Thursday, August 7, 2008

Happy Anniversary!

Today is a day of Anniversaries in my family. Mom and Dad celebrate their 40th, and Reagan and Allen celebrate their 5th. To commemorate this happy event, and to satisfy the curious, I'd like to write the TOP 10 things that I have learned from the adorable couple:

1. THE BLITZ: It's a clean up technique that involves these values: many hands make light work, and personal responsibility in a family setting. This was implemented about the time that there were 9 individuals - including a foreign exchange student, an infant, AND an Old English sheep dog - all under one roof. After a meal, when everyone is full, and ready to relax, you put 10 minutes on the clock, and BLITZ. Clean as fast as you can to beat the clock. Someone clears, someone loads the dishwasher, someone wipes off counters, someone sweeps etc. Soon, you have a spotless kitchen, and no one was incredibly put out.

You try to get everything cleaned up after a meal before the time runs out. If someone has decided to "magic off" their name is called as being out of the kitchen, and then there is a RAPID countdown from 10, wherein a body part must be in kitchen boundaries or else the job is all yours. When it is time to work, you had better not be standing still nor the first person to stop! I don't know what scripture it is that says it's a sin to be caught standing around with your hands in your pockets, but my parents live by it!

2. GOT YER BACK: Where possible, my folks will try and help someone else have a good day. When going through a toll, they'll tell the attendant, "This is for my car AND the one behind me, " and pay for the next person to come along - sometimes it was me! Random acts of kindness are not for special occasions, but for every occasion. When my Grandpa was ill, my aunts brought a balloon to the AIDS patient who never had any visitors, -it made him cry, and in the end, my family picked up a new friend.

3. BIRTHDAY RITUALS: I must say that I have THE most awesome family when it comes to birthdays. THEY ARE A BIG DEAL!! You get the cake of your choice, the color of frosting roses of your choice (decorators NEVER put on enough), the dinner of your choice, and before the gifts and ice cream we'll start the "I like the birthday person because . . . and I remember when's."

Each person gets to hear why the members of the table like them and also hear a memory. No false positives either, "You don't look as ugly as you usually do today . . ." is unacceptable. I think this is one of the most profound traditions we have. It is the moment when you hear your family (and anyone else who showed up) express love, gratitude, and often admiration for you. Some people go to their death beds without hearing, "I always loved "x" about you," from their loved ones. I remember many things that my family has said about me over the years. It is the best gift of each birthday.

Finally, singing the candles into the cake. (click on my brother's picture to get a better idea of this . . .) How many visitors have come over, sung "Happy Birthday," and then been shocked that it was only song #1, of about 20! We sing songs from primary, songs we heard on the radio, songs from restaurants, songs from camp, short songs, long songs, military songs, even "16 candles" whether you are 16 or not. It takes a happy moment, and draws it out. It is obnoxious and we love it! People may scoff, but if you have ever been the birthday person, it seems to go all too fast. "This is your birthday song, it is two seconds long!"

4. CHANGING INTERESTS: Like a geological column, you can separate my parents 40 years into eras of their many interests. Though they are, in essentials, still the same person they were when they got married, Mom & Dad gave each other permission to explore, make messes and try something new.

Here are some areas they have delved into: Car restoration, tole painting, The Dead Sea Scrolls, book publishing, fly fishing, how to travel Europe on virtually nothing, gardening (with a specialty in hosta proliferation), fly tying, Education week-apalooza, knitting, photography and THE CIVIL WAR.

*shivers from memories of hearing "Ashokan Farewell" through an entire holiday weekend of Civil War documentaries*

Some people get divorced because of the changes and interests their partner has made over the years, but mom and dad have found a way to make room(and funds) available for each others interests. It has made them both rich. Dad appreciates quilts and mom can name fly patterns right off the cuff.

5. NUMBER ONE FAN: My parents are each other's biggest fans. Mom watched dad's star rise in his career, putting black polish on brown shoes to help him shine, and Dad did the same for mom. He didn't polish her shoes, but he encouraged her in her writing and teaching as her star rose in the academic field. Any dream laid on the table was a possibility, and the only question was what part each person would play to bring it about. One of their dreams, a big family! Some dreams just keep getting better and better. :D

6. NEVER LIE: I'm sure they wouldn't even think of this as a consideration, but my parents don't lie to each other. About anything, for any reason - outside of birthday and Christmas surprises, of course. Nothing is done in a corner, and even if it is an uncomfortable truth, they will tell it. Dad putting the dog in the bathtub with himself, for example, or mom ... doing something equally humiliating, but which I can't think of anything right now.

First rules of living: Be right with God, and be right with your spouse, everything else will take care of itself. Good clean living will get you farther and you'll be happier serving your fellow man, and making church devotion and participation a constant in your life.

It's the attitude I was raised with. It loops in, and through, all the other attributes. Someone needs to be amazing, why not you?

