Today would have been my mother’s 95th birthday. My mother never celebrated her birthday and barely allowed us to celebrate it. If she could see me typing now, she would say, “Why the hell are you writing about that?” She was a character. While we were growing up, she always told us we would miss her when she was gone, and she was right. She was always such a huge presence in our lives, but she has been gone for six and a half years now. Yet, I know she is looking down on us and still watching over us, protecting us and loving us. I feel her with me still. Her kind of mother’s love transcends death.
What do I remember about her? Lots of things. I was blessed to have her in my life for 50 years. My mother loved to gamble, but she was a sore loser. Mostly she got angry when playing rummy 500 or checkers with my father. As long as she was winning, things were quiet. She’d score her 500 points and cross out the game on the paper and put her initial “J” over it in victory. But, when my father won a game things went a little differently. He was allowed to win an occasional game, without incident. However, if he was winning a string of games, look out. He would start laughing with that “hyena” game winning laugh and my mother would literally blow a fuse. Cards went flying in the air, screaming began about how she wasn’t ever going to play with him again. And there was plenty of colorful language to go along with it. Then she would go play solitaire. She played solitaire for hours, day in and day out, until her bruised ego healed. Then I would find my parents playing checkers. My mother would keep score of how many games they each won. Once again things were great as long as she was being “kinged” and taking all his checkers, but Lady Luck is fickle. Soon he would have his own winning streak, and her checkers would be coming off the board. The “hyena” laugh, checkers flying everywhere, lots of cursing, and she vowed never to play checkers again…until next time.
I remember Saturday afternoons, after we finished dinner, when my mom would put up a big pot of sauce for Sunday dinner. It was a big production. She had to peel 12 cloves of garlic and mince six of them for the meatballs. The other six were fried to a golden brown and then the sauce was put into the pot and season with some salt, a little sugar and a few basil leaves. Frying the meatballs, pork meat and whatever else she would throw in, took a while. All the time the aroma filled the entire house. As the sauce was cooking, she would go over and stir the pot every 15 or twenty minutes. The whole process easily took 2.5 to 3 hours. Then she would let it cool a few hours and put it in the refrigerator for the next day. My mother didn’t necessarily love to cook, but she sure did love to watch us eat and enjoy her meals. But she would always say, at the end of each meal, “this took two days to make and 5 minutes to eat.”
Every year she planned a trip to Las Vegas. We first went in 1976, during Thanksgiving weekend and she loved it. Every year after that, for about 20 years, she made it a point to go there. My brother would accompany her. In the beginning, they would buy tickets and see a show or two while they were there. One year, when by brother went to get her so they could make it to the show on time, she told him she couldn’t go now, the machine was “hot.” He threw a fit and he managed to pry her away from the machine. I remember once she told me she saw Telly Savalas there with his lollipop and when she said hello, he walked past her like she wasn’t there. Another time they were having breakfast and at a nearby table was Joe DiMaggio. Lucky for Joe she didn’t go over to him and cause a scene. Once, while they were doing a little souvenir shopping, Rip Torn walked into the store. My brother turned to her and said, “Do you know who that is? That’s Rip Torn!? My mother yells out in her street voice, “Who the hell is Rip Torn?” Of course everyone heard her and my brother was mortified. And finally, they once ran into Jerry Vale during one of their stays. My mother goes up to him and says, “You’re Jerry Vale!” To which Jerry must have answered yes. Then my mother says, “I want you to meet my son. Vin come over here, this is Jerry Vale!” Again my brother wanted to crawl under a rock, but that was our mom. You had to be prepared for anything.
My mother loved using old expressions or making up her own. She may have coined the saying, “You try to do good, and you get it up your ass.” This expression came in handy when she would give us her unsolicited advice and it was obvious we didn’t appreciate it. I notice that happens a lot with my own girls. My mother was always very helpful to others. She couldn’t hear a sad story without trying to make things better. Unfortunately the same people she tried to help often were not very nice in the future. So that is probably how that expression was born. Another classic of hers was, “Used to be’s ain’t what they used to be.” I remember sitting around in her living room and I was telling my girls about how the whole family used to get together for the holidays and what great memories I had. My mother piped up with her expression, “used to be’s ain’t what they used to be” and my daughter rolled on the floor laughing, with tears running down her face. You had to be there, because her timing and delivery were priceless.
But my mom was right, used to be’s, ain’t what they used to be any more. Since she’s been gone so much has changed. No more morning calls to see how I’m doing every day. No more advice that came from years of experience and wisdom. No more of my favorite meals because my cooking never measured up to hers. No more sounds of her laughter. No cards or checkers flying through the air. No trips to Vegas with stories to tell. No more hugs and kisses and “I love you’s.”
But one thing hasn’t changed, she is still with us in spirit. She is watching over our every move, nothing could stop her. Her words of wisdom ring in our ears. Her love is still guiding and protecting us from world. Her memories comfort us and make us laugh. My older daughter has her eyes. Not just the hazel color, but the gleam when she smiles or when she is being devious. I can look at her eyes and still see my mom in them. And I hear my mom still saying, “You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.” And we do Mom.
So Happy Birthday Mom. I hope they are having a huge party for you up there. We miss you so much