Finding the "Fun" in DysFUNctional

Today I'm participating in a mass blogging! WOW! Women On Writing has gathered a group of blogging buddies to write about family relationships. Why family relationships? We're celebrating the release of Therese Walsh's debut novel today. The Last Will of Moira Leahy, (Random House, October 13, 2009) is about a mysterious journey that helps a woman learn more about herself and her twin, whom she lost when they were teenagers. Visit The Muffin ( to read what Therese has to say about family relationships and view the list of all my blogging buddies. And make sure you visit Therese's website ( to find out more about the author."


The older I get, the more I realize that I had one crazy mother! However, her form of crazy was more of a tool for coping with a world that during her life had gone from WWII to the brink of nuclear war, from prohibition to race riots and from the health of an athlete to a debilitating, incurable disease. Momma was crazy in the way that hid her insecurities, masked her brilliance and kept her putting one foot in front of the other up until the day she died.

At her memorial service, one of my cousins shared how much fun it was to visit Aunt Mickey, as she was called. My cousin told everyone a story of coming to visit and going for a walk to the beach, singing all the way.

Sure, we were singing! What else do you do when you have you own three toddlers plus your sister-in-law and her four, you live in a tiny apartment in South Boston and you are hoping to get the kids tired enough to nap so that you can cook dinner in peace.

Honestly, if I had a dime for each time someone told me, "Your mother is crazy!" I'd be rich. Momma did the darnedest things!

One winter, my Dad was out of work, yet, it was the best Christmas I remember as a child. Momma told us that we were having a Pioneer Christmas, so we would burn candles at night, wear our coats in the house and sleep with hats and mittens on our heads and hands. She had us make our own ornaments for the tree. She got scraps of paper, cut them into strips and we made paper chains. We strung popcorn.

Christmas morning, the tree had what seemed to me to be a ton of gifts. I had a real rag doll with a little strawberry basket bed, bed linens and clothes. My brothers had cowboy vests and scarves. We each had a tangerine in our stocking along with a few walnuts and a candy cane.

Years later, I learned that our electricity had been disconnected, there was very little coal for the furnace, and Momma made all our presents at night after we went to bed. She used her own skirts to make the vests and scarves for the boys. My doll was made from scraps of material she had, old baby clothes and lots of love. Our stockings were filled with the money she had saved and gathered from change in the bottom of pockets and purses.

Looking back, I am constantly amazed at the tenacity of this woman who gave me birth. Her ability to smile in the face of disaster was a lesson I learned early in life. Not that it is the best tool to have, because it often creates its own issues, especially when you, yourself, need help, but it does come in handy at times.

Neas Family - Castle Island 1964

For instance, we never went out for walks or trips without being washed and dressed in our best clothes. I remember one particular day when we went "window-shopping." (Window-shopping was when Momma would get us all dressed up, put the baby in the carriage, which looked like a parade float with its handmade blanket and pillow which matched the baby's sweater and hat, and marched us all up the length of Broadway to look in all the store windows.)

So, here we all were, me with Shirley Temple curls, a dress with enough starch to keep it looking crisp and new; my brothers with their white shirts, little shorts, buster browns and knee socks; and Momma in her best (only) dress and heels with makeup perfectly applied. If we didn't look like the cast from one of those 50's TV series, nothing did. You never would have guessed that Dad had not given Mom any money for over two weeks, that we had had one can of soup to feed the five of us or that the landlord was threatening eviction. No...we looked like the model American family.

Half way up Broadway Hill, Momma saw one of her old schoolmates coming down towards us. With her best stage whisper, Momma ordered us to smile, not an easy task when you are walking up a hill that makes the Matterhorn look like a cakewalk.

"Why Anne Marie, how nice to see you and your lovely children after all these years," the woman said. Her tone was anything but cordial.

"Mary Margaret, imagine seeing you here among the common people," Momma countered, smiling as if she was meeting a long lost friend.

"My, but you all look so festive!" Mary Margaret observed. She leaned conspiratorially into Momma's space saying, "I heard your husband was out of work, poor dear, but it looks as if all is well, huh?"

Momma pulled her tiny five foot frame as tall as she could, looked Mary Margaret in the eyes and said, "Well, my dear, you can't believe everything you hear, now, can you?"

