I have many memories of my mother. Some are of me breaking her heart. But a mother’s heart is with her children, and wherever we go, so does her heart. The paths we take often break our mother’s heart.
Each Mother’s Day I think of my mom. But I find little peace in the sentiment of the day. Instead, I agonize over the son I was and the son I wish I were. The expression, “If only” must be the two saddest words in the world. And yet they dominate reflections of mom.
We so seldom say, I love you, and then you wake up and find that it’s too late. Joni Mitchell sings, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve lost till it’s gone”. I never really knew her; she was just mom. That’s not the way it was supposed to be. Why couldn’t I have loved her even if it were only 1% of the way she love me?
My mom was born in 1910 in Monongah, West Virginia, a little holler along the Monongahela River. She was a coal miner’s daughter. Mom quit school in the sixth grade and went to work driving an ice truck at 11. She spoke fluent Italian and had her own radio show called the “Italian Hour”, singing and playing the piano to the ethnic West Virginia Coal Miners.
My first memory of her was at Coney Island in Brooklyn. I can still see her waving at me as I went round and round on the merry-go-round. It was our first connection; because I vividly remember waving back at her.
Do we ever really know our mother? She’s just mom. Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Mothers…they move about us in such a whirlwind of motion giving constantly. They are the first image that stamps itself on the unwritten page of a child’s mind. Her caress awakens our sense of security; her kiss, the first realization of affection; her sympathy and tenderness, the first assurance that love exists. The peace of our soul is built upon our relationship with our mother.
It wasn’t until I returned from Vietnam that I understood the significance of my mother’s love. A few days after I returned, I ran into Father Flynn, my parish priest. “Joey, you know your mother went to the 6 A.M. mass every day while you were gone and lit every candle under the statue of Saint Anthony so you’d survive… everyday Joey!”
“I didn’t know that father,” I said. “And she still comes to give thanks.” At that moment I understood the essence of motherhood.
As a young Marine experiencing horrific moments in war, I found comfort thinking of my mother. My only solace was being thankful that she couldn’t see what I was enduring.
I remember leaving for college. My mom stood silently and motionless on the street and began to cry flooding her hands with tears. We drove away from the curb; I watched her through the rear window; her tears became a sob. We remained staring at each other till she disappeared from view. I still see that moment in color.
The essence of mother’s day is lost in ritual. The best gift is not the gift we give to mom. It’s the gift we give to ourselves which is grasping the sanctity of motherhood and appreciating this extraordinary human being.