A Family Portrait, 1960
My mother and father are both truly amazing and special people. This is an attempt to put down a few of my thoughts and memories of them. They’re both still around, in the their mid-80′s. My dad will be 86 this month.
Most of us hold our parents in good regard. That’s because most parents do much and go through a lot to earn that good regard. I’m the oldest of nine children. That means that I was there from the start. My folks and I go way back. I’ve known all my siblings since they were babies.
As with most large families, we went through some difficult times. We’ve had our share of ups, downs and “days of topsy-turvy.” In general though, we’ve done fine. Things have turned out OK.
Both my parents grew up in Detroit. They have strong memories of growing up in the city. Dad used to go to jazz concerts in the 1940′s. He saw acts from Duke Ellington to Spike Jones. His mother’s maiden name was Rivard. I’m related to the Rivard family that Rivard Street is named after.
Mom worked at Main Library, one of my favorite places. Her mother was a librarian. She also worked for the Detroit Public Library. My great-aunt Thelma worked in the book department of the downtown Detroit J.L. Hudson’s store.
My parents always encouraged and supported my imagination. They both are creative people themselves, in many ways. I think that they enjoy how I turned out to be an artist. They visit my exhibitions when they can. I have a self-published xerox zine called The Poetic Express. When it comes out each month my dad recites my new poetry to my mom.
We were always raised from a very humanist perspective. They’re both on the side of the poor and struggling. They were against war, racism, cruelty and exploitation. Let’s be civil. Let’s be kind! Let’s dream!
My father and I. We’ve worn each other out, it seems.
My father used to make little toys for us. I remember these “blockheads.” They were faces drawn onto foam rubber. When you squeezed them, the faces changed. They were like puppets. We had a “bearskin rug” that was really just a rug based on a drawing of a large sort of teddy bear. He’d lie down on it and tell us bedtime stories. Sometime they were things that he knew or memorized. Often, he’d make up yarns off of the top of his head. One of these was the legendary adventures of Ping Pong Pete, the Pineapple Pirate.
My mother also encouraged and appreciated our imaginative efforts, our drawings, games and stories. Play can be key to wisdom and growth.
I’m a junior, so my dad is the original Maurice Greenia. He was in both the Army and the Merchant Marines. This was in the mid-1940′s, post World War Two. He got to see the world a bit and to visit New York City. He went to college at the University of Detroit. He was involved in the Theater and acted in several plays. There are still old photos of him in his stage make-up.*
From the “Varsity News” November 14, 1950
Yes that’s Maurice Greenia on the LEFT not on the (right)
When I was a kid, he was a Detroit Public School teacher. Science was a specialty, but he taught other classes as well, including “home room.” Once in a while, I run into people who ask me “Did your dad teach science?” Thus I’ve met or received emails from some of his old students. They used to catch animals, bugs and snakes and bring them into class.
For awhile, there was a Saturday “Mad Scientists Club.” They’d do unique and fun science experiments. Even though I was younger, he’d let me tag along. When public television’s local “Mr. Science” went on vacation, dad got to substitute for him. It was a brief stint as a “TV star.” He did four or five shows.
Eventually, he left school teaching for a job at Detroit Edison. He helped develop training programs to teach various workers how to do their jobs.
In the late 1980s he had a serious heart attack. They didn’t think he’d live but he pulled through. I think it was a combination of luck, good doctors and medical technology. According to family legend, some of the hospital staff had never seen anyone come into the hospital in such a bad way and to leave in such a good way. They threw a party to celebrate! We’re glad to still have him some 25 years later.
In his retirement, he’s been an accomplished inventor. In 2012, he showed his aquariums and filtration pumps at the old Aquarium on Belle Isle.
At the Belle Isle Aquarium, 2012
Dad’s had some hearing loss and he’s working on that problem. Aside from that, his health seems fine. My wonderful grandparents and Uncles and Aunts have all left us except for my Aunt Pat. She’s my mom’s twin and my Godmother.
My mother has an interesting personality. I love her sense of humor and her outlook on life. She really went though a lot, raising nine children. She’s so smart. They both have a lot of stories from their lives. It great to get them going on Detroit history or family events.
I hope that I’m as sharp and together as my folks are, should I make it into my 80s.
They’re both big readers. My dad’s reading habits rival my own. It’s always great to visit and talk with them, a real treat.