BY MARY MALLOY
Mother's Day is always bittersweet for me. I am happiest when I am with my husband and children (and now, a grandson!) as they were with me this last Mother's Day. But since 1992, there has been one thing missing on this and every other holiday - my own mom.
Born Mary Irene Elizabeth in 1910, she was the eldest of three, and saw her own young mother and two-year-old brother succumb to influenza by the time she was five years old. She met my father Al in Brooklyn and was married by the time she was 15. She gave birth to my brother Al at sixteen, and had seven more children, ending with me (I was the biggest "surprise," coming ten years after my brother Bob.) She was 44 years old, and nearly died giving birth to me. None of this seemed unusual to me growing up, but the older I get, the more I am emotionally able to appreciate this special woman.
I have always been envious when others would repeat the wonderful, wise words of wisdom that their own mothers had imparted to them - "A penny saved is a penny earned..." or "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence," and especially, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." What did my mother tell me? Nothing like that at all, No, she didn't teach me anything I could use.
This was a woman who sang around the house constantly. No one else my age knows "Barney Google" and "The Bluebird of Happinesss." She knew the first two bars of every song ever written, and the sang "Dum, dee, dum, dum, dum.." for the other stanzas. I thought every song ended the same way! This brave soul took me to see The Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965 (I still have the ticket stub.) We went on the Long Island Rail Road into Manhattan to see the stars of the hit T.V. show "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." in 1967. She was in her mid fifties then. This was a woman who never had time to enjoy her children, until me, and for that I am eternally grateful. Yes, she struggled with alcohol. Yes, she argued with my father, who passed away 22 years before she did. Until we moved to the suburbs when I was five, they did not have a lot of money - and not too much then, either. But I was lucky. I did not have to share shoes or hand-me-downs like my siblings did before me. I had a different, older mother and a more mellow father than my older brothers and sisters, some of whom were married with their own families when I came along (yes, I was born "Aunt Mary.")
What could I possibly have learned from this woman? She was ordinary. She wore housedresses and carried rubber bands on her wrists, and rolled her stockings down to her ankles when she was home. She shopped at Woolworths and cooked pot roast and corned beef and cabbage. She catered to my father, and as much as I loved him, he could be a downright crank and undeserving of her attentiveness. She had her troubles. She was frequently ill with gall bladder pain and migraines.
But what I learned from her was humor, tolerance and a positive attitude. She was the epitome of the 12-step program adage, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." She was not a martyr, or what we now call "in denial." She was upbeat. She sang when she didn't have a reason to sing. She was funny in an offbeat way. She once defrosted a Thanksgiving turkey in our backyard birdbath. She thought that was very funny. She knew that her troubles were there, but she carried on anyway. She talked to me about religion, music, sex, boys, life. She told me she trusted me, and that was quite a burden for a teenager in the early seventies.
And this is what she gave to me. Not some silly words of wisdom, not some useless proverbs. No, she didn't teach me how to fold a napkin or where to place the water glass (gosh, I still don't know that!) She confided in me when I was young, and she trusted me with her secrets. She was a mother and a friend, in that order. She taught by example, and I knew how I wanted to be like her, and how I didn't.
I always wish she were here. I don't miss her painfully, but wistfully. As I get older, and go through the ages that she did, I see how much she went through and how much she gave up, and how much she wished she could have done better.
So this is my very belated Mother's Day message: You did fine, mom. I think I am very much like you. And for that, I am very proud.
Mary Malloy is a published writer, having written humorous, ongoing columns in local newspapers including The East Rockaway Observer,The Five Towns Forum, Nassau Tribune, Nassau Community Newspaper Group, & Long Island Woman periodical. She recently married her childhood sweetheart and is the mother of five children, ages 12 to 30 --and the grandmother of a lively toddler name Thomas. She experiences every day life by coping, juggling and living on (and loving) Long Island, New York and sharing the humor and the ironies of life with others.