Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thoughts on Momma

Whether you are five or fifty-five, the death of your mother has a profound affect on you. Whether you had a close, intimate relationship with her or had the relationship from hell, when your mother dies, something in your heart/soul cries out, "No!"


Momma loved to shock. Just a few months ago, as we were leaving the nursing home after a visit, she patted the male nurse on the bottom as I wheeled her to the elevator.

"Momma!" I cried.

She giggled and said, "He didn't even turn around!"

I looked back at the nurse and he was simply smiling and shaking his head.

As the elevator doors began to close, I said, "Behave, OK?"

She gave her most mischievous smile and said, "Not if I can help it!"


I must have been about three because Barry was an infant and Momma was pregnant with Timmy. It was one of those summer days that happen every once in a while when the air, the temperature and the weather are perfect.

Momma took us for a walk down to Castle Island (South Boston). We got dressed up, special. I had on a pretty sailor dress with matching sweater and hat.

Looking across Boston Harbor at the sunset, I remember telling Momma that I matched the sky. "Yes, it is a tomato soup sky," she said.

To this day, each time I see a 'tomato soup' colored sunset, I remember that golden summer evening at Castle Island.


There were times when we were growing up that money was very scarce. However, I never thought of myself as poor, mainly because Momma always managed to make us feel rich.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were the food of kings, according to Momma, as was chicken soup, homemade spaghetti and meatloaf.

One Christmas, Momma told us we were going to do things the way our family did them long ago. We were to have an Old Fashioned Christmas. It was an adventure.

We made paper chains for the tree. Cut up old cards to make new Christmas cards. Lit candles for light while Momma made presents by hand. On Christmas day, my brothers had handmade cowboy vests and I had a new rag doll...all handmade by Momma who used old clothes and scraps of cloth. It was magic!

I never knew until I was an adult the conditions surrounding our "old fashioned" Christmas...we had no electricity, no coal for heat and little food.
You can imagine my amazement when, 40 years later, Momma told me how she wasn't sure if we were going to be able to have a meal, let alone presents.


Sister Ralph was sitting beside me as I regaled my girlfriend with tales of how my mother did things. I was putting the finishing touches on a lace hanky, something Momma had taught me to do when I was quite young. "My Momma can do anything," I was saying. "She is so smart! She knows the answers to everything!"

After a bit, Sister leaned over to look at my lace. "That beautiful, Linda," she said, "Your Momma must be proud of you."

I looked at her puzzled. "Proud" was a new word for me. I had never heard it before. When I told Sister this, she simply told me that she knew my mother was proud of me, even if I had never heard her say it.

I was 11 at that time. It took my Momma another thirty years to say the words, "I am proud of you." They were music to my ears!


How many times had I heard, "Wait till you have children, then you'll know..." What I would "know" depended on the circumstances at the moment...know what it was like to have a child ask so many questions, know how it was to have sick children, know how frustrating it was not to have enough money, know how difficult it was to say "No."

As a young woman, I often thought that I would never do or say the things my Momma had done or said to me. Yet, more times that I would like to admit, I found myself saying things like, "No, you cannot do that...because I am the mother, that's why!" or, "Goodness, did you get inoculated with a phonograph needle? Don't you know any other question but 'Why?'" or, "I am so disappointed in you!" (This was the worse thing I could say to my girls. Fortunately, I didn't say it very often.)

Now that I am a grandmother, I have to laugh. Momma's wisdom, her comments, her "Momma-isms are now uttered from my daughter's mouths to my granddaughters. Life has come full circle.


Just before her death, I spoke to Momma on the phone. It was difficult getting a call through to her. I had to enlist the help of a sympathetic aide who held the phone up to Momma's ear.

"Hi, Momma," I said in my most cheerful voice, "It's me, Linda."

"Well," she said in her most sarcastic response, "I didn't think you were Barry!"

As sick as she was, she still was cracking jokes! I laughed, medicine for both she and I, and then told her I loved her. I said something about not wanting to tire her out and that I would send her lots of healing energy. She made no response.

The aide told me she was just sitting and not talking. I said, let me say good-by, so she held the phone up again. "Bye, bye, Momma," I said. "I love you, bunches!" She gave a weak, "Bye, honey."

This was our last conversation.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am in a thousand winds that blow,

I am the softly falling snow.

I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,

I am in the graceful rush

Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,

I am in a quiet room.

I am in the birds that sing,

I am in each lovely thing
Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there. I do not die.

Written by Mary Frye - 1932

Friday, January 23, 2009

Inauguaral Poets

As a poet and writer, I read and listen to the poetry of others as often as I can. This enables me to hone my skills as a poet. Often, I am touched by the words of others. Elizabeth Alexander, who read her poem, "Praise song for the day" touch my heart and soul on Tuesday. Here is a video of that recitation.

Equally as beautiful and as pertinent today as they were in 1993, are the words of Maya Angelou.

Let us "study war no more" and "praise song for the day!" Amen!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Twinkle in her eye

Mom and Dad on a good day

Momma was one of those people who was ahead of her time, yet never quite got the recognition she deserved. She was a peace activist, civil rights activist, feminist, LGBT ally and staunch supporter of education for all children, long before women voiced their opinions of such things. She raised me to go through life with my heart and eyes open, giving everyone the same opportunity to share the path.

Last night, after a long, long battle with more disease and pain than any human should have to live with, she died. My brothers and I are now orphans of the Universe. Strangely, I am not sad.


When I was ten years old, Momma was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis a debilitating neuro-muscular disease that threatened to take her life. At that time, I was told that I should "prepare for" my mother's death. It was a horrible burden to put on a child.

For the next several years, she was in and out of the hospital; each time potentially being her last. Yet, she continued to survive, much to the amazement of her doctors. In addition, she continued to work to keep our family together.

During a very difficult time when my Dad's drinking became too much to handle, she separated from him, becoming a single mother of four children under 13. She worked in the anti-poverty program in South Boston and wrote a weekly column for the South Boston Tribune. She also wrote for the "Confidential Chat" column in the Boston Globe. (The "Chat" as it was called was much like a blog, today, only they printed out the posts in the newspaper! Imagine! Oh, and yes, this was before computers.) Her nom de plume was "A Twinkle in Her Eye."

Gratefully, Daddy stopped drinking which brought our family back together. His love for her was obvious. He would put up with the most outrageous behavior! When she was very sick and her usual positive mood slipped, he would simply turn his hearing aid off and continue to give her the love and attention he always gave. They were, for all their turmoil, true sweethearts.

Which brings me back to the twinkle in her eye. Daddy always said that he loved Momma for the twinkle in her eye. She would giggle as he stooped to kiss her head.

Funny, I knew when she was really, really sick because her twinkle was not so bright. However, no matter what the doctors said, no matter how sick she appeared, she always found the strength to get back up and continue down Life's Path. Her tenacity became legendary!

Perhaps this is why, after 45 years of "preparation," I am not saddened by the death of this dear woman.

You know what I think? I think that her ship came in! Daddy was a sailor, after all. I think he found his way to her port and whisked her away to the stars. How could I be sad?

Look! Third star to the right and straight ahead to can see them dancing arm and arm.