“Sometimes you want something so bad and you can’t seem to get it, you know what? Its not meant to be, there’s something better down the road. And you just have to wait and take your time. As you get older you’ll realize that more.”
This quote is a moment that I will never forget when I look back on my time spent with Theresa. Throughout the interview I was continuously reminded that life eventually works itself out the way that it is supposed to; a comforting thought to those of us currently struggling with “what’s next?”.
Not only did she make me feel comforted, and at times like I was talking to my own grandmother, but she kept me laughing the entire time. Certainly an interview I’ll never forget:
Born in Baltimore in 1939, she was the youngest of 13 children. She is currently the only living member of her family, something that is a struggle for her, previously being surrounded by so many people her entire life.
She valued the relationship that she had with her parents growing up. The story of her parents coming to the United States was hard to fathom.
“Both of my parents came over from Poland. My mom was 15 when she came over on the boat, left her mother on the dock and never seen her mother again. Can you imagine that?”
In discussing what she valued most about what her parents taught her growing up, my eyes were opened to what life was like for her when she was little. We take so much for granted, always hoping to buy or achieve the next big thing. For Theresa, the next big thing was a simple dodge ball:
“My mother and father never talked about money. I knew we didn’t have a lot of money but they never talked about money saying “oh you can’t have this because we don’t have the money or this that and the other” No. But every now and then I remember my mother would go downtown and she’d bring me something home to wear, something special, and you’d think I got a million dollars. Because I didn’t have that much. I can remember only having one baby doll in my life time…I remember one time my mother went down shopping and she brought me home a dodge ball. I was so happy with this dodge ball, I took it outside and was playing, the damn thing went in the street and a car rolled over it. I cried myself to sleep that night. And that was one of my one good days when she brought me that.”
Theresa shared with me a bit about how different school was when she was growing up; that you went to business school instead of high school, and then the school found you a job. Her first job was at Oriole Electronics on Howard Street:
“If I could go back, I think I’d go back to when I graduated 8th grade, and try to go to high school and not business school. That’s the one thing I am so sorry in my life that I didn’t get more schooling.”
Ultimately, she and her husband got their GEDs together. She recounted for me the day that they went to take the test:
“We took the GED test together. I said “we will go together and all and we’ll both have the same test”. Well guess what, we both had different tests every time and for every subject they gave us.”
What were you trying to do, cheat?
“We couldn’t cheat, that’s the problem!”
She met the man that she would ultimately achieve many such milestones with when she was just 15, he lived right around the corner from her. I was reminded by their story of how simple love can be, when we so often make it so complicated:
How did you decide your husband was the one?
“I just fell in love with him”
That was it? That was all it took?
“That’s all it took. I fell in love with him and I didn’t want nobody else.”
Of course being someone who isn’t married yet, talking to someone who has made a marriage work for 56 years, I wanted to know her secret to marriage and what her best advice would be. I think the conversation that followed speaks for itself as far as how differently our culture thinks about marriage and divorce these days:
“Marriage advice? I really don’t know. We fought like hell.”
Was divorce just not an option?
“We never thought of divorce…I just feel like when you love somebody and you marry them you take them for better or for worse, and no matter what you try to make it work.”
The couple raised two daughters together. Theresa was kind enough to share with me both her advice as well as her regrets as a parent:
What would be your best parenting advice?
“To teach your kids how to do everything from little on up. Teach them how to cook, how to clean and teach them how to do it neat and keep their room clean.”
What do you think that teaches kids?
“It teaches them later in life to take care of what they have and keep it nice”
Is there something you would have done differently as a parent?
“If I could go back, and do things again, I would say the hell with housework and sit there and spend more time with my kids. I didn’t do that as much as I should have. It was so important for me to do everything else and then I would go out and buy them something; well no, you’re better off spending time with your kids.”
Finally, I wanted to know how Theresa’s life had turned out differently than she planned. I know that for me, as I’ve gotten older, it has become abundantly clear that you can’t plan or control how life will go. And Theresa’s response to this question silenced my fears about the unknown:
“Oh my life turned out really different. A lot different. I didn’t expect to see all this in my lifetime. I didn’t expect to do everything I’ve done in my lifetime. It just happens. So if you’ve got a good mate and you work together, all the good stuff comes eventually. I firmly believe that. I’ve seen it not only with us but in other people too. Maybe that’s whats wrong with you young people, you’re trying to get everything ahead of time. You know what? You can’t be planning all that, you want to do it but whatever you’re able to do as time goes on, you’ll do. Enjoy life in the moment.”
And last but not least, she shared with me the secret to it all, how she defines a successful life; which I can most assuredly confirm for you that she has had:
“Learning as you go along. By working hard and taking your time. And a lot of prayer”
– Want to read more from Theresa? Check out the Living Lessons page