Who, you might ask, is Mary of Manhattan? Well, short answer: she’s my mom. Long answer? Several years ago, while sitting around the kitchen table having our coffee, my mom, my sister, and I got to talking about royal titles and how much fun it would be if us ordinary folks had them. We determined that she (Mom) would naturally be “Mary of Manhattan”. Even though she was born in the Bronx and lived the vast majority of her adult life in the Garden State, the woman was raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. “Back then, it was just Amsterdam and 95th,” she once told me. “There was no ‘Upper West Side’.” No matter what they called it, there’s no denying the woman’s a native New Yorker.
And there’s no denying I’m her son. True, since the Operation Wilma head-shave last week, I’m looking a whole lot more like my dad. Still, there are many instances where I can see the mother-son resemblance. I guess it’s just one of those things, though, where the genetics played out just so. You see, many people who know my family would scoff at the idea that I look like the woman. That’s probably because many of my more prominent facial features are very much my father’s. But I definitely inherited her coloring. Even when he had hair, my dad’s mane was dark where as Mom and I are both blonde (to varying degrees) and very fair skinned. And then there are the eyes… It’s a very unique shade of the very unique-er (yes, I just made that up) hazel that she gave me and I passed on to my baby girl. Not only the shade, but also the shape, are identical. It doesn’t bother me either way. I think both of my parents are very distinguished looking people. I also think I look like a decent blend of the two of them. So let’s talk personality, huh?
In many ways I am like my father. I should say, in many ways I still hope to be like my father. He worked very hard his entire life to ensure that my mom could devote herself full-time to the toughest career of all — being a mom. He also went to mass every day of his life as far as I know. Although I’m putting in my hours as a teacher of the faith; that doesn’t pay the bills alone so I’m also working my tail off to get a second master’s degree in the hopes of being a principal. Please God, my wife will one day feel secure enough to take the leap and let me work myself into the ground for her sake. Believe me, if I’m going to work myself to death anyway, I want it to be for her and the kids. As far as daily mass, well, Dad, you certainly had an influence; and not just on me. I know many of my sisters are also daily communicants. I’ll never forget the time you answered the question “why?” with a “because there’s nothing greater I can do in my day so why not do it?” Made sense then. Makes even more sense now that I have children. Like him, I keep a little calendar. His is on a pocket planner in his breast pocket. Mine’s on my iPhone. They both contain the same information. And from that information I can tell you that, sadly, I missed mass seven times in the month of October. Tell me how a 77 year-old man can get himself to mass more frequently than I can? OK, I swear I’ll catch up. But I do have to say, I’m not quite as competitive as he is. And given that I was already older than him when I got married and that God sees fit not to have sent us any more little ones these past four years, I don’t see myself catching up in that department. Your record’s safe, Dad.
How did I even get onto this topic? Oh yes! Mom’s here visiting and we’re having such a good time. You see, those areas where I am like my mother are the areas of the heart. When I was a boy of 4 and my twin sister died in a house fire, I immediately felt a deep kinship with my mother. This was a kinship of spirit and not of blood. Even at that age I knew that I had in her another person who understood exactly what I felt and how much I had lost. She had lost, too, and in a way no mother should ever lose — not just my twin but my next two older brothers. From that moment we have always been close. When I got married, I had to pick out a mother-son dance song. Being the goofball I am I opted not for the traditional Paul Anka or Barry Manilow (though they would have made good choices). Instead I picked the Andrew Gold 1970’s (somewhat obscure) Thank You for Being a Friend. If the title sounds familiar, that’s because it was used as the theme to The Golden Girls in the 1980’s. That show in and of itself was something over which we bonded. During those difficult months preceding my spinal surgery, when the pills made it impossible for me to sleep at night, when the same pills coupled with fear and uncertainty brought me to the verge of an emotional train wreck; Mom would stay up with me so I wasn’t alone. What’s on TV in the middle of the night? You guessed it. To this day she and I can quote Blanche, Dorothy, Rose, and Sophia like the best of them. When the episodes would end, we’d hit the town. On more than one occasion, she and I would drive in the middle of the night in search of perpetual Eucharistic Adoration (and a diner). How do you not love someone like that?
That’s why when we moved (first to Virginia and then to Texas) over the past few years, I sometimes get sad. As you by now know I love my mother-in-law dearly and my wife’s brother and sister and all the aunts and cousins truly welcome me as one of their own. From Jane down in Austin to Vicki in North Carolina and all the Pat’s and Lisa’s in between, I have been blessed with an extended family as beautiful as the one from which I came. But when my wife’s father died suddenly 18 months ago I began to really fear that when the end came for the people I left behind, I wouldn’t be there. There are some things we have to accept in love and prayer as the will of God. Poor Mother Teresa set out to do her missionary work and lamented that she never again got to see her mother or sister in Albania. Fortunately, American Airlines runs a couple of daily flights from EWR. I just wish we all had greater resources and could do this more often. For instance, some of my sisters will probably never make it here and that makes me sad. I would love for them to see where we live and the fun stuff we’ve done with this house. I also feel sorry that my kids don’t get to really bond with the Jersey cousins the way they do with their Texas relatives. But such is life.
That’s why I am really cherishing these days right now. It’s so wonderful to have Mom here in our home, to be able to show her around Texas (or at least Dallas-Fort Worth), for her to visit her friend Wilma (Go say a prayer for her right now!) and spend time with her grandchildren. In a week she’ll return home and my sisters will rejoice and some of them will even scold her and admonish “Don’t ever leave us like that again!” But for the moment, Mom, we’re (I’m) so glad you’re with us!
Note: I’ll try to post more regularly over this next week so as to provide some pictorial proof of this visit. When she and I get together we usually wind up with some “fun” pictures.