My Mom, An Amazing Person

(My mother would have been 89 years old today. This is a re-post of something I wrote on Mother’s Day a few years ago. I frequently think about her and how she would feel about our politics in 2012. She was incredibly smart and compassionate.)

My mother was the best mom you could possibly have. I’m going to tell you a little bit about what made her so incredible. This isn’t to take away from all the other great moms out there, it is to honor all moms.

She lived a very full life and passed away 11 years ago, leaving behind a legacy and a path of love that will continue till the end of time.

When she was 19 years old, she worked as an assistant to the President of Gerber Baby Food up in Fremont Michigan, their corporate headquarters. One of her jobs was to reply to all the people who mailed in photos of their babies hoping to be the next Gerber baby.

She joined the WAVES during World War II and ended up with a Top Secret level job working in the office of the Commander of the Navy. Before being hired, the FBI sent a team of agents to Muskegon Michigan to investigate her and talk to neighbors and friends to see what type of person she was.  My mother was one of the most honorable, honest individuals that ever walked the planet. She got the job. She used to say how she couldn’t tell anyone where she worked or what she did. She could only say, I work at the Pentagon.

One of her jobs as an assistant to the Commander of the Navy was to actually move the pins around on the map which showed where enemy subs were located, based on the latest intelligence. She said that she was frisked when she entered the office and when she left. She loved Washington DC and always encouraged me to visit there, which I have yet to do. Soon, Ma, soon.

She knew my dad from our hometown, he actually had dated one of her sisters. In DC while my dad was waiting to be deployed, he had two feet that were different sizes and had to wait for special order boots, believe it or not, but my Mom and Dad went on a few dates and apparently fell in love. My dad was finally deployed about a month before the war ended. He ended up liberating concentration camps, I guess he told some stories about coming up on the camps for the first time and finding survivors, he actually brought home pictures that my mom later destroyed because she didn’t want us kids coming across them.

They both returned to Muskegon, Michigan, got married and had 5 boys, me being the last of the bunch. She gave birth to me when she 39 years old. My mother was raised in a home that wasn’t very affectionate, they weren’t abusive or anything, but just didn’t show affection very well. My father, however was very affectionate and she used to say how he taught her how to be affectionate and loving. I knew nothing but love from her. My father died in 1968, when I was 6 years old. My mother was left with 5 boys ranging in ages from 6 years old to 20. The oldest very soon volunteered to go to Vietnam and the next oldest went off to College in Boston, at Berklee College of Music.

My mother worked as a legal secretary for many years, working for judges and lawyers and apparently was one of the best secretaries in town. She actually had lawyers fighting over her, competing to get her to work for them. She was a very good writer, her dream was to be an English teacher. She ended up becoming a paralegal, specializing in probate and trusts. She was recruited by a lawyer who would later become my step father. My mother frequently would say that some women can’t find one good man, but she was fortunate to have found two. My step father was a pretty amazing man too, he passed at the age of 89, a few years ago.

For 8 years after my real father passed away, she raised us boys by herself on a secretary’s wage and with the help of Social Security survivors benefits. She put a lot of the Social Security money away because she wanted her sons to go to college. She valued education above all else and I’ll get to that in a minute. The unexpected death of my father, heart attack, left her to raise 5 boys by herself. We lived in a poor neighborhood but I never felt like I was wanting, although we didn’t have all the toys other kids did. She was amazing.

She ended up dating her boss, my future step-father and they were married when I was 14 years old. We moved to a new house, in a nicer neighborhood, a very middle class neighborhood. It was a big change for my next oldest brother and I, we had lived a pretty meager life to that point but that all changed. My step father was one of the most respected lawyers in town, the senior partner in one of the biggest law firms and a very wise man. He frequently would arbitrate union disputes because of his wisdom and ability to get people to compromise. We used to try to get him to run for President. He was a rarity, a wealthy lawyer who was liberal. I may write about him on father’s day.

