Editorial By Shaila Creekmore, Illustration By Brittney Guest as printed in the Sept. 09 issue of Jonesboro Occasions.
Every day, I wear a ring on my right hand that my dad gave to my mom nearly 54 years ago. A white gold band with a round diamond in a square setting, it’s a beautiful ring that often gets noticed by others. But it’s not the ring itself that means so much to me – it’s the 53 years of marriage that my parents have enjoyed and endured.
I wore the ring on my wedding day 10 years ago and have worn it since. Twice, I have taken the ring off for one of my nieces to wear on their wedding day. Later this month, I will again hand the ring to my niece, Renee, for her something old and something borrowed as she marries her fiancée, Jarrod.
It’s not typical for someone my age, 31, to have nieces who are married, but I don’t come from your typical family. My dad, Alvin Dailey, was 47 years old when I was born and my mom, Marilyn, turned 41 the month I was born. My brothers were 18 and 20 at the time. When I was just 10 months old, I became an aunt to my niece, Andrea. In total, I have six nieces, two great-nephews and five great-nieces. And just for the record, I was never called “Aunt Shaila” until the great-nephews and nieces came along.
As a child, I got used to people referring to my mother as my grandmother and as an adult I’ve become accustomed to the remark, “Well, YOU were a surprise!” or “You were a late in life baby weren’t you.” That one term has defined me for most of my life and is a large part of who I am.
Being a late in life baby has some disadvantages. While we are a close family, I find that I have a closer relationship to my nieces than I do with my brothers simply because of our ages and our places in life. I’m also having to deal with aging parents much sooner than the average person. With parents who are now 79 and 71, I spend a lot of time on the phone asking about doctor visits and test results.
But in many ways, those disadvantages are far outweighed by the advantages. My parents were basically pros at the parenting lifestyle by the time I came along (which was both an advantage and disadvantage). They had not only been through the duties that come with having a preschooler, but had already been through the struggles of raising teenagers and had learned about those do’s and don’ts. Although I had brothers, I grew up basically as an only child since they were both out of the house. But unlike an only child, as an adult I have the help and support of my brothers.
And there is some measure of being spoiled when you’re the baby of not only the immediate family, but the baby of numerous cousins on both sides of the family. My grandfather, who was a small farmer in Lee County, once came home with a squeaky toy lion and gave it to me when I was just a few months old. Growing up, I would often hear about that afternoon and how special it was for my grandfather to give me that little toy because he had never given another grandchild a toy. I still have that faded plastic lion with my little chew marks on the crown sitting atop a bookshelf in my boy’s nursery.
Both the lion and my mother’s ring serve as two constant reminders to me: although I was a surprise to our family, I was always wanted and loved and that sometimes the unpredictable things in life are better than what we’ve imagined for ourselves.