Sunday, May 11, 2014

My Mom, My Strength, My Family's Heritage

Me, Lillian, and Mom
This is the tribute that I gave to my Mom at her memorial service on September 20, 2003. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

Mom, I hope the following words, in some small way, do justice to the life you lived, the influence and impact you had on your family and friends, and to the relationship you had with our Lord. 

Mom spent her life in service to others, and family and friends were always the first to be served and blessed by her generosity, kindness, and love. 

Our family, beginning with John and me, have learned and observed a heritage that has stayed us through good times and bad, easy times and hard, and now celebration and heartache.

Mom was built of those things that came from the tempering of living through the Depression as many of your parents did.  She was molded by the love of her mom and the traditions of her family.  Mom was sustained by the faith she had in God and the abundant prayer life that she lived for 86 years. 

The stories that I'll share today are probably the same stories you would share about your mom in my place.  The motherhood that I will tell you about you could do likewise, and the faith in God and the prayerful life of Mom is your mom's life too. We don't, however, reflect often enough on the gifts our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents give us.

As John and I reflect on what Mom has left with us, please reflect on your lives those similar things.

I remember Mom in the stands at ballgames when John and I played.  Always supportive, always cheering us on, and occasionally getting more excited than she should have.  John broke loose and was running for a touchdown, Mom was on her feet yelling when all of a sudden her teeth few out of her mouth.  She grabbed them before they hit the person in front of her, put them back in her mouth, and cheered John down the field.  She never missed a beat.

Mom would be up at 3:00 in the morning, make Dad's lunch, do some housework before her work day began.  She would have two early customers in the beauty shop, and then get John and me up for school, get us breakfast, and send us on our way.  We never thought much about it then because Mom was always kind and cheerful and never made a big deal of hard work and long days.  A strong work ethic was taken for granted in our household.

Mom made sure that John and I knew where our roots were and the importance of family.  I can recall driving to Aguilar, Colorado, two or three weekends a month to visit Grandma, uncles, aunts, and cousins.  What we may have lacked at home in a traditional family setting, Mom more than made up for with our extended family.  We would pile in Mom's '42 Ford with only two forward gears and no reverse.  Mom was always careful where she parked that old black Ford. I never thought much about that then because I always felt safe with Mom.  There was nothing she could handle and no monster she couldn't protect us from in the darkness of the bedroom.

We spent most of our vacations on the banks of the Red River, Young's Ranch Lake, Eagle Nest, or the Cimarron River.  We would eat sandwiches, cook hotdogs and hamburgers and fish when we caught them.  John caught the biggest trout in all of our outings.

We would walk around the streets of Red River, ride horses, and go bowling at night.  To this day I'm not sure why people go to Las Vegas or tours on cruise ships when they could spend a little time in paradise in the mountains of New Mexico with their mom.  We never knew that we didn't have much and never felt deprived.  Mom made our time together valuable, memorable, the best. 

Christmas was always a celebration of the birth of Christ and the traditions of the Rossettis, the Scuzzaros, and the Cacciatores.  Mom, John, and I would cook our Christmas fudge until that drop we put in the water balled up and sank to the bottom where it disappeared with the other 75 drops of fudge we had tried, knowing it must be ready now.  Mom never argued when we wanted to test the fudge, knowing full well it wasn't ready, but we were young and impatient, and Mom fully understood that.  "Test it again," she would say, "and see if it's ready."  When it was finally done, we would pour it into a pan and put it in the frig to cool.  Mom, in her infinite wisdom, knew we couldn't wait, so out came the spoons, and John and I would share the bowl that we mixed the fudge in.  I don't think Mom had to wash that bowl after we were through with it.