Before her schoolmate could get another word out, Momma began walking. Over her shoulder, she called out her usual parting words. "God Bless!" she said, then leaned down to me and said, "Always smile, Linda, it keeps them guessing!"

For us, window-shopping was a great adventure, a walk through possibilities and dreams. For Momma, it was a way to show the world that she was still moving forward, still managing and still smiling.

As I said earlier, Momma's craziness was really a very handy tool to have when facing a life full of challenges. Take lunches, for instance, back in the 50's and 60's, students went home for lunch. School was only a few blocks from the house. Streets were safe to walk. Mothers and/or grandmothers were home waiting for you. I remember always looking forward to coming home for lunch. Lunch was an adventure, a journey into make believe.

Momma made triangle sandwiches like they served in the French courts of Louis the XIV and soup with rice or pasta in it like the fancy restaurants in Italy. Tuna salad was made with one small can of tuna, a shredded carrot, celery, onion, a diced apple, raisins and a scoop of mayonnaise. One can could feed six people!

While my friends told me how crazy Momma was, none ever refused an offer to come and eat at our house. Momma never turned anyone away or made me feel as if I was imposing bring someone home. We always had enough.

I now know that she would simply add more water to the soup along with some herbs and a bit more rice or pasta or instead of four sandwiches, she would make eight open face treats, telling us that this was what they served in Hollywood. We never knew we were poor, or that she didn't have two pennies to rub together. We just knew it was fun to eat triangular peanut butter and celery sandwiches on pillows under the table, our tent, like desert nomads. Life was an adventure and it was crazy.

Momma found the "fun" in dysFUNctional. She smiled in the wake of disaster, laughed in the face of pain and taught me that when your cup is half-full you always have enough to share.


Claire said…
The story about your mother was as heartwarming and precious as anything that ever came out of "I Remember Mama!" Although your darling younger brother shares bits and pieces, I'm thinking that you need to compile all those "stories" into a book about that little firecracker Ann Marie!
Her creativity, spunk and mad love for her family make for wonderful memories AND a great book!!!
Anonymous said…
Hello Linda,

Life is what you make of it.
Your mother certainly lived up to that saying. A creative woman who lived with spunk, not letting circumstances get in the way of providing a loving home for you and your siblings. You are blessed to have had her as your mentor and mother.

Thanks for sharing this lovely piece!
Mich said…
Linda, you really caught the spirit of your Mum. I think I'd like to be crazy the way she was. Her creativity, her sense of humor and that smile saw her through quite a bit. Thanks for sharing her story.

Janel said…
What a wonderful story! Your mother obviously loved her children very much. What a great present she gave all of you in the crazy memories she created.
Cathy C. Hall said…
Hi Linda!

Loved your Momma stories. Crazy? I rather think she was crazy like a fox :-)

What a great post for the mass blogging day. Glad I stopped by to see your blog!
Linda said…
Hi, Everyone!

Thanks for visiting and joining the fun of discussing families.

I encourage everyone to visit Theresa's site and order her book. It is sure to be a keeper!

Hugs to everyone! Linda
J. Barry said…
My Dearest Linda,

I am so thankful that God gave you the memory and me the good looks.

Mom was something else. He belief in God and in karma kept her positive and always moving in the right direction. For Mom, what ever that direction was it was always uphill. Especially with Timmy and I. We kept her SO busy.

She never threw in the towel, never gave up. When times were tough she just dug in and then made us stick together.

I don't remember being 'poor'. I do remember eating everything that was able to fit into my mouth, I had clothes on my back and a roof over my head.

When I was 4 or 5, I found out what a hammer and nails were and how to use them. I could build my toys. I was skateboarding down all the hills in Southie years before the kids on the Left Coast. (I'm sorry for taking your roller skate for wheels.) Still I left you one and the skate-key.

Thanks Linda for putting up with me and thanks for always being there for me. You're a gift from God to me. Just you keep being you, because you are awesome. I love you. And thanks for the memories.

Your big brother.
Therese Walsh said…
Linda, I adored your post and learning a little about your mother. Sounds like you have a stockpile of colorful memories!

Thanks so much for participating in my blog tour and for your support.
Linda said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda said…
Thank YOU, Therese! I loved being part of this and being able to share my memories.

Can't wait to read your book. Wishing you the very best. Linda

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