Snapshots of a Mother
She was formidable but gentle. Practical, yet given to dreams and fantasy. She was British, haughty, regal and very elegant. She was called "the most beautiful" of eight sisters, all of whom were well-known beauties. She was adventurous, swimming in barracuda infested waters in her thirties and body-surfing into her late seventies. She wrote both prose and poetry, was an artist, articulate, well-educated and well-read. She was a prolific writer, leaving hand-written commentaries in the margins of books and opinionated note-cards about people or current events tucked into nooks and crannies. In the latter part of her life, religious fervor blossomed. Not until the last year of her life did I notice a hint of mysticism. She was often challenging but nevertheless, a strong guiding force in my life. She was my mother!
She sometimes lived in a fantasy world where chivalry was still the norm and ladies dressed a certain way and behaved with elegance and decorum. I remember once yelling out the car window to a friend. With her famous haughty tone of disapproval, she informed me that "Ladies don't shout from moving cars." Over the years I learned that ladies didn't do a lot of things that I was guilty of doing. I told her I was going to put on her tombstone, "Ladies Don't ..." But I never did.
She often talked about the movers and shakers of the world as though she knew them personally. She spoke fondly of Sir Richard Branson's adventures circumnavigating the world by balloon and insisted he wrote her after one of his failed attempts. My two sisters and I indulged the fantasy, rolling our eyes behind her back. She regaled us with stories of her correspondences with Al Roker, KatieCouric, Pope John and other dignitaries. We were positive she'd gone over the edge. But after her death we found boxes of letters from all the people she'd told us about. She'd written to correct their pronunciation of a word on a TV broadcast, or to congratulate them about an achievement. In the box we found hand-written response letters or post cards from Branson, Katie Couric, Jimmy Carter, Al Roker, and all the people she'd written. Just like she said! She also wrote commentaries about people in public office that she didn't care about. I found this on a newspaper clipping about Richard Nixon's death: "An outpouring of insincere words for an unscrupulous man. I'll put out the flag not for that rogue but for the Presidency."
She was a feminist long before the word became an anthem for a generation. The Belgian nuns who taught on the island insisted that boys could take art but girls had to take needlepoint. I wanted desperately to take art with the boys but the nuns told my mother it was impossible. Petitioning my grandfather, a formidable man in his own right, both of them visited Mother Superior at the Convent. I never found out what they talked about, but the next day I was the only girl in the "boys art class." She concluded rules should be challenged and lived that lesson to the end of her life. When she was stopped for speeding in a residential area she told the young police officer that she was late for Mass. When he told her she was speeding in a 30 mph area, she summoned her most disdainful tone. She told him he'd be of much better use to society by tracking down real criminals instead of 82 year old women on their way to church. He let her go.
These stories are the snapshots of a life well taught and well lived. But it was not until her funeral mass that I learned about the deep faith and mysticism that guided her life. We all knew she went to Mass every day and that she donated to charities all over the world by helping the poor and those in need. But it was learning about her personal practices that moved me to tears that day.
When the funeral began a tall, thin, man with ragged clothes, a knotted rope for a belt, long wet hair and a long beard tucked into a rumpled shirt walked into the Church. He stopped in front of a photo of my mother for a full sixty seconds then placed his hands in prayer and began softly talking to her. Then he went to the front of the Church and knelt there for the entire service.
After the funeral family and friends milled around talking. I caught sight of the homeless man standing alone with a sad smile on his face staring at my mother's photo. I went to him and introduced myself. He told me his name was Jim. When I asked how he knew my mother he said: "Your mother was a kind woman. When no one else cared about me, she did. If you look at me you can see why others would shun me. Your mother never did. She picked me up at Publix grocery store every morning and took me to mass with her. Then she made me come and have breakfast in the church hall with all the ladies. Most of the time it was my only meal of the day, but your mother always fed me. She was a great lady and I loved her very much. She helped me to find the Lord God in my life and to believe in God again."
I invited him to eat with us. He felt he couldn't because of all the fine people that were present at the funeral. I insisted he join us, and barely reaching his chest, hugged him. When I pulled back I saw tears flowing down his cheeks. All he said was, "Thank you ma'am! Your mother was a fine lady and I loved her. She saved my life." Jim had lunch with us at the family table. Just like mom would have wanted!
On Mother's Day 2012, I celebrate her life well lived and her life of spiritual influence. Happy Mother's day, Mom! This is for you and all the moms who have left us a legacy to live up to!
Jo Mooy - May 2012