Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Remembering Mom

              This evening my wife’s youngest sister, Judy, stopped by and had dinner with us. She wanted to visit with her mother who has been living here with us since shortly before Christmas, having fallen back in late November fracturing a couple of vertebrae. After surgery, which required cement being applied to the cracked areas, she needed follow-up physical therapy. That came to an end in mid-December, but she wasn’t ready to return to her home in Los Banos.

Over dinner the conversation rambled into different topics, one of which was my tastes regarding fish. My in-laws and their five children immigrated from the Azores (the island of San Miguel), Portugal in 1966. Judy was the sixth and last child. She has the distinction of being conceived in Portugal and born in the US. They all love fish, especially bacalhau (bah-cah-yah). This is a very salty cod dish that my side of the family has great fun mocking and making jokes about. My nephew, Josh, calls it “bacla-hurl.” When it is being prepared, I can smell it from my car before I come into the house.

This all led to my likes and dislikes in fish and other foods. I began reflecting on my upbringing, and shared some of these memories with the ladies.

Shortly after I was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1948, my parents separated, leading to divorce in 1953 or thereabouts. My mother had worked for Chance Vought Aircraft Company during World War Two. After the war ended, and seeing that the marriage was in trouble, she had to find work to care for my brother and me. She was hired as a secretary for the man who invented the scissor lift, also called a cherry picker. Being on a limited income, and not having any social programs to help single moms, she had to really watch her pennies. So part of our diet included some fish. I probably developed a dislike for it for two reasons: 1) The strong fishy smell and taste, and 2) The ridiculous number of bones you had to pick out, or so it seemed to my young mind.

It was at this point in our sharing that my wife suggested that I retell the story of driving a car when I was three. Actually, I’m not sure how old I was but I couldn’t have been more than four. My mother would often have to run errands for her boss. He would give her his car keys and off she’d go. On this particular occasion she had my brother John and me with her. I’m guessing my brother was picked up after school and she got me from the sitters. Anyway, whatever errand she had to run, we were now back at her boss’s house. He lived atop a hill with the road leading up one side and down the other. She parked and told us to stay put. John, who is five years older, was sound asleep on the backseat. I was in the front seat.

As my mother stood at her boss’s front door she looked back at the car and noticed it had started rolling forward down the hill. In a panic she took off running to catch the car, but it continued to roll faster, leaving her behind. At the bottom of the hill the road required you to turn left or right. About halfway down the hill the car suddenly made a right turn into someone’s yard. The car rolled by the house on one side so closely that it sheared off the water meter. The man of the house was sitting in his living room, startled to see a car go by his window!

My mother had continued running after the car, losing her shoes in the process. In the meantime, the car rolled into the backyard and stopped right where the yard was held back by a wall that dropped onto another level of yard. The car teetered on the wall in a most precarious manner. The man in the house came out and carefully removed my brother and me from the car. My mother was nearly in hysterics at this point. My brother slept through the entire ordeal. I, on the other hand, was behind the steering wheel grinning away. Whether I was sitting or standing, I couldn’t tell you, as none of this is in my memory. It has been suggested that I possibly released the break which started the forward roll; or if the brake had not been set, and all that was holding the car in place was the stick shift engaged, then I may have popped the gear shift loose. The end result was the same.

Personally, I like to think the Lord had one of his angels give the wheel a yank to the right so it would slowly roll to a stop. Apart from the damaged water meter and some cosmetic damage to the car, all was well.

I can only imagine what was going through my mother’s mind as she chased after this runaway car. Her first child, a boy, was stillborn. My brother, her second, was scrawny and didn’t appear to be too healthy (that all changed). My mother’s third child, a girl, had spina-bifida and only lived a couple of weeks (they didn’t have a cure for this problem in 1945). She and my father were strongly counselled against trying to have any more children. So when I came along I decided I liked it perfectly well there in the womb. The hospital in our hometown of Milford, Connecticut did not have a doctor who knew how to perform a caesarean birth. So it was off to New Haven and a large hospital with a more experienced staff of doctors. Having lost two of her four children, then to watching her remaining two boys blissfully rolling down the hill, must have been literally heart-stopping for her.

Mom was released from the bonds of earth last March at age 98. I miss her, of course. But I especially missed her today as I remembered the stories. But I am so happy for her because I know she has been able to hug and kiss the babies she lost these seventy-plus years ago.

I loved my mom for her courage in toughing it out through life’s challenges and setbacks. Not once did she fail in her duties as a mother. I’m so very fortunate to have had her as my mom.

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