Years since their passing, the examples, lessons and words left by our parents live on in countless people
BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – Seventy years ago today – June 20, 1952 – Minetta Lane Flint and William Mathers Barrick were married in Morgantown, W.Va., my dad’s hometown. That’s what the wedding invitation said. However, to everyone we’ve ever known, they’ve been Mike and Sparky, nicknames that fit, especially for mom with her flaming red hair – and temperament!
After a year in Maryland, they moved back to West Virginia to Clarksburg, a town two counties south of dad’s home county and where mom had grown up. This was to be our home until we each reached 18. And a home it was. Our house was Grand Central station for children and even the occasional priest looking for a snort.
They were married for 56 years, a marriage ended by our mom’s death in August 2008. As was his custom, dad – despite his grief – kicked along, kept traveling and made new friends. He died in 2015, entertaining our parish priest, our daughter and me with gallows humor just a week or so before he passed.
But, back to happier times. In June 1953, my older sister Mickey (nickname) was born. Nearly three years later, in April 1956, I came along. Then, six years later, in a bit of a surprise, a little sister – April – arrived in a 1962 January snowstorm. When asked about her name, our folks would say, “Count backward nine months.” (April passed from cancer in August 2017).
Anyway, after the first year, The honeymoon was over! And, there were nine years separating us, so they had many years of child-rearing. Yet, despite some extremely trying times in their marriage, they left us a legacy of love that continues on. Even if they were a bit miffed with each other, I never doubted their love for us. They managed to encourage us to have fun (dad) while simultaneously challenging us to never stop learning or giving our best (mom).
So, though they are gone, their legacy of love lives on.
It lives on in their children (and spouses), grandchildren (five) and great-grandchildren (five). It lives on in the hundreds of children – now adults – that mom taught during her 30-year teaching career. It lives on in the Challenger League division of Bridgeport Little League because of dad’s love and generosity.
It lives on in April, even after nearly five years since she passed. The hundreds that attended the funeral, probably a majority of whom she worked with at a local school, testified to her love and kindness. Her daughter is a teacher. Her son is what mom loved as much as anything – a free thinker quite willing to march to the beat of a different drummer. Both of our folks would be proud of them.
There is our niece in the military who is wickedly ornery and quite dangerous. But I think she loves me so I’m ok.
There are our children, both who, whatever their “career” at the moment, have chosen the vocations of preferential concern for the poor. The great-grandchildren are all top-notch youngsters, well-behaved, kind, loving and caring.
None of this is an accident. It is largely the result of my sisters and me growing up in a household that, well – was unlike almost anything I see today.
Our neighbors were essential to our happiness. We had block parties, played neighborhood volleyball games down by the creek and sat on each other’s porches. We even sang Christmas carols! We had good neighbors for sure, but mom and dad made sure they were welcomed at our home.
We had fun. WVU football games. Trips to Myrtle Beach. Trips to Maple Lake, where mom’s best friends live. Visits with countless and quite interesting grandmothers and aunts and uncles.
And yes, there were some quite intense moments, especially over politics. Often adult beverages were involved. But if politics and over-indulgence could be avoided, all was generally well.
One of the ways our folks demonstrated their love for us was paying for us to attend Catholic school for 12 years (I only made it 10 ½ but I did graduate from the public high school). I know this was a sacrifice for two reasons. I sometimes carried the check to school. I peaked once. It would be expensive today! The second is my experience in public school. After I made the choice to leave Notre Dame for Washington Irving, the difference was stark. In a word, public school was beyond easy; it was rarely challenging, which could not be said about Notre Dame.
We were enthusiastically engaged in parish life, which led to a close friendship of 50 years with a priest, now retired, that was assigned to Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Clarksburg in 1972.
Mom and dad were not only reinforcing our faith (though religion wasn’t really taught that much in school), they were ensuring we could get the best education available. St. Mary’s Elementary and Notre Dame High School in Clarksburg fit that bill.
We were home for only 18 years of our lives. Yet, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of those days. I’m back in our “lower back yard” where I could be alone along Elk Creek and ponder the cosmos.
I still look beyond the stars and do the same. It has many benefits, one of which is being conscientious. What is the right thing to do, whatever is before you? Is there someone that needs help? Should I call someone or visit them?
Ultimately, I’m asking myself what I can take from my childhood and keep relevant.
I think mom and dad had a pretty good idea. Have faith first, and needs will come.
Speaking of faith, have fun. Invite the nuns over to ride around the neighborhood on your bicycles, looking like gliding penguins. Take a pew from a renovated church and attach it to the bottom of your bar – as dad did – and watch the priests perch their feet on them, lean on the bar and wait for their next Pabst Blue Ribbon (dad’s employer) and give thanks for hops and barley.
All of these experiences still inform me. We’ve passed along those we consider valuable (or humorous) to our children and now grandchildren. We hold up my mom and dad (and Sarah’s – her dad passed in 2018) as examples of how to live. Plow through the hard times. Celebrate the good times. Enjoy time with your neighbors and family. Travel. Pray. Demonstrate your faith, don’t talk about it.
In the end, their fundamental lesson to us is to never pass up an opportunity to live and give back to your community earnestly, joyfully and enthusiastically. Such a legacy will ensure that subsequent generations repeat the lesson.
While they lived in Clarksburg about 20 years, they considered nearby Bridgeport home. They moved there in 1974 when the state took our house in Clarksburg to build a road. They are buried on a hill overlooking Bridgeport. The headstone that marks their graves remind us that one’s legacy – whatever it might be – lives on long past our time visiting this planet.
So, though physically gone, mom and dad are still alive 70 years after they married.
They intentionally set out to pass along values that are essential for each generation. They succeeded. That’s quite a legacy.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2022