The Mother of all Mothers

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I know most people think I was raised by wolves, but I wasn’t. I was raised by two loving and amazing parents. April 20 will mark the 20 year anniversary of the day my Mother died, and I would like to pay tribute to her in this small way.

My Mom- Mary Ann- was born the eldest of six children in Tubbercurry, Ireland, which is in County Sligo. From the stories I have heard, my mother’s mother was a very high class lady and very well respected in town. She died of cancer when my mother was 10 years old. Consequently, my mother played a large hand in raising her five younger brothers and sisters. When my mother arrived in the United States, she was young- just 20 years old. She came to live with a relative in New York and she knew some friends from Tubbercurry who were living here as well. She was set up on a date with my father by some friends. When I asked my Father what it was that attracted him to my Mom, he said “The whites of her eyes were the whitest eyes I’d ever seen.” Okay, totally random answer, but I would expect nothing less from my Dad. But maybe it reflected that she grew up in a different environment (probably one without too much pollution- other than copious amounts of cigarette smoke because all of the Irish smoked- at least back then) and was different from any of the other women he’d ever met.

Net/Net, they married in 1960 and settled in Stamford, Connecticut on Spring Street, in the same apartment building as my great aunt, who we called Granny Grace.

My sister was born in 1966 and my parents moved to Florida Road in Ridgefield, Connecticut, where they built a house. THEY built it. Not a builder- their four hands built a home together. I think that’s pretty cool (for sure, Tony and I would murder one another.) I came storming onto the scene in 1969 to ruin my sister’s life, and that’s when we became a complete family. Oh, we also had a BIG German Shepherd named Aku, who my mother bought for $1 at a bar called “The Alibi,” which later burned to the ground [with no involvement of my mother…).

My parents’ house was pretty funny in that it was typical 1960s / 70s. All lime green, orange and yellow. My parents’ bedroom had bright orange shag carpet (which my mother used to rake to keep it nice and shagggggggy) and a leopard fur bedspread, which I thought was pretty cool. They also had psychedelic drapes in our dining room.

My mother was a “no-nonsense” kind of Mom. There wasn’t any fooling around with her. What she said went and that was it.

Food? You don’t like it- too bad, eat it anyway. Which is not to say that my mother was a bad cook – she wasn’t, she was an AMAZING cook. She took Chinese cooking lessons (she made delicious eggrolls and wontons) and even made sushi when we were kids. She would make liver once a year because you are supposed to have it at least once a year. We all hated it, even she hated it… but we ate it anyway. And on St. Patrick’s Day- she’d make spaghetti and meatballs, and that would also be the meal on the HOTTEST day of the year. That was just how she rolled.

As a child, my friend Kirsten and I used to play “Little House on the Prairie” and my mother was ALWAYS Mrs. Olsen. Kirsten’s mom was always Miss Beetle. But my Mom was a Mrs. Olsen, not a Miss Beetle and you know what? She liked it that way! Mrs. Olsen’s part definitely had more MEAT.

I was involved in tons of activities as a child. I took Ballet and Tap and Voice and Acting Lessons and my sister took dance classes too, and Baton Twirling Lessons and whatever else was going on, and my Mom was always driving us to and fro. And my parents were at every recital and every play. My poor mother sat through eight friggin’ nights of Fiddler on the Roof – in which I had one stinking line: “Did you hear? Did you hear? Tevye’s daughter Tzeitle is marrying Motel, not Lazar Wolf!” But she was there, night after night. She was also there every night for every OTHER play I ever did (but Fiddler was definitely her favorite- in fact, my family mocks me to this day because I’ve been in that play a mere – three – times.) My Mom was usually “the ticket lady” for my plays. And she’d be so totally no-nonsense, like ‘Listen- SELL YOUR TICKETS and BRING ME THE MONEY- stop MESSING around with it and just DO IT!!”

You didn’t get a lot of consolation from my mother. If a situation sucked, if I didn’t make the team or get the part I wanted or whatever- she wasn’t one to coddle. She would allow you to be upset for a specific amount of time- and then you were to move on. And we are better people for it.

