I have confidence in sunshine
I have confidence in rain
I have confidence that spring will come again
Besides which you see I have confidence in me
I have confidence in confidence alone
Besides which you see I have confidence in me!
With the three of us singing these lines from our well-worn The Sound of Music soundtrack album, my mother would usher my sister and me out the door each morning, off on our short three-tenths of a mile walk to the John Marshall Elementary School. As we grew older, she would reprise the performance for final exams, first day of school (as a student and teacher) , job interviews, conference presentations, etc. The bigger the challenge, the stronger the singing. Few people who have known me would say I lack self-confidence. Mission accomplished, Mom.
Over the years, I have written several pieces about my father and referenced my “little” sister in many presentations (sometimes favorably, always fondly), but have never written about my mother. Even at her funeral in 2017, in lieu of a eulogy, we opted for my sister to send Mom off with an original song. As Mother’s Day approached this year, I decided it was time was time to rectify that situation.
I could shape a piece about my Mom and her importance in my life just around the events that occurred on Mother’s Day, beginning with Mother’s Day 1965 when I came down with Chickenpox. Then there was Mother’s Day 1972 where we listened to Bobby Orr’s iconic Stanley Cup winning goal on the radio while making the 15-minute drive between grandmothers’ houses in Boston.
In the latter 1970s, Mother’s Day often revolved around lengthy high school music performances. Mother’s Day weekend 1975, 16+ hours on the Boston Public Garden to yield 30 minutes of video for a television special. The all-city music festivals, featuring groups from schools throughout Boston, with my sister performing in the chorus and me in various bands and orchestra. I can still clearly see my mother sitting alone at the top of the bleachers in the old Roberts Center at Boston College, alternating between pacing and bracing her bad back on the cool, concrete wall.
Her first Mother’s Day as a grandmother in 1994 was spent supporting us as my wife prepared for exploratory surgery the next day to diagnose the cause of the mass in her chest (Hodgkin’s Disease). And although technically not on Mother’s Day, one of her proudest moments occurred 21 years later when we gathered in May 2015 to attend her granddaughter’s graduation from Wesleyan University.
One way that my mother chose to express her creativity was through cakes – a path that my sister has followed to perfection as part of her gig economy lifestyle. Growing up, a highlight of each birthday was selecting the cake we wanted from the Baker’s Coconut Animal Cut-Up Cakes pamphlet. Those cakes, particularly the butterfly, became a hot item at the annual PTA bake sale at school. Years later, she and her sister took cake decorating classes offered by a local adult education program. Sometimes together and sometimes on her own, she created cakes for birthdays, retirement parties, some of my cousins’ weddings, my wife’s college graduation party, and the rehearsal dinner for our wedding. Almost as soon as my daughter could talk, looking through cake magazines with Nana to select a design for her birthday cake became an annual tradition – the winter wonderland cake with the working train for her fourth birthday becoming a part of family folklore.
My mother was born during the Depression, the sixth in a family of seven children (four boys and three girls) – the oldest building and then serving on an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific in World War II, the youngest only one year old when the war started. Named Marguerite, she was known to everyone as Peggy.
She was a proud graduate of Roxbury Memorial School for Girls (separated from the boys school by a padlocked door), and worked as a long distance telephone operator prior to getting married. Throughout her life, nothing was more important to her than her family. For most of her life, she lived in a multi-family house with our family on the first floor and her brother and parents on the second. For nearly 30 years, she was the primary caregiver as her father, mother, brother, and finally my father lost battles to long illnesses.
In her final seven years, she thrived in a new life at an upscale senior living community outside of Boston. She was a regular at the monthly bingo game, and the place to be at dinnertime in the cafeteria-style Harbor Café was “Peggy’s Table” – the table for eight she reserved each night with the stylish insulated bag she brought to dinner; carrying her daily can of Pepsi (the café served Coke products) and favorite Ken’s salad dressing to dinner, and returning home with a leftover half-pint milk carton, fruit cup, or single-serving container of cole slaw. Waste not, want not!
In our nuclear family of four, my sister and father were a perfect match, at least in terms of personality. Both of them were extroverts – outgoing, performers at heart, at ease in crowd, a commanding presence in any room, comfortable striking up a conversation with a stranger. In sharp contrast, my mother and I were the shy, reserved, introverts – but self-confident. My sister became a comedic actress while I became a psychometrician.
It is fitting therefore that among 58 years of special memories, it is two periods of simple, quiet times together that are most dear to me when I think of my Mom. The first is the four-year period covering the second half of my college years up to the time I left for graduate school in Minnesota. I was still living at home, my sister was off at college, and my father left very early each morning to teach high school. I am so grateful for those leisurely breakfasts we shared, often featuring her “Peg McMuffin,” and the conversations between my mother and me as I was figuring out what to do with my life.
The second is her final seven years and our nearly nightly check-in calls, where she would happily recount her daily activities, catch me up on the goings on of her new friends, and get my take on the latest news about her obsession – Tom Brady. Her newfound passion for TB12 far exceeding any interest my father and I had ever shown in the Patriots or football, to the point of rescheduling lunch or dinner so that she wouldn’t miss any of the games.
So in 2017, Mom got to spend her last months surrounded by friends basking in the afterglow of the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. Not a bad way to wrap things up.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.