My mother, Dorothy, turned 96 on the Ides of March and despite being relegated to a wheelchair, she exhibited the radiant personality and inner strength that have defined her long, wonderful life.
Mom’s legs have failed her over the past year. She can stand up with a walker but every step has taken on a level of achievement which she equates to running in the Olympics.
“It takes too long to walk and I don’t want to waste the day trying,” she said recently, joking about her “condition.”
Of course, my sister Angela and brother John get her up on her feet for her daily exercise, even when Dorothy tries to resist.
“Don’t you have something better to do?,” she tells them in a warm, motherly way.
Since I live 62 miles away from Providence, I can’t be there all the time to help out my siblings and mom. For that, however, I get to be the “gleam” in my mother’s eyes when I show up most Sunday mornings for breakfast.
“You don’t know what they put me through during the week,” she tells me often.
And I respond the same way each time. I look around and see fresh flowers every where, clean sheets on the bed, shiny furniture, spotless floors, and not a soiled dish or spoon. Mom’s sitting in a new, plush, oversized, push-button blue chair — a birthday gift from her four children — her hair is done up nicely, and she’s dressed like the doll my Dad married during the Hurricane of ’38 in Providence.
“Mom,” I say gently, “things look pretty good to me.”
She nods twice before issuing a soft, conciliatory reply. “I know. I know. But don’t tell them that.”
Then we laugh.
For her birthday, we took mom to the Crow’s Nest, one of her favorite restaurants nestled near the waterfront in Apponaug. On this chilly day, small boats remained moored in the river basin that feeds into the Atlantic Ocean. She ate “red” clam chowder, two clam cakes, baked scallops and half an order of fries “to pick on.” She shared a slice of key lime pie for dessert. She drank a glass of Kim Crawford 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, a New Zealand white marked by brilliant pineapple and lime zest.
As we sat together, I put mom through a series of five questions — all of which started a family discussion after every one of her responses. This is exactly what it was like growing up with every big Sunday meal — a simple question was raised and then a free-for-all of talk ensued until Dad stepped in with the final word.
“Mom, who is your favorite all-time President?,” I asked.
She didn’t hesitate. “I have two. President Eisenhower and President Kennedy.”
She explained that Eisenhower built the highway system (Interstate 95) that got Dad to work easier and safer, and for that she was always grateful. As for JFK, her eyes still light up to the sound of his name. “He was so young and handsome,” she said. “There was so much excitement. He made us all feel good. And his wife had style and dignity. I still miss him, like I miss your father.”
Mom still loves the movies, so I asked about her favorite Hollywood actor and actress. I already knew the answer, but I asked anyway.
“Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn,” she said. “They loved each other and it showed when they made movies together.”
Her favorite baseball player — baseball is her favorite sport — was a surprise and ignited a fierce debate among the Yankee and Red Sox fans at the table.
“Willie Mays and Hank Aaron,” she replied. “The Say Hey Kid (Mays) was the best of the best” at everything, she said, and Aaron “hit home runs and tipped his cap” to fans, “something Ted Williams found hard to do.”
Mom said her favorite entertainer was the late great Broadway musical singer Ethel Merman, followed closely by Dean Martin.
Finally, I asked her to disclose the secret to her longevity.
Mom flashed a smile, looked around the table and boiled down her 96 incredible years into one word — “love.”
Happy Mother’s Day!