My mother turns 93 today, and tho her surgically repaired back only allows her to move with the speed of a tortoise on Quaaludes, her mind is sharp.
And so is her tongue.
Even now, as I waltz to the brink of 70, she puts me in my place when she thinks I’m “too much” (her favorite expression), which is frequently.
Because of our recent move, I was unable to be with her today, but we chatted for about 40 minutes. I can tell she worries that every phone call will be our last and that we might never see one another again separated as we are by 800 miles.
But then, my mom, Italian through and through, has been dying for the last 20 years.
During every visit and call, at some point, she’ll say, “I don’t know how long I’ll be around.”
She keeps plugging away, however, and for that I’m eternally grateful.
These are my fondest memories of mom.
When I was 5, the thing I wanted most in the world was a plastic Superman that, when attached to a slingshot that came with the toy, could fly across the room. My father, a practical man, said no.
I cried. And cried. And cried. You know the ploy. When I saw my tears had no effect on him, I cried harder. And harder. And harder.
So hard, I fell asleep on our couch. When I woke up, there on the footrest lay Superman in all his red and blue glory. My father had relented not because of my tears, but because of my mother’s steely stare, of which he, and all of us frankly, feared.
The other memory that sticks out most is when, as a first grader, a drunk driver slammed into me as I was getting off the school bus. Mom would always watch me from the window of our home to make sure I had crossed our busy highway safely. We lived out in the country in a farmhouse, (tho we didn’t farm) on Ohio Route 62, where cars whizzed by at speeds equaling those at the Daytona 500.
On this particular winter afternoon, a man zipped around the stopped bus, ignoring the flashing warning lights and the bright red STOP sign, and hit me so hard it knocked me out of my shoes and nearly over the nearby power lines.
I landed face first in a snow bank, which likely saved my life.
Because we lived in the country and my mother wasn’t working (she was a nurse but was between jobs) we had no second car, and the nearest hospital was miles away. We were new to the area and didn’t know anyone, so we had a dilemma. Who could, would, drive us to the hospital?
Easy. The drunk.
My mother gathered me up from the snow. She wept when she saw my bleeding face. But she pulled herself together, got me into the back of the drunk’s car, gave him the stare, and told him to drive. He sobered up pretty quickly.
As we rode, I kept asking, “Mom, am I going to die? Am I going to die?” and as calm as a breeze on a summer afternoon, she would say, “No, you’re not. I won’t let you die.”
And I didn’t.
My mother gave me life. She gave me her fierce love. I love her just as fiercely back.
She said today she’s proud of her family, proud of me and my sister and our respective broods.
“I’ve had such a good life,” she said. “And I’ve gotten so many calls today.”
“But the most important one is mine, of course,” I said modestly.
There was a pause and then she said, “Son, you’re too much. Too, too much.”