8. THERE IS ALWAYS ROOM FOR MORE: Whether missionaries over for Sunday dinner, or someone who wants to be an "honorary" Nielsen, there is always room in the house, and in our hearts for a good soul. Unexpected pregnancy? Surprise guest? Lonely heart? Awesome, bring it on! We'll just add more water to the soup, and put a couple of kids on the piano bench. We love surprises.

The more the merrier. We treat you like family, and the door is always open. Literally. My parents live in Iowa and don't lock the door. A house sitter once locked the door on her way out, and my folks couldn't get back in because they never carried a house key. Reminds me of this Irish poem:

"Come in the mornin', come in the evenin'
Come when expected, come without warnin'
thousands of kisses you'll find here before you,
and the oftener you come, the more we'll adore you!"

9. TEASE AND BE TEASED: That's the rule. There is no crying in Nielsen get-togethers. You can dish it out, but sometimes it's gonna come back, and be your turn to take it. We don't cry about it, you smile, grin,and bear it the best you can - maybe even wave your "cold dead hands." Humor is highly valued, and a sharp wit is essential to any conversation where two or more Nielsens are gathered. Some have walked away not knowing what happened, just that it happened quickly.

I think every person who ever married into our family was subjected to hours and hours of "ISHTAR," just so they could keep pace up with the movie quotes and jargon the flows freely in our house. I also suggest learning a good impersonation of someone as well as becoming an excellent mimic for newbies. A viewing of "Milo and Otis," and a quick review of all family t-shirts and family quizzes ever made will also help tremendously.

10. SEMPRE FIDELIS: The RB Nielsen's are a crazy bunch, but we are a loyal bunch as well. We have a family flag, motto, cheers, and coat of arms. We know who we are. Though we also see the flaws and vulnerabilities of each member, we will "circle the wagons" and "fix bayonnetts" if someone hurts or tries to harm one of us in any way. There will be tp.

Seriously, it is worse than having a mob hit out on you to be on the outs. More like the Harry Potter "dementors" or the classic "Furies." You don't want to meet one of us in a dark alley. During the last family quiz, for example, we were asked to nominate a family member for a number of things including, "Who you would enlist to help bury a dead body?" Not only were there many contenders, but only one person questioned, "WHAT ONE EARTH WOULD YOU BE DOING WITH A DEAD BODY ANYWAY?!" Yah, that was an in-law, and yes, thankfully, someone DID nominated me - thanks Logs! I got my shovel handy, just in case!!!

There is a love that runs so deep, and so strong, it is truly the envy of most people I know. My dad attracts people searching for balance in their life, and true direction to happiness. They all crave his approval, his advice, and insights. My mom has helped many a soul through one crisis or another, and can speak jive with the best of them. They have been honing their skills for 40 years (do you know what HONE means dad? inside joke), and they could kick anyone's trash at Jeopardy.

It is more likely that you will find this daring duo puttering around together, in some wild adventure or another, trying something new and ignoring their cell phones. Forty years ago, mom did the finances, and dad was the computer guy. Now, they've come full circle and dad is doing the finances and mom is workin' the computer. They are a crossover success, and I'm proud to be one of their kids. Sure love you Mom and Dad - oh, and Reagan and Allen too, who celebrated their fifth anniversary - may you enjoy your path to your 40th as well. :D


Ali said...

Yeah, you should really warn visitors about that songs thing. The first birthday I shared with Reagan, they sang the traditional "Happy Birthday" and then I think there was one more obligatory primary song. Reagan was INCENSED!!"All the songs. I WANT ALL THE SONGS" she demanded. I had no idea what she was talking about. Wasn't two songs enough? Sadly, no.

I think this is a freaking amazing tradition. And one I hope you all shower on me come September 18th. I mean, I am the newest member of the family, right? RIGHT!

And I love your family. Wagons circled, knives drawn. Anyone would be a fool to go up against you Dicksons. You will take them down and not even care when they are left in a bloody stump. Because they probably deserved it.

Meredith said...

That is really sweet. I hope you don't leave us - I want a chance to be a part of your family! Thanks for the lessons and I may adopt a few traditions into our family. Love the blitz. We sometimes do a "Hot Spot fire drill" - similar concept.

Reggs said...

ahhhhh. *tear* I love how my wedding picture is by the bit about "don't piss us off!!" That's right, don't piss us off, we don't care if you did marry into the family. Our fingers get itching for that toilet papering stint REAL FAST...(you know who you are).
I do love our parents so much. They are a great example of the flex and convex of a wonderful marriage. They support each other, they defend each other. They are great people.
The birthday tradition is THEEEE best!! And heck yah, i wanted all the songs! It's payback for singing all the songs for OTHER people. I should post the picture about the year that my cake literally caught fire. It was awesome.