In 1992, during an MTV town hall meeting in Washington, a 17-year-old student asked President Bill Clinton the question that stunned everyone: “Do you wear boxers or briefs?”
When we talked about it later, I remember you shaking your head, saying “Somebody’s mother needed to have a long, serious talk with her daughter.” Dad said that somebody needed to have a long, serious talk with Clinton for answering the question.
Occasionally we made a game of “either/or” questions. Not boxers or briefs, of course, but other debatable either/or questions: Which sport takes more talent, baseball or basketball? If you could read only one newspaper, would it be Wall Street Journal or Kansas City Star? If you could eat only one meat, would it be grilled steak or fried chicken? Which would be worse to lose, your hearing or your vision? On and on we went, challenging each other to pick or choose.
After Dad died, I was helping you decide what to do with his clothes: should we offer them to an unemployed man who was about Dad’s size but might be offended, or should we box them up and donate them to Goodwill? It was only one of many decisions to make at a difficult time, and finally we just took a break and decided we didn’t have to do anything right then, at that moment. You sat in your recliner, looking out the big window of your living room. Finally I asked, “If you could choose only one, would you choose a door or a window?”
Since that day, I’ve noticed what others say about doors and windows. Horace Mann said: “A house without books is like a room without windows.” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote: “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”
You were a big fan of Erma Bombeck, and you laughed at this quote: “Never have more children than you have car windows.” And you agreed strongly with Victor Hugo’s philosophy: “He who opens a school door, closes a prison,” and Coco Chanel’s advice: “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.”
On the day I asked you which you would choose, a door or a window, you said, “It depends on the weather, I guess. And if I have some place to go, or if I want to watch the birds in the trees.” That made sense, and after we talked for a while we got up and went to Dad’s closet to decide what to do with his things.
John Barrymore said, “Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.” Mom, you’ve shown me that happiness sneaks in through windows, too, when you patiently sit and wait, expecting something pleasant to happen…outside your window, or inside, in your memories.
Thank you for being the stained-glass window that sparkles and shines when the sun is out, and when the darkness sets in your true beauty reveals the light from within you.