Fifty years ago, I was traveling in comfort in my mother’s womb preparing for an October birthday. This upcoming half-century birthday is significant for me, because my mom didn’t live to see hers. Back in September of 1969, she died in the middle of the night in a hospital not far from our house. I remember my dad coming into the living room where I was asleep on the couch saying, “Your mother is gone.” This was the culmination of years of being bed-ridden and unable to speak or care for herself as a result of the numerous strokes she had suffered.
If you know me, you already know a lot about my mother. She was an educated woman (majored in math and minored in art) — loved to read to her children (I can still remember her voice and her “smell” as I pushed for the seat next to hers when it was story time) — helped us with our homework and helped friends who struggled with theirs — wasn’t a fabulous cook, but got by — cleaned house reluctantly — and took yearly Christmas pictures of her children, threatening them with eviction or imprisonment if they didn’t “Smile!” In fact, I’m sure that had homeschooling been an accepted practice back then, rather than having us attend Catholic school (the priest in my parents pre-nuptial counseling told them they would go to hell if they didn’t send us to Catholic school), my mom would have been active as a homeschooling mom, even heading up homeschool organizations and running conventions. My mom used to write and direct plays for us to perform for my dad on Thursday nights (the night he came home early), and was always active in our projects for school.
Her opinion meant a great deal to me and I can recall hating to be at odds with her, following her around the house at night until she would give me my good-night kiss. Many of the bad decisions I made in my young adulthood were possible because my mother was no longer there to guide, prevent, or punish me. I know, for certain, that some of my “extended mistakes” would never have progressed beyond exploratory stages, because she would not have tolerated my headstrong rebellion. Many of my attitudes and perspectives on being a stay-at-home mom can be directly attributed to this woman who I only knew for 15 years and 11 months. She was a woman who didn’t do things half-way. So many times I’ve wished I could ask her some questions about myself as a child, offer sincere apologies for wicked and cruel things I did and said to her, and introduce her to her grandchildren.
Mom, on her own birthday, used to have a tradition where she would send her mother flowers. I took up that tradition for a couple of years before she got sick, only beginning to comprehend the possibilities of a maturing relationship between the two of us. By God’s will, that seed never had the chance to fully germinate. Now that I’ve been a mom for almost 25 years and a wife three years longer than that, I have a greater admiration for the many things about my mother that I couldn’t appreciate or even perceive as a child.
Why, after all these years, have my thoughts been so drawn to my mother? Why does the life of Marie Tesone Letterese seem more important now than it has for the 2/3 of my life that I have been without her? My guess it has something to do with the reality that my own daughter, about to start college, is venturing into a new phase of her life — a phase I faced without a mother to talk to, cry with, and share my innermost feelings. God has given me the sense that as I fulfill this very important motherly function in my daughter Rachel’s life, that I am honoring the memory and efforts of the one who brought me into this world — and one I hope to be reunited with in the next.