Saturday, May 7, 2011

Bringing Up Mother

I am fortunate to still have my mother with me and in good health.  There was a time when I considered writing a book about my mother's family that would be only somewhat fictional, meaning the only thing I would change would be the names.  My mother comes from an interesting family, to say the least, and I believe some of the events that happened early in her life shaped the person that she is now.

My grandfather was "right off the boat", as they say.  With his light hair and blue eyes, no one thought twice when he changed his Italian name to an Anglo one and tried to pass himself off as an American.  An engineer, he married my grandmother when she was still in her teens and they lived a comfortable middle-class life on a little acreage in Southwest Philadelphia.  They had four daughters and one son together, the boy coming at the end of the line.  The children lived on a little suburban oasis with a playground and chickens and rabbits and other pets. They were well-dressed, well-fed and well-schooled.

One day, as he was waiting for the train to take him home from his job, my grandfather suffered a massive heart attack.  He was dead before his body hit the platform.  The youngest was barely out of infancy.  There was no Social Security or welfare at the time.  My grandmother took a job sewing draperies in a factory and the children were parceled out to various relatives.  My mother, second youngest, was not even five when she was sent to live with an aunt and uncle she had never met and their two teenaged boys.  My mother lived a privileged life with her relatives, but all she wanted was to come home to her mother.  Some years later, she did.  The family lived in near poverty and if it weren't for the generosity of the nuns, they would have gone without a holiday dinner at Christmas and Thanksgiving.  My mother often told me of having only one or two pairs of socks and underwear and having to rinse them out every night in order to have something clean for the next day.

I think that it is because of the trauma of being separated from her family at such an early age that my mother tends to cling emotionally to me and my children, to the point where it can become suffocating.   I was complaining about this the other day to my husband when I had to curtail my Divine Mercy Sunday activities in order to be at Sunday dinner on time.  God is all well and good, but let Him interfere with my mother's plans for Sunday dinner, and watch out.

"Why can't you go the Divine Mercy Mass over here? Why do you have to go all the way to that Monastery? I don't like that drive.  Be careful.  Don't be late."

Talk about a conflicting message!

"You're not going to have them that much longer," my husband said ruefully, and I knew it's because he was thinking about his own parents.  He lost his mother and father within six months of each other.

My mother has an odd set of beliefs.  She faithfully attends Mass each week, daily when possible, and is very active in her parish.  Growing up, I remember that she was always part of the group of ladies that cleaned the church each week and every Monday evening she was at Sodality.  But she has a very generous interpretation of the Catechism of the Catholic church.

When I was contemplating my return to the church, I went to a memorial Mass with her for a relative.  When it came time to go to Communion she told me I could go because the priest had already absolved me of my sins.  "When did that take place?"

"At the beginning of Mass, when he said "may almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you your sins and bring you to everlasting light."

Fortunately, I did not believe her.

My mother and I were estranged during my adolescent years.  It was her choice, not mine.  She went through some difficulties at the time with early menopause and while I have forgiven her for what happened, it was not easy to forget.  I never dredge up the past as to do so would only serve to inflict hurt.  But I often wonder would have happened had she not wandered away from the church and from my father.  My parents were actually separated for three or four years and eventually got back together.  During that time, my faithful Catholic mother stopped going to Sunday Mass and Monday Sodality.  When she lost her way, I lost mine, too.  I don't blame her for that, but it has served to reinforce how important my example is for my children to remain faithful.

Now that my mom is getting up there in years, she can be excused for some of her goofiness.   I invited her to go to the TLM one Sunday with my daughter and me.  She got to my house just five minutes before Mass was to start.  I was exasperated with her when I found out the reason she was late was because she decided to pick up some tea biscuits for my father on the way over.

"You worry too much" she told me when I complained we were going to be late.  "That Mass is and hour and a half long.  You could miss five minutes and not miss anything."


Luckily, the celebrant was running late from the previous Mass and we got there just in time.

"See" she said, louder than what I found acceptable.  I shushed her.  Yes, I shushed my own mother in church.

The other day, when I got hopelessly lost on my way to a conference, I called my mother. Yes, GoogleMap can be wrong.  I learned that first-hand.   I knew my mother had been to the place where the conference was being held numerous times and could direct me there.  She could tell how upset I was because I was late and would have to suffer the humiliation of entering a room full of big-wigs an hour past the time I should have been there.  It was pouring rain.

"Stay where you are, I'll come get you and lead you there."  She came out in her pajamas with a jacket over them.  For a minute I forgot that I am 50 years old and my mother is 72.  She lead me to the conference center and then rolled down the window to give me a pep talk.

"Don't worry about being late.  Just walk in there like you own the place.  To hell with those people if they don't like it. They probably won't even notice."

She was right. No one did notice.  My boss was even late.


  1. LOVED reading this should write a book! Have a blessed Mother's Day whatever you do~Theresa

  2. Happy Mother's Day to you, too Theresa! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Happy Mothers Day- If you don't want to write a book you could start a new blog where you chronicle the history of your family, preserving the stories for generations to come. I wish my father-in-law would do that. We groan at the countless times he repeats them but at some point we're going to wish he had written them down. I'm trying to convince him to do so, or at least record them and I'll transcribe.

  4. Kathy, the things I once considered writing about are not the kinds of stories that should be preserved. My grandmother was a very holy and I would even say saintly person throughout her entire life, but some of her children got things terribly wrong. The moral fiber did not extend to all of the children and it's not for me to say why I think that is the case.

  5. Loved this.
    "Gifted" is an over-worked adjective these days, but you are a truly gifted writer.
    And we are lucky bums to get to read your stuff.
    Have a wonderful day, Joyce.

  6. Julie, you made my day. Thank you for all your kindness and I hope that you, too, have a wonderful day!

  7. Your mother's odd beliefs are more common than you think. I bet they are the rule for a lot of people. I've run across notions like that too. I remember growing up and people arguing over what part of the mass was the part you had to attend, and once that was over, skip on out. Some said the Gospel reading, some said the Eucharest prayers.

    Your mother sounds like a wonderful person, one of those Italian-Americans I can just envision. She sounds like she could be a relative of mine!

  8. Well, Manny, you do know that my mother has relatives on Staten Island, right? LOL, maybe we're long lost cousins.

  9. LOL, you never know. Did you know that Richmond County, which is another name for Staten island, has the highest number of Italian-Americans of any county in the entire country? But we were orignally from Brooklyn and moved over. Actually most I-As on Staten Island probably moved over from Brooklyn.

  10. What a great read! Your mom sounds so much like my dear mom, who passed away 2 years ago. I miss her so much, especially today.

    Thanks for sharing!


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