My mother would be celebrating her 83rd birthday today.
This is still your day!
Alzheimer’s took her. The twisted beauty of this disease is that my mother had no idea her mind and body was deteriorating. She was able to live her last years in a state of eternal bliss and happiness within the confines of her own being. Even though we all knew what the final outcome of this disease would be, the news of her passing still came as a shock.
My mother certainly didn’t have an easy life either. Orphaned at the age of 13, she was passed around to the families of older siblings, and when she talked about this, it always left her very sad and almost always emotionally drained.
She married at 22 and had me, her oldest, at 23 years of age.
At 27 years, pregnant again, this time with one of my brothers. Easter photo with me, my dad, my mom and my sister. I still remember her hat–but look how pretty she is! She and my dad made quite the striking couple–I must say!
Over the span of 13 years, there were five kids to raise-and would have been seven.(My sister Beth Ann died as a newborn and my mother lost a baby in her seventh month). I cannot imagine going through what she suffered—and suffer she did. Our youngest brother, Pete was a definite godsend to the family! She was the main disciplinarian—my dad’s schedule as a NYC Police officer oftentimes left her alone to manage our homework, activities, meals and bedtime rituals. She ran a tight ship and ran it well.
My mother always made sure we were well-taken care of. Our school uniforms were always pleated and creased to perfection. Our shirts always brightly white and freshly pressed (thus my love for ironing to a Zen-like level—ironing is not a chore but a pleasure). Our home was always immaculate—in fact so much so that we were not allowed to enter the house via the front door! To this day, I’ve never had a roast of any kind that could compare to my moms. Seriously—I still dream about her perfectly rare roast beef coming out of the oven with that layer of crispy onions that I couldn’t wait to savor!
One of the earliest memories I have of my mom was in the late 1950’s. I was watching my mother get ready to go out and was absolutely mesmerized by her thick black hair and the way she would take those pin curls out; her locks would fall into a perfect “page boy” with a beautiful wave. Her olive complexion against her white crisp sleeveless blouse made her skin look slightly tanned and the skirt’s fullness showcased a waist that was far smaller before additional pregnancies. She applied her lipstick so carefully and when she was finished she was absolutely beautiful. That early memory is my fondest memory of her.
My worst memory—I must’ve been around nine or ten. And we all have our worst memories! Bitter cold afternoon during the end of January. Homework was completed and I wanted to go outside for a while. My mother said no, it was too cold. I did not let up on wanting to go outside. My mother, in all her festering anger, threw a pair of sneakers at me and told me to put them on—then she grabbed my jacket—and I’ll never forget—the jacket was a white ski jacket. Nylon with red and blue stitching and the hood of the jacket was trimmed in fake fur—she threw the jacket at me and told me to put it on. I did. She opened the side door to the house and threw me out. She told me not to come back in. Well, let me tell you—it was freezing out. I had no socks on, no gloves; the only protection for my head was the hood to the jacket. I tried to get back in the house, but my mother locked all the doors. We had a tool shed in the back of the driveway. I opened the door and entered. When the sun set, it got even colder. I tried to go back into the house. The doors were still locked.
What I did next, was probably either very stupid or very smart—years later, I’m still trying to figure it out. I went to a neighbor’s house and explained what happened. She called my mother and escorted me home. My mother was very cordial, and when that door closed, I got the bejeezus beaten out of me.
Personally it was worth it because I’d rather get the crap kicked out of me than have to remain in that bitter cold. I don’t know if my mother’s actions were just her way of disciplining me or whether I just caused her to snap—as I have always been great at annoying people. But that one incident remains as one of the great mysteries of my life. To this day I still feel bad that I made her that angry! The amazing thing is–none of my brothers or sisters every challenged her the way I did. You would think I learned my lesson–but NOOOOOO, I just kept at it. And I kept getting corporal punishment. Thank God I have a thick skull–LOL!
I also remember an incident that occurred that made me feel so sorry for her that I cried. My dad was a total meat and potatoes man. One Friday night, rather than the usual “Fish Sticks and Spaghtetti” (we Catholics did not eat meat on Fridays in those days), she made ‘”Shrimp Curry”. Now this is back in—what? 1965? 1966? I don’t think any of us had even heard of the word curry. Well, she went to the store, bought a ton of shrimp and cooked this dish. Nobody liked it. I mean nobody!!!! I felt so bad that she went through all that trouble and everyone thought it was atrocious. The look on her face as she cleared the table was heartbreaking. So I told her it wasn’t that bad—and I ate my share. It really wasn’t that bad at all! Next Friday it was back to the fish sticks.
Every child has a unique relationship with their parents—especially daughters with mothers. My relationship with my mother was complicated at times, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t love her. Her actions certainly didn’t’ say she didn’t love me. She had a lot on her plate and had a rough life when she was younger—and she did a stellar job in raising and taking care of us!
Despite our differences, and my constant need to get on her nerves, I thank my mother for giving me good values. I thank her for teaching me to be kind to others, despite any handicaps or challenges they may have. I thank her for teaching me the importance of good manners in social situations. I thank her for giving me a solid work ethic.
My mom and dad with the grandkids. Summer 1991.
With the kids in Florida. 1995
Oona and my mom decorating the tree 1993
What I also thank her for ….
Surprising us with little gifts when she won at Bingo.–
Taking us to “Cookie’s”, the local candy store on Linden Boulevard when we lived in Ozone Park—many fun afternoons were spent at the soda fountain drinking lime rickey’s and coming home with paper dolls.
These Lennon Sisters Paper Dolls a.k.a. “cut-outs, and other little gifts like coloring books were always treasured!
Keeping me in great shape as a child by walking with her to Liberty Avenue to run errands—it was much healthier than taking the bus!
Our trips to Rockaway Beach—convincing my dad, who hated the sand and the beach that we needed the fresh summer air!
Teaching me the importance of toothpick cleaning! (Something passed down from all the women in her family).
Curing an earache by warming up some olive oil on a cotton ball and placing it in your ear—IT WORKS!
Cleaning patent leather with Vaseline.
Out of suppositories? No problem! Cut off a piece of soap and………..( I believe you get the picture)!
Period cramps? A shot of blackberry brandy works wonders. (I was the luckiest girl in high school!)
Baby teething? Dip your finger into a bottle of whiskey and rub finger on the baby’s gums. It’ll sooth the pain. In my personal opinion, this is more organic than the chemicals in the OTC gum soothers.
Best way to rid your white clothing of stains? Clorox and Borax!
Never wear white after Labor Day and before Memorial Day. A rule I still almost follow-my love for white jeans is seasonless—depending on the state of the hemorrhoids.
Typing essays and other written projects for me—and on an old school, non-electric typewriter!!!!!
Never buy pearls for yourself—it’s bad luck. Thus my superstitions only have me purchasing faux pearls.
Always rub Ponds cream into your neck before going to bed. (I should have listened to her—she never suffered from turkey neck).
Iron shirts and cottons when they are damp—the wrinkles are pressed much easier!
Happy Birthday Mom!
You were a good woman and I wish I had been less of a pain-in-the-ass!
I hope you remembered me this way–as I hope you remembered everyone in a better way!
In honor of all out mothers, whether they have passed on or if they are still with us, let’s get happy thoughts with a great Beatles song about moms: “Your Mother SHOULD Know!