Today, February 12, marks two very special anniversaries. One is of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, who held the American family together through its severest trial, and did so much to make it one again. The other is of the marriage of my parents, John and Barbara Gail (Hobbs) Fleming, who created the wonderful family in which I and my siblings were privileged to grow up.
Neither of these blessed endeavors had an auspicious beginning. Mr. Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 in a one-room log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky to frontier farmers Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Mom and Dad eloped and were married on February 12, 1954 before a justice of the peace in the small town of Kingsland, Camden County, Georgia.
Lincoln educated himself and labored on and about his family's small farms, as well as in various small-time jobs and enterprises, and attained no public prominence until his mid-20s. When they married Dad was an enlisted man (corpsman) in the United Stats Navy, son of a house painter and an innkeeper's daughter, Mom a policeman's daughter and a freshman student in college, which she left. They literally lacked a pot to piddle in, but struggled together and after Dad's discharge settled in western New York state (Grand Island) where Dad had grown up, and had 4 children over the next 8 years. They built much of their first house themselves, on a small lot that had been part of Dad's family's farm. Dad drove a milk truck for his uncle's dairy business; Mom stayed home--as most mothers did back then--with us kids. We probably weren't "poor," but certainly weren't "rich" or even very "comfortable." But Mom and Dad worked hard to make sure that we children never lacked for what we really needed. We never felt deprived, nor entitled to anything more than we had. We were praised when we did well, comforted when we were hurt or sad, punished when we did wrong. We were taught how to read, draw, and do basic things for ourselves before we went to kindergarten. We learned to be respectful toward adults and never to be mean to other children. We were regularly given chores to do, which we sometimes did willingly--but almost always did, like it or not. We ate meals together, around the kitchen table. We went to church, as a family, most every Sunday. We children knew we were loved and cared for, and that our parents would give their lives for us if necessary.
Abraham Lincoln went on to political greatness and national immortality. Mom and Dad never gained nor sought public prominence. But what they achieved matters even more to me and their other children. They taught us how to be decent, faithful, self-sufficient people, and good citizens. They taught us what family is all about, and showed us how to build and maintain strong ones of our own. It wasn't always easy growing up, and there were plenty of "confrontations" among us. But the glue of love and commitment that held us together, though it may have bent a little now and then, never cracked or broke. Mom and Dad saw to that. Thanks to them, all of us siblings and all of our children are devoted to them and to each other, and get along better than virtually any family I know of. I can't adequately express what a blessing that is. And we owe it, ultimately, to two humble people who tied the knot 58 years ago today, and are still around to warm us with their sunshine. Thank you Mom and Dad, and the Lord who gave blessed us with them!