My mother never tried to be our “friend.” Frankly, I am not altogether certain that she liked me all that much. I know she loved me- but I don’t think she liked me all the time, probably because I was a little brat and a torturer. But she wasn’t interested in being our friend- she was there to be our PARENT (my Dad too). Oh my God, she LOVED being the only parent to call and check and see if some kid’s parents were going to be home when they were having a party. Guess what? I didn’t go to a lot of parties. It wasn’t worth it. Hence, I stayed out of trouble- for the most part.

We were NEVER allowed to stay home from school sick. I think she always thought we were faking. The Rule: you had to be throwing up THE NIGHT BEFORE in order to get a free pass from school. Throwing up that morning? Still had to go. Brutal!

When I was around 9 or 10 years old, my Dad’s mother came to live with us. She was probably 82 at the time. My mother cared for her, took her to doctor’s appointments, made sure she took her pills, made sure she ate meals, etc. And my Grandmother was unkind to her in return. She referred to my Mom as “that woman,” even living in her home. That broke my heart. Even though my Mom was strict and a total ball buster, I knew I didn’t like someone treating her badly.

A couple of random tidbits about my mother:

-When she was a little girl, she lived on the Town Square and she would stand outside of her house with a broom chasing other kids away. So they would walk ALL THE WAY around the other side of the square to get where they wanted to go. Tubbercurry’s Miss Congeniality 1945.

-If we raised a stink in a store- if we wanted something that she wasn’t prepared to buy us or that we didn’t need or deserve- she wouldn’t yell, she wouldn’t even make a sound. She would just step on our feet… really, really hard. Bratty behavior, simply was not tolerated.

-She would drive south nearly ANYWHERE- Stamford, White Plains, wherever (if there was a sale), but she wouldn’t drive north of Danbury.

When Jehovah’s Witnesses would come to the door, she would take our big German Shepherd by the collar, open the door and say, “Oh, he’s okay, just don’t say the word K-I-L-L.”

-If I was on the phone and my mother thought it was time to hang up… she’d just walk by and hang up the phone. No telling you twice, no arguing- you were done. End of story.

-When my sister and our friend Jill were making a Ginger Bread House for German class, I was out at some acting class and came home, went to my room and found a giant log of poo on my pillow. So I took it in hand and stormed out to the kitchen and yelled “WHO PUT POO ON MY PILLOW?????” And Patti said “It was Mom’s idea!” The poo was, in fact, uncooked gingerbread.

-My mother would give me a shopping list to go to the grocery store and it would be:
Milk
Eggs
4 Chicken Tits
Apples
¼ lb of Roast Beef

4 Chicken Tits… come on. Whose Mom writes 4 Chicken Tits?

-My Mother’s brother, aka my Uncle Poo – she would affectionately refer to him as The Jerk or, to my father, “your brother in law.”

-Twice my mother put our pets “to sleep” while we were at school. Nice, huh?

-My mother couldn’t swim, and didn’t drive until I was in school. She would always stand with one hand on her hip with the top of her hand against her hip and one foot turned out. I stand the same way, so does my sister… and now my nephew is starting to do it too.

To say that I loved and still love my mother would be an understatement. I know she would be proud of me and how I “turned out.” I know she would be pleased with the man I married and I know that more than anything she would love to have lived to see her beautiful grandson. She would eat that little ham up, just like I do. My father has never remarried, nor has he ever really even dated since my mother passed away. She would not have wanted it that way, but that shows you what kind of a person she was – difficult to get over. She was tough and serious- when she was yelling at you, you wanted to kill yourself- yet she was also fun loving and completely hysterical.

I am who I am today because of “The Screaming Leprechaun,” as I sometimes called her. Although, I always thought she was really tough on me, I appreciate it today. I have the personality that could easily have turned me into a pure-evil- satanic beast (ok, I exaggerate), but my parents, my Mother in particular, was not about to let that happen. Not on her watch. We could usually out-run my mother, so a good beating was usually not in the cards, so she had to be creative when it came to keeping us in line. For example, she used to make us say The Catholic Rosary, but you know what? I could say The Rosary now- if a gun was to my head. I have very high expectations of children these days and sadly, I am usually disappointed. Everyday I see kids behaving and speaking to their parents in a way I never would have DREAMED of… that is, if I wanted to LIVE.

I could not have asked for a better Mom. I could not have asked for better parents. I miss my Mom and think of her every single day. When I think of her, I always laugh. She was a funny lady, a little bit of a maniac, but with a heart of gold. Hopefully the apple hasn’t fallen too far from that tree.

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