Of what I do know, she had to leave school in the 5th grade and she worked as a young girl in a crayon factory. It cracks me up every time I think of this because my sister insists that my mom used to bring her crayons from the factory, which of course is impossible but I understand those types of, what I will call "phantom memories"; I've had one or two myself. Circumstances beyond her control left my mom functionally illiterate but she had something that goes far beyond reading or writing, she had heart. Surviving a very difficult upbringing in a difficult home with a mother who was an amputee and left severely maimed from diabetes; her dad, as I know the story (not very well) was abusive and non-existent. Mom, and her sisters (and brother) managed to survive the very challenging times of their youth.
My parents married in 1955. My mother's older sister Catherine had been married to my father's uncle Tony. My dad fled Italy earlier that year after a life that included serving in WWII, playing pro soccer, working as a fisherman and Captain and what most would consider a successful life at the age of 29. Together, mom and dad, fought their way through the challenges in their life to make a home and in 1959, my brother John was born. There were three more pregnancies that were unsuccessful before I came along as 1964 was ending and soon after, mom had gotten pregnant again and gave birth to my sister in March of 1966.
There were a lot of things about our upbringing that was unconventional. For me and my sister, parents were 40+ when we were born, that wasn’t as common in the 1960’s as it is now. Most of our friends grandparents were in the same age rage as our parents, plus, with their particular upbringing, it was just, different. The thing is, we all had the chance to see the people that they were as they raised us and while it may have been unconventional to some, it was our life and both of them worked very hard to keep us fed, clothed and sheltered. They both made great sacrifices, not just for us but for others as well. I’ve seen my mom surrender her own plate of food so that someone else could have a meal and not just once in a while, it was just something she did.
For most of our lives, mom had health issues. We used to love when we got to take the checkered cabs to/from her doctor’s office and would love to sit in those lift up seats. There was a general store at the corner of the street where the doctor’s office was and I recall going in there getting a treat sometimes before the ride home. Heck, if my memory cells are still fizzling on positive, I seem to remember her doctor, Dr. Cantor had a secretary named Virginia.
There are a million memories but I’ll share just one more; it may have been one I’ve shared here before and I know I’ve told the story to some of you before but it’s one of the ones that sticks with me. Mom had the idea to throw a surprise 30th birthday for me. This part I am foggy on but I seem to recall her asking my sister to ask me for all of my friends’ phone numbers. Rose, do you recall this? What I do recall is the day before, my mother said this to me, “I’m having a surprise party for you tomorrow, make sure you get here and are surprised.” That may not have been the exact wording but it was close enough and captures the idea. To this day I smile thinking of it – I am sure there was no thought of her ruining the surprise; I don’t believe that ever occurred to her. I really think in her head she was looking out for all the guests and wanted them to get whatever she felt they were supposed to get for being there and yelling surprise.
September 19th, 1996 was the last day of her life. The evidence left behind of her last day leave some very strong indications that she actually knew that it was her last day as she made decisions and seemed to live that day very methodically, but full. By that time in her life, those last few years after my dad had passed, mom spent at least half of her days in hospital beds. She even battled to have something of a life after dad went, by surprise to us all. Mom dug into her fighting spirit though, she wanted more time, more time with us and with her grandchildren. With the help of our cousin Janice, who moved in with her to help with day to day stuff, something we could never be more thankful for, I was out there on most weekends and my sister and brother made their trips out as well. Once she had to go under the knife for a very risky bypass procedure, a little over a year after dad’s death, while she managed to survive the surgery, her recovery was very difficult and her health was very compromised from that point on.
It was very rare if ever that you knew how much pain my mom was feeling or how much she was suffering. For her, it was always about thinking of the rest of her family. But during that last year or so, every time the phone rang, my heart would race. I was sleeping when I got the call and it was my Cousin Janice’s boyfriend, behind a wall of tears, telling me that mom had died. Minutes later I as on my way and never had 75 miles felt so long.
Mom missed a lot of things in my life. I know she’d be proud of some of my accomplishments but it pains me that she never had the chance to meet my daughter. My mom was pretty intuitive about people. Of all the people that have come into and out of my life over the years that mom never met, there’s only one who I really feel she’d have felt the same way I do about. Someone really special, someone I am so grateful to have gotten to know these past few years and someone whose had as much of a positive influence on my life as anyone I’ve ever known. Someone whose strength, courage and determination in all that she does and how she raises her beautiful children I know that my mom would appreciate.
Mom, it’s been 5,996 days since you left us and I’ve missed you for all of them. I love you.