Even though my mother was not wanting for much after she married my step dad, she still lived a very frugal life, having a hard time realizing that she didn’t have to pinch pennies. I remember one time she asked if I would run to Meijer’s for her because they had bags of topsoil on sale and I was in a hurry to get to school. I said, can’t I just run over to the nursery close by and get them. She kept insisting that I go buy the ones on sale and I said to her, mom, you can afford an extra 25 cents per bag and she said, I guess you’re right.

Although my step father was pretty well off, he was very modest and didn’t waste money. He was the senior partner in his law firm, like I said, and the other partners all drove Jaguars, Mercedes Benz’s and BMW’s, my dad bought a used Cutlas Ciera that he drove for like 10 years. He later bought a Park Avenue, a used one, and drove that until he died.

When my mother started receiving Social Security after she retired, every month she used to write out checks in the amount of the SS check and send it to charities. She felt that others needed the money more than she did. My parents used to basically fund the rescue mission in our town. The mission would actually call my mother up when they were low on food and she would promptly write them a check. This is a funny story that I recently shared with Ms. Cicely Tyson, who I have to say reminds me so much of my mother. My step father was an avid golfer and used to wear the wild golf pants and polo shirts and the like. He also wore pretty nice shoes too. Well, he used to donate his slightly worn pants and shoes to the rescue mission. I remember driving by the mission many times and seeing homeless guys wearing bright colored pants and expensive shoes. We had the best dressed homeless people in the state.

I mentioned how my mother believed in education very strongly. Her and my step father set up an educational trust fund for all 11 of their grandchildren. It is fed by one of their investments that continues to this day. All 11 of the grandchildren have their tuition, books, living and even some spending money covered for 4 years of college. Can you just imagine the burden that has been lifted from my brother’s and their families. I never had any kids of my own, but I have a wonderful step daughter now. So I haven’t gotten much from that trust yet, but it reverts to the brothers once the last of the 11 completes college in about 8 years. I plan to take my portion of the money and put it into my granddaughter’s education fund, that I am about to start for her. She’s 1 years old right now. When my mother was laying in the hospital dying, I finished my Masters degree and brought it to her in the hospital. She couldn’t even talk, with tubes coming out of her. I will never forget the smile on her face and how proud she was of me.

I could go on and on about my mother and frequently do, but I’ll wrap this up with a couple more things that show the type of person she was. She was a good Democrat and liberal. She cared about people and others, obviously, and was an avid C-SPAN junkie, as I used to call her. When she was in semi-retirement, I lived with my parents for a while upon getting a new job back home and we used to watch C-SPAN together and talk about politics. She taught me so much about how our government works and the reality of how bills get passed and the procedures of the House of Representatives. We talked political strategy all the time. I remember her stopping and saying to me once, you’re very smart, you know? She was a pragmatist and believed in compromise within our government. She always respected others opinions and never assigned bad motives to them. She didn’t live to see what has become of the Republican Party, I wonder how she would feel today about that party.

She was the type of mother who never said we weren’t capable of doing something. She encouraged us to try new things and never underestimate ourselves. She always emphasized how when we applied ourselves and worked hard, we could do anything. And she was very proud of all of her sons. A few years before she passed away, she was in her 70’s, she said. “You know, I must have done something right because all my boys turned out to be good citizens, loving parents and kind men who care about the world they live in.” I used to always tell her she was the best mom in the world and she would get all modest on me. I insisted.

At her funeral, a guy walked up to me and asked if I remembered him. It was a friend from the old neighborhood who I hadn’t seen in probably 30 years. He said that my mom meant a lot to him, she was the mother he wished he’d always had. I don’t really remember him even interacting with her, but apparently she had a profound effect on him. He said he HAD to be at her funeral. Since then, many people have made similar comments about my incredible mom. The world is a much better place because she was in it.

I miss her terribly, but I know that she lives on in every thing I do, every interaction I have with people, whether it’s holding a door open or just listening with interest to people of all walks of life. She taught us all that every human being is worthy of respect. She was a staunch feminist and taught us that women are equal to men, although there are differences. She is a large part of who I am as a person.

I love ya Mom, your memory will never die.