Here’s what everybody who knew my mom knows about my mom.
Everyone knows she was funny. Not just nice-sense-of-humor funny, but laugh out loud, on purpose funny. Lucille Ball funny. Lucille Ball had her chocolates story; mom had her story about thinking the rose petals at a wedding were some kind of new age potato chips. While others were throwing the petals toward the bride and groom, mom was eating them. (The petals, not the bride and groom.) She’d tell you about the time she was leaving a party with dad and whispering to him that “the first thing I’m going to do is take off my pantyhose”—only to discover the man she was walking arm-in-arm with was a total stranger (who’s probably still laughing about it today.) Or the time she was dieting and a man sat down next to her in the cafeteria with two donuts. He got up and left, leaving one donut uneaten. Of course, she was eating it when he came back with his second cup of coffee.
On a European trip with Patti, Ginny and a number of their female friends, mom was making her grand entrance at the Casino de Monte Carlo. At the top of the stairs and between the royal guards, her slip fell around her ankles. Rather than keep it quiet, she burst out laughing. “Hey, everybody, look at me.” (Patti just kept walking. “I was horrified.”)
Once mom was at the beach house with my Aunt Louise. To this day we don’t know how they locked themselves onto the second-story porch, but their plans for ways to get safely back to earth ranged from full-frontal senior nudity to climbing down trees. Thank goodness a Good Samaritan beachcomber came to the rescue.
Then there was the time she was at a party with a good friend—and even though my dad’s sisters were named Mae and June—mom said to her friend, “I hate it when people name their kids after months or flowers. Don’t you, Violet?”
Everyone knows mom was social. Unlike her beloved son, she liked a party. No one was a stranger to my mom. Even if you’d never met her, if you found yourself in a line next to her, you’d soon be laughing at her stories and telling her how impressed you were by her son’s accomplishments at The Martin Agency.
Everyone knows mom had a huge heart. It’s not that she loved everyone—you couldn’t be as funny as mom was without having a few people to complain about—and we have to admit that she liked “cute” people more than she liked people who weren’t “cute”—but at least she always loved everyone she was with at the time.
Everyone knows that beneath that zany lady appearance, there was real wisdom. She might have grown up with a Southern accent, but she was never a bigot. If you were black, she noticed it, but “that cute black boy” was every bit as beloved as any cute white boy. If you aren’t cute, I’m sorry but your race won’t help you much either way. You could achieve cuteness by being good looking or by doing good things. Or by telling mom how much you admired her daughter and her son. That last one got you a free lifetime cute pass instantly.
Real wisdom? There once was a misunderstanding or miscommunication among the cousins. One of the mothers was afraid her young gay daughter and the daughter’s new partner weren’t going to be welcomed into a family gathering the way they should have been. My cousin called me, I called Patti and Patti went straight to the matriarch. Mom’s response was immediate: “Somebody thinks someone’s not good enough for our family? Have they looked at our family? Everyone’s good enough for our family.” (I was never prouder of her.)
Most of us know these things about mom. But there’s one thing that might deserve a little more attention. Maybe we should be reminded that mom was a world-class rescuer of people. There was rarely a time in our home when someone ‘extra’ wasn’t living with us. She gave my uncle Foo Foo (that’s what we called him, Foo Foo) the run of our house and half of my bedroom from the early ‘60s to the day he died 15 years later. We loved having “Foof” at home.
Then there was mom’s cousin Stanley. He was in his mid 30s when he came to live with us. He was a lovable handful. He had Down syndrome and he was set in his ways, opinionated, stubborn and very sweet. When Stanley’s mother died, our house immediately had a new family member—and some loving, hilarious Stanley stories. (A quick one: Stanley loved birthdays, especially his own. He’d try to convince us that every day was his birthday. Stanley had lived with us for about two years when Patti brought Georgia, one of her new friends at Mary Baldwin, home for a holiday weekend. Georgia was walking through the living room and saw Stanley walking toward her. Completely naked. Stanley says, “Georgia, it’s my birthday.” Her immediate response: “Good. I see you’ve already got your suit on.” Those Baldwin girls were quick.)
Priests would call mom when children from a troubled family needed a place to stay: two beautiful toddlers, Nicky and Ricky, lived with us for over a year. There was also a beautiful young girl dying of leukemia: I’m embarrassed that I can’t remember her name right now. Everything about her story was heartbreaking. Everything mom did for her was inspiring.
Patti and I are convinced that dad would get a little nervous coming home for work every night: what new member of his family would he meet today? What stranger might be moving in for the next year or so? Who would be eating his food? (Come to think of it, the answer to the food question was usually Stanley.) Dad was actually great about all of it. He was clearly proud of her, soft heart and all. Besides, as far as we could tell, he would never deny anything to his beloved “Nimanim.” (We have no idea where he got that nickname for mom. Thankfully he was the only one who used it.)
So she was wise and funny, outgoing and bountiful. And beautiful in every way a person can be beautiful. But most important of all—the reason we love her like we do—is because when all is said and done, she was awfully damn cute.
One final thought from Mike. She was also one heck of a mother. In the fine tradition of Catholic Italian mothers everywhere, she was smartly manipulative with Patti and me and never cared a bit that we could see right through her guilt trips. But her goals were always good. She wanted to squeeze every drop of joy out of life—her life and our lives. She loved every minute she had with Patti, Ginny, Jason, Carley, Ella and me. Nobody ever did more for a parent than Patti did for mom. She showed mom the world. She was also mom’s main caregiver, with Ginny as the devoted backup. Jason’s family would drive all the way from Beacon, New York, to see her. And there was always an army of Murphys and Littons to fill her days. As always, I was the spoiled one. I just had to show up occasionally. I want to thank everyone, including many not named here, who did so much to give mom the magnificent life she had. You’ve got a big place in our family and in my heart. Love, me.