Mothers Day, 2021
In the movie of my young life, my dad was the star of the big screen, my mom, a mere supporting actress. A hotel manager, Dad was naturally gregarious. It was he who made sure when visitors came to town, especially his nieces and nephews, everyone had a good time. It was he who gave the toast on important occasions, raising a glass to his values, “work, family and faith.”
I was well into adulthood before I realized that my mother’s strengths extended well beyond her abilities at the Selectric typewriter. (Her skills, thanks to her willingness to type my papers, made me look better than other students who were, in those years, confined only to handwritten term papers.)
Somewhere along the way - i can’t remember when - I realized that my mother taught me lessons that have helped me when I was most in need.
My mom taught me that a woman can find great meaning in work. I was five years old when Mom returned the workforce as a secretary. And throughout her years working outside the home, until she retired at age 65, I learned that my mother found, in work, not only a measure of respect and financial independence, but also a coterie of other working women who became friends for life.
After my dad passed, she lived ten years. During those years, Mom and I spent time together as grown women do. We took walks on Cape Cod. She reveled in games with her grandson and, even when her physical capabilities were limited, she took joy in anything that would make us laugh. We talked as we never had done before about her life, about the music she loved and about the man she adored. We listened to Dean Martin, an Italian, like her parents, who sang the song that may have reminded her of her husband, “Retorna me, Cara mi ti amo, solo tu, solo tu...”
But it was even later in her life that my mom taught her greatest lesson. At age 88 my mother had a stroke. Weeks later, she was moved to a rehab facility. My thirteen year old son and I wheeled her to the Physical Therapy room where she was to begin exercise. Diabetes had sapped her of her energy and her vision, and the stroke had now taken her mobility. Never-the-less, as the physical therapist coaxed her up to the double bars and as she raised herself to walk, I witnessed a courage seen, I imagine, only in men going off to battle.
I don’t know if she pushed herself at that moment because she wanted to show me and her grandson the mettle of a woman who had lived through the depression and WWII or if she just wanted to walk one more time.
I know only when she died two year later, I was grateful to have recognized her for the extraordinary woman she was to to have appreciated the many lessons I learned from my mom.