Given at my mother’s memorial event held at Tony & Penny’s Restaurant, May 19, 2012.
I’d like to thank everyone for coming today, and I want to thank my beautiful wife for organizing this event.
I’d like like to mention how grateful I am to the Boston Red Sox for winning not just one, but TWO championships in my mother’s lifetime. I’m sure many of us wondered if we’d EVER see anything like that.
I’m fond of saying that it’s all about the story. At the end of the day, it’s the best that most of us can hope to leave behind. We tell the story to remember, and I can always say that Mom left us with many good ones.
Most of us know the general outlines of my mom’s life. She won’t be featured in any documentary. She never invented anything.
But as most of us know, my mom lived a hardscrabble life. For most of it, nothing came easy. She was the product of a stormy relationship, and she grew up under the watchful eyes of her many aunts and uncles, and spent a difficult year at a boarding school in Montreal, where no one spoke English. And when she came back to Three Rivers, neither could she. She would eventually drop out of high school to begin another three decades working in various mills and shops around the valley.
It should be no surprise then that mom loved Shirley Temple movies. I hated them. I found them depressing. Because they were always about a little girl with no home, passed around from one evil relative to the next. With the exception of the evil relatives, it’s clear that Mom saw these stories as autobiographical. Except that her happy ending took a little longer to get to than your average Hollywood movie. As hard as it was, she would manage to sum up her experiences with comments like, “We didnt have much, but we knew how to have fun.”
Times were hard, even after marriage. The Garbins in the 1950s and 1960s were not the Cleavers. And yet she managed to shield her problems from us — at least from me. My mother did her best to give me a childhood she didn’t have. She was there as much as a mother with two jobs could be. And she was as much of a father to us as she could be.
To say that my mom didn’t live an extraordinary life belies the fact that she somehow managed to raise three kids and turn them into well-rounded, productive adults. She did this while working menial jobs, earning barely enough to pay the bills and put food on the table.
We grew up in a household where you only saw soda or ice cream on special occasions and holidays. As a child, I thought those were just the rules. Little did I know that we just didn’t have the money. I mean, didn’t everyone mix powdered milk with regular to extend it?
If we went out to eat, we went to McDonald’s. When we wanted to live it up, we went to Friendly’s.
Realizing that my mother did that with THREE kids for about 17 YEARS tells me a lot about her true strength. I tried being a single parent for ONE WEEK a couple of months ago, and I thought I was going to kill that kid.
But we knew how to have fun, too. Despite her troubles, we got to take family vacations. We went camping. We took day trips to Misquamicut. We spent two weeks on the shore in Maine. We didn’t travel very far, but we got away.
When she finally had enough of the menial, dead end jobs, Mom went back to school. First she got her G E D, and then at the age of 49, she earned her Bachelors Degree from AIC. I’m only two years older than that now, and I still don’t know how she did it.
In some circles, they might describe my mom as one tough broad.
She was by no means perfect. She was no angel. My mother was often a study in contradictions and stubbornness. She had expectations of us and if we did not live up to them, she let us know it. She spoke her mind and told us things whether we wanted to hear them or not.
Not a few times did she say things to us like, “If I were born later, I never would have gotten married.” It wasn’t a jab at us, necessarily. She got married, she told us, because everyone was getting married. It was what you did back then.
More to the point, it was her assertion that she didn’t like to be told what to do.
Some would say that her kids inherited some of that. I know my daughter did.
But Mom knew right from wrong, and I think that a parent has no greater responsibility than to pass that ability on to their own children.
I’m proud to say that my mother lived life on her own terms. Even in the face of the horrible disease that slowly broke down her body, my mother adapted and endured. She died in her own house, surrounded by those she loved. I think everyone in this room aspires to that.
I couldn’t be with her as often as I wanted, but when I was there, I clearly saw mom facing this thing head on. She did it, of course, with the selfless assistance of my sister Marlene, who managed to keep Mom’s house in order, both physically and financially. We could not have done it without her.
I’m sure that in her private moments, it frustrated Mom to no end, but in those final years living under the cloud of A L S, I always saw her in good spirits and as willful as ever. I never heard her question the fairness of it. I never heard her ask, “Why me?”
I want to think that Mom looked back on her own life and saw it as I see it now, as a good one. It took her a little too long to get into a comfortable place, but when she got there, she enjoyed every second of it.
When she found herself spending one night too many sitting on the couch watching television, she met up with a group of women in a similar situation thanks to an ad in the Reminder. In her fifties and sixties, my mother kept making new friends and doing new things.
She was off and running — again. Unencumbered by children, financial pressures, or some man to take care of, she got out of the house and had fun. She realized her life-long dream and traveled to Hawaii. Then she went to New Orleans, to Alaska. She went out and danced every week. She took up cross country skiing. She bought a computer. She spent summers on the Cape. She often said that her 60s were the best years of her life.
If her genetics were any guide, I thought I could look forward to having my mother around well into her 90s, but 82 is nothing to sneeze at. We should all live so long. And so well.
Still, I know we’ve all heard or maybe said it once or a hundred times. If I could have just one more hour with her, I would move heaven and earth.
When I was maybe four or five, my mother taught me my first French words, albeit in the Canadian dialect. At the completion of this simple dialogue, she’d beam with pride as my aunts and cousins laughed and clapped. And of course, we would continue this routine well into my teens and adulthood.
She would ask me in “Aimez-vous votre Mama?”
And I would answer, “Oui, Mama, je taime.”
“Avec tu mon coeur.”
To which I can only add today, “Pour le reste de ma vie.”
For the rest of my life.