Mom's garlic chicken is a lesson in life for all of us.  She would mix up her sauce of herbs and spices (that have been replicated by no human alive), peel back 75 fresh garlic cloves, and arrange the chicken and cloves perfectly in the roaster pan, put it in the pre-heated oven, and let it cook.  Mom never opened the door to look into the pan to see if it was ready.  She KNEW when it was ready. When Mom took it from the oven, it was dinner time.  I have never tasted anything as good as Mom's garlic chicken.  Even with her recipe, we can't duplicate the taste.  Must be Mom's love. I think Mom did that with John and me.  I think she prepared us, covered us with her mix of herbs and spices, arranged fresh garlic around us, and then let us cook, undisturbed until we were ready and, remembering how John and I were as young boys, I think she had to do that often.

The rest of the Christmas preparations consisted of Mom, Grandma, and our aunts rolling out dough, preparing the stuffing for 5,000 ravioli, cooking nanny goat, preparing a turkey the size of an ostrich, and simmering spaghetti sauce on the wood cook stove at Grandma's house.  There were honey cookies (struffoli), biscotti, patitsa, and pies and cakes.  Whenever a bowl needed cleaning, John and I were there with our spoons, and Mom was always willing to oblige our appetites.  Why both of us didn't weigh 200 pounds at the age of 12, I don't know.  But the memory that holds strong is that all the meals I remember at my Grandma's were a celebration of family, conversation, and time together.  I remember the first time Kay went to Aguilar.  She looked at two little four foot by four foot aunts, Carmela and Mary, and got hugged and smothered with big brea-- women and saw food and quantities of food she had no idea existed.  I love family meals.  Thanks, Mom!

Our friends always had a place to stay or a meal to eat.  Mom was generous to a fault with whoever needed help.  Family came first; friends right behind.  We never lacked for attention or love.  Mom would read us to sleep at night, rub our bellies when they were hurting, and fix us her famous Hot Toddy when we were sick.  A tradition my children like.

Mom never abandoned our needs.  I challenged health, good sense, and even death a few times as a teenager.  By all rights, I probably shouldn't be here today.  I know in my heart that all those wrong turns I took and all those dumb things I did, that I survived because of Mom's constant and fervent prayers for me.  Mom prayed for John and me and whoever else her heart was burdened for every day. God listened to her prayers because she prayed unselfishly. God blessed Mom with the ability and strength to survive abuse, to love her family, to have compassion and empathy, to rely on Him.

Mom's last battle in life was to see Wendy and Curt's new baby.  But she didn't lose that battle.  Mom died before Campbell's birth, but now she can see him and be with him in spirit without the pain and discomfort she had her last days.  The day before Mom died, I was sitting with her, and we were talking.  Actually, I was talking, and Mom was sleeping.  I was telling her about Wendy and Curt and how Wendy was feeling, and then I mentioned Lillian.  Mom's eyes smiled and her mouth quivered slightly.  Mom always knew what was important in life, and right now our youngest members of the family are the most important.

I have been reminded of something else in the past several months as we have had to help Mom make decisions and finally make decisions for her.  My friend, my partner in life, my love, my children's mom and grandchildren's grandma is that same person and more to our children.  Kay has cried with me and laughed with me, and taken care of Mom as though she was her own.  Our children are most fortunate, and I am again blessed.

Dominic was with Mom the morning of the day she decided to leave us.  When Kay and I arrived at Mom's, Dominic was there holding her hand, his eyes swollen and red, and at that moment I was so proud and so glad to see him.  I thought Mom was there alone and worried.  Kay, Wendy, Dominic, Curt, and I spent the day with Mom, and that evening John joined us.  I watched Wendy at Mom's side that day.  Sitting as pregnant women sit, watching Mom with love and compassion, and knowing instinctively when to smile at me and touch my hand.  I was further assured that Wendy had her lifelong partner in Curt as he stood by with all of us.  I was surrounded by the strength of family that seemed inherent in the gifts of character that Mom had lived her life with.  We talked and laughed and cried, and I know Mom was somehow aware of all that was going on in her room and with her family.  She had brought us together into her fold once more.  John and I stayed the evening and held Mom's hand as she took her last breath.  It was quiet and calm as she left to be with our Lord.  She took care of us and sheltered us even in her death.

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