admit that I teased and badgered him unmercifully sometimes, especially during my teen years, but he rode it all out - his dignity still intact.
Although he's been gone for many years now, sometimes the slightest thing will bring back a crystal-clear memory of him as if he's still here. I think of things I want to tell him, things I said, or wished I'd said; I want to apologize for things I did and tell him how much I love him. I have a long list of questions I'll never have answered.