Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 22, 2024

How my family shaped who I am today

By ADDY PERLMAN | December 5, 2019


“This old heart of mine been broke a thousand times” plays from the speaker on my desk as I finish up my homework for the night. I fall down a wormhole, and I’m back in the passenger seat of my dad’s Ford F150. The heat is blasting, and the “heater seat,” as we call it, is on level three. It’s the middle of winter in Valdosta, Georgia, so it’s about 45 degrees. We hot-blooded country folk can’t handle it. 

Passing over the Suwannee River, I put my feet on the dashboard to hold them up like I have done for 12 years. My dad told me to do it because his father told him to; it’s a tradition, a superstition. Cousin Brucie announces it is 60s on 6 and it’s time for Percy Sledge’s hit song “When a Man Loves a Woman.” And my dad belts it. 

I plug my ears as I try to prepare for his wailing. His fingers excitedly tap out the beat on the steering wheel as we pass over the last part of the bridge. I can finally put my feet down. I focus on everything we drive by even though I’ve been riding by them everyday for years. A gas station is being rebuilt on my right, but behind it are dirt roads and horses roaming in pastures. Pine trees and deer still own more of the land than people do. We pass some of my classmates, and to embarrass me, my dad lifts my arms like I’m a marionette and wiggles them around in a sort of dance move.

As he serenades me, he doesn’t forget to mention that this is his and my mom’s song. He tells me every time, but he’s never the one to remind me how they got married; that’s my mom’s job. They went to Las Vegas. And no, they didn’t have a drunken wedding that they didn’t remember when they woke up. My parents were actually on vacation, and one morning, my mom started worrying about how she was 35 and unmarried. 

They had been dating for 13 years at this point. When my dad asked what she wanted to do, she said she wanted to get married. He said, “Ok, let’s go sign the papers,” and that’s exactly what they did. They went to a courthouse, signed the marriage papers and had a cop take their “wedding photo” in front of the 99¢ shrimp cocktail billboard. 

Finally, the song and memory lane come to an end. A classic Beatles hit starts as we pull up to my middle school, the one-hall brick building next to my elementary school, and Dad is still singing at the top of his lungs. 

I’ve been on this same campus since pre-K, and I will move to the next brick building for high school. My classmates are more like siblings because the 40 of us have grown up together. We have graduated from dress up games to football games where we cheer on the high school team and dream of being older. The high schoolers park their cars, and without even glancing our way, they head into their territory. Dad and I patiently wait in the drop-off line, and then it is finally my turn to run inside. 

“Be careful, you don’t want to ruin everyone’s morning,” I say as I slide out of the warm incubator and into Antarctica. As soon as the words come out of my mouth, his fingers are reaching for the volume, and the number skyrockets from a mild 16 to a headbanging 30. 

I’m not embarrassed; he has done way worse. He slid down the hall on his stomach in front of the whole school when I was in third grade, knocking a few kids down along the way. I actually like how he jokes around and doesn’t care what anyone thinks, but of course I’ll never admit that to him. And, I can certainly never tell him, but I want to be like him. Even if I did, he would tell me, “No, don’t be like me. Be like your mom,” and he would mean it. 

I know everyone says that their mom is cool, but mine really is. She left the Southern Baptist Church at a young age because the preacher yelled about suffering from Hellfire and Eternal Damnation if you did not strictly follow the rules of the Bible. Then she shocked the world by converting to Judaism after practically proposing to my father. 

Converting was huge, especially in such a small and very Christian town. She’s a trend breaker, and that’s why my dad hopes I take after her. But the best part is that she owns an exterminating company. Not only did she develop the one in Valdosta, but also she expanded it throughout Georgia and South Carolina. 

My mom was the business owner, and my dad retired when I was born. I had a stay-at-home dad. I also had Pearl. She was my nanny, but she was really a second mother. Pearl had two jobs to raise her children and she never stopped working. She is the most incredible woman I have ever known, and she taught me how to see the world. 

Without Pearl, I wouldn’t be the strong and determined woman I am today. My mom showed me how to be confident and how to take charge with a smile and a kind heart. My father taught me that there is no point in getting embarrassed in life because it is too short to worry about what people think. These three people, especially my mom, have shaped who I am. 

My mom has never drawn attention to her success. She has never once bragged or boasted. She is not only humble but also down-to-earth. She’s genuine, and this is a characteristic I feel is disappearing from the world. She does not know how special she is. Growing up with a woman like her as my role model is the only reason I am the person many of you know. Without even realizing it, she has shown me the woman that I hope to be one day. So, when my dad says, “No, don’t be like me. Be like your mom,” I always want to say, “That’s all I want.” 

I’m pulled back to my life at Hopkins as Steppenwolf sings, “Like a true nature’s child / We were born, born to be wild.” I can’t help but think that my mom was wild in her day, so I’m going to say that’s the first, maybe second and third, step to becoming like her. 

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