Argh, an extended absence and now a blank slate. It's like writing my first post all over again. I'm still trying to catch up after spending ten days around Thanksgiving at my parents' house in Arizona. I went because my mom had knee replacement surgery (actually a "revision," I learned, since the surgeon was replacing an old artificial knee). Mom needed a couple of extra days in the hospital, so I got to spend a lot of time with my dad, which got me thinking about my nerdy origins.
My dad never watched "Star Trek" or read Arthur C. Clark novels, but I trace my nerd-dom directly to him. He had a cool Lego gear set that I envied (this was back when Legos were just colorful bricks). It was his toy, not mine - he'd owned it before I was born and I'm his first child. We moved several times when I was growing up and each place we lived, we were the only family in our neighborhood with a compost pile. Even at the retirement home where he and my mom live now, my dad saves banana peels and coffee grounds for the petunias. I'm not sure whether the nerdiest thing my dad has done was teaching himself to knit so he wouldn't get bored on business trips (this was way pre-9/11) or spending a week studying soybeans at the University of Illinois (my mom will point out that this was when they were serving on our church's Hunger Action Committee, but he's been both an unapologetic meat-eater and a soybean enthusiast for as long as I've known him). It is from him that I get my tendency to pick objects up with my toes, my preference for solitude over socializing, and my suspicion towards whatever the latest craze happens to be.
One of the things I admire most about my dad is his blatant disregard for what everyone else will think. Even as a teenager, I got a kick out of telling people that my dad had knit the sweater I was wearing, although I did slink down in the passenger seat of our Travel-All so I'd be out of sight when he stopped on a particularly tree-lined street to steal bags of leaves for his compost pile. For the most part, though, it's hard to think of a time when I haven't appreciated his uniqueness and resourcefulness: We had the coolest swing set in the neighborhood, made from an I-beam supported by 12-foot steel legs, because a store-bought piece of junk wasn't safe enough (or good enough) for his kids. He made sourdough pancakes and bread from starter he'd had since 1964. And when the antenna snapped off of my first radio because I threw it down in a fit of anger, he skipped the lecture and fixed it with a thick piece of copper he just happened to have lying around.
Either my appreciation of parental eccentricities is a family trait or my children aren't yet old enough to have outgrown it. My fourteen-year-old recently told me she doesn't miss watching TV, and neither she nor my eleven-year-old have any qualms about taking weird leftovers to school for lunch; in fact my older daughter enjoys grossing out her friends. When my parents visit, my eleven-year-old enjoys the four mile round-trip walk to the grocery store with my dad, and fondly remembers the time they walked home in the rain. She maintains that they would have been just fine if I hadn't shown up with the car to rescue them. My fourteen-year-old looks forward to the violin-viola duets she and my dad play because "it's nice to play with someone else who really cares about how they sound." While they only barely tolerate my dad's puns, they both appreciate his kindness and positive outlook on life, which although not exclusively nerdy traits, may partly explain why my mom has put up with my dad's quirks so willingly for the past 48 years.