Deborah Ledford used a simple philosophy as she navigated the complex task of raising four boys as a single working mother in Fresno, California, the United States.
“You don’t worry about the dirt in the corners,” said Ledford.
As long as the clothes and dishes were clean, and ample food fuelled the growing Lopez boys, it allowed the household to pursue the artistic and athletic endeavors that Ledford and her parents found most important.
Robin and Brook Lopez squared off recently for the 17th time as NBA players and first with Brook as a Laker in Los Angeles, where Ledford gave birth to her twins before her divorce. The twins will engage in their typical habit of not speaking to each other during the game and probably good-naturedly dissing each other before or after.
That behaviour will belie a friendship that features them talking every day – often, too, with older brothers Alex and Chris – and formed as Ledford and her parents created a creative world where their varied interests could flourish.
Both Brook and Robin are unabashed Disney and Star Wars fans. They go to comic book conventions and movie premieres. Brook writes. Robin sketches. They’re both obsessive readers.
It’s no surprise, really.
A swimmer competitive enough to try out for the 1968 American Olympic team, Ledford studied history and anthropology at Stanford before settling on a German major with a math minor.
She later secured a teaching degree and taught high school math in Fresno for years.
Her parents, Bob and Inky Ledford, were teachers and athletes. Bob played basketball in the old industrial leagues of the 1940s, while Inky was a gymnast who taught the sport for years at a time when women’s athletic opportunities were even sparser. Their parents were a librarian and a small-town newspaper publisher.
“It just seemed natural for us to have a wide breadth of interests,” Robin said. “The influences I had were all people with versatile interests who had a large world view.”
When Ledford moved her brood to Fresno with the twins entering third grade, she left all TVs behind.
“I wanted them playing outside, reading books and writing stories, building Legos and being creative with their minds,” she said.
When Ledford dropped the twins off at her parents, they’d find spare bedrooms magically transformed into “The Children’s Room” and “The Native American Room.” The former had an astonishing library of roughly 9,000 books culled from Inky’s acquisitions from thrift and antique stores, complete with first editions and every Caldecott award winner. Ledford catalogued the collection after Inky’s passing a little more than a decade ago.
“I felt like there was something for us to explore in every corner,” Robin said. “Especially in regards to the books, they were tucked away in every conceivable nook and cranny. She had shelves on all four walls going from floor to ceiling and even shelves in the closets. She also had a lot of pieces of Native American art and a bunch of old-school antique toys, puppets and marionettes, stuffed animals. There was so much cool stuff.”
In “The Childrens’ Room,” Robin and Brook would sit on the couch, bed or maybe in the rocking chair and read anything by Lewis Carroll of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland fame or the Land of Oz books.
“L. Frank Baum is a genius,” Robin said of the author who wrote The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz and its sequels.
Drawn mostly to fairy tales, Robin to this day loves visiting London because it feels magical to him.
Throughout the twins’ youth, the Lopez family visited museums and historical places. It’s no wonder that both boys developed an appreciation for Walt Disney.
“Disneyland was always their favourite place to go,” Ledford said. “They would sit in the back of the car and plot the trip.
“And it went beyond Disneyland. They really liked the vision Walt Disney had and the quality of his artwork. That always interested them.”
Throughout it all, including musical instrument lessons and acting in plays and musicals in high school, a love for sports bloomed as well. Volleyball, cross country and water polo eventually gave way fully to basketball.
The two hoops in the driveway eventually became one because the other broke. The teams were mostly always Alex and Brook versus Chris and Robin.
“But there wasn’t so much competition within the family,” Ledford said. “What we had more was support.”
Indeed, Robin and Brook would tote notebooks along for writing and drawing along as Alex – 12 years their senior – transferred from Washington to Santa Clara on his basketball scholarship or Chris went to his practices.
“Now it’s the reverse. The older brothers are supporting them,” Ledford said, laughing, of Alex and Chris following the NBA.
The NBA is full of charter jets and four-star hotels. It’s a long way from the long drives Ledford remembers her parents Bob and Inky making all over California to her various swim meets during her youth.
“I once said to my Dad, ‘I could never repay you for what you’ve done for me,’ ” Ledford said. “He said, ‘You’re not supposed to. You’re just supposed to pass it on. Do the same for your kids.’ ”
So Ledford did – without fail and without complaint.
“She sacrificed a lot for us. She was a wonderful role model for us,” Robin said.
“She’s probably the most intelligent person I know. And what’s really cool for me is I have a lot of friends who will tell me, ‘I was in your Mum’s math class. I loved having her as a teacher.’ That’s really special for me.” – Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service