Thursday, September 12, 2013


This may or may not be off my usual topic – but off topic may be a welcome relief to some of you!  Today is my Mother’s birthday.  She would have been 106, but we lost her 50 years ago.  Early onset Alzheimers is what her medical chart said.  At the time it was called premature hardening of the arteries.  “Alzheimers” was not in the common verbiage.  I was eleven when she was hospitalized, but she had been showing signs and symptoms for a long time and was being treated (more like manipulated) by archaic medical treatments – all of which left her more confused and less able to cope.  The angels took her home at 56.  

I’ve been thinking a lot about her today and, even though I was only with her for a fraction of her lifetime, I feel I benefited so much from her gentleness and strength. 

She had to be strong, she was raising 3 very active boys – two teens and an 11 year old – when I showed up.  Surprise! My Dad worked two jobs but between them they raised some pretty good kids (I’m a little questionable:).   My three brothers are all very accomplished, stable, truly nice people.  In this world today, I think that’s quite an accomplishment for any family – especially one where one parent is fighting a heinous disease and the other is trying to balance his grief and the realities of day to day life.  

She was the most gentle person I’ve ever known.  I don’t have a lot of memories of my short time with her – I think I’ve blocked out a lot.  But the few I do have are very precious.  She loved to laugh and she would get the rest of us laughing until we were all crying.  One Sunday afternoon, she was in the kitchen with my sister-in-law, making dinner.  All of a sudden I heard them screaming.  I went running in and there they were standing up on kitchen chairs screaming and laughing and crying all at the same time.  A tiny mouse had found its way into the house and was checking out the dinner menu.  I laughed so hard I thought I would be sick.  

Once my brothers knew she was terrified of mice, it was open season on the practical jokes.  Their favorite was to wait until my Mother was sitting on the couch in the living room at the end of a very long hallway.  They would tie a string around a rubber mouse, make a noise, and hide in the closet.  My Mother would turn and see the mouse slowly wandering across the hallway and the screaming, laughing and crying would begin all over again. 

I can picture her sitting at the piano, playing at every family gathering.  She loved to play and she played by ear.  She couldn’t read a note of music, but that didn’t matter.  She taught me how to play When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin Along but I wasn’t the most dedicated student.  I really wish I had been.  What a gift she had!  

When it was time for me to go to Kindergarten, she decided to home school me.  It wasn’t called that at the time, but that’s what she did.  By the time I got to first grade, I could write my name and address, the alphabet, my numbers, do simple math, and say all my prayers (I went to a Catholic school).  I’ve had a lot of exceptional teachers over the many years of education I’ve been fortunate enough to experience, but none as caring and effective – and none with her tender and smiling disposition.  There’s an unfortunate side note to this memory.  My Mother allowed me to write with whatever hand I chose.  I was a lefty.  When I went to school, the old Irish nuns slapped my hand with a ruler whenever I used my left hand.  According to them left-handedness was a sign of the devil.  Oh the good old days! 

She had the most beautiful smile.  I can close my eyes and see it clearly.  When I was in 2nd grade, I ran a marathon of diseases – all back to back.  I presented at school one day with a case of the measles and was immediately sent home.  When that was waning, the chicken pox moved into our house.  My immune system apparently had taken a vacation, because Rheumatic Fever followed – all within a 3 month period.  My Mother was back to home schooling again, and nursing, and humoring a really miserable 7 year old patient.  She played the piano, we played games, (remember, no TV in those days – no Wii – no iPOD – no Angry Birds).  She taught me how to crochet and knit and mend.  She answered my many complaints with hugs and kisses and her beautiful, steady smile.

My Mother liked liver and onions, but none of the boys would eat it.  I remember her making it for our lunch – often!  She said she was going to get one of us to like it.  It didn’t work with me either! 
Whenever I had a cold, she would sit me down in the kitchen and get the Irish Whiskey out.  I got a little bit in a tiny shot glass and was told it would cure the problem.  After that, she would cut a lemon in half and give me a saucer with sugar in it.  She said to dip the lemon into the sugar and suck out all the juice.  This was absolutely guaranteed to make me feel better – and it did.  She had the cure for everything. 

When my best friend was hit by a car and killed the first day of our summer vacation after second grade, I was inconsolable.  I was holding his hand one second and he was flying through the air the next.  She was the only one who could calm me – the only one who had the right words.  Sometimes when I’m particularly upset by something, I talk to her.  I wish she could hug me but I know she’s there with me smiling that smile and loving me as no one else ever could or ever will.  That’s what Mother’s do and she was very good at her job. 

                          Happy Birthday Mother!  I love you!