Wake Up and Write Writer's Retreat Workshop
In a few weeks, on October 14th, my mother would have turned 83. She died in 2011, a few weeks after her 78th birthday. Five years later, I thought I would share her story. This is a multi-part story, and I'll include some of my favorite pictures, including the first one. Mom and I had a difficult relationship at times, filled with arguments, disagreements, and love, and this picture showed me a side of her I'd never seen when she was alive. I hope you enjoy meeting her...with love, Doc
“The Irish mother had a reputation for ruling the family with an iron fist,
being the unquestioning transmitter of...Church authority.”
Monica, McGoldrick, Ethnicity and Family Therapy
She read Dale Carnegie, Malcolm X, and Dear Abby with equal fascination and curiosity. She was a teacher, a public relations and marketing whiz, a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a grandmother, an aunt, and finally a great-grandmother. She was a devout Catholic, a Kennedy Democrat who in later years voted Republican, a child of World War II, a smoker for much of her life, and a devoted friend and family member. She loved dancing, the beach, good food, good clothes, her family and friends, the Catholic Church, travel, and good conversation.
She was an Irish Mother Superior, and this brief snapshot in words doesn’t begin to do her justice. Pat/Patsy/Smitty/Patricia was my mother, my teacher, my opponent, my heritage. As I rediscover and explore her through pictures, her own words, and my memories, I hope the essence of Mom will shine through and live again. She was the matriarch of our clan, and she lives on in all of us.
In some ways Mom’s father took over being mother as well as father. Her mother’s sister, Aunt Mary, helped out when she wasn’t playing bingo, but as she wrote in a newspaper remembrance of her dad,
...he never asked us to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. That included doing dinner dishes once a week...Even when he got up at 6:00 am, banked the furnace, drove to Youngstown to work, and returned at 6:30 that evening for dinner. If it was Friday night, it was his night for dishes...he didn’t know the meaning of the word chauvinism, as he cooked, cleaned, washed, ironed (even our little fancy dresses), sewed, and canned vegetables and fruit from our victory garden. He became so skilled in the domestic field, he could play cards all afternoon and serve turkey dinner to 28 guests the same night.
Story published in Post-Gazette North, June 15, 1978
Mom always tried to teach us to dance (unsuccessfully), and said she and her brothers used to dance all the time when they were growing up. Imagine our surprise when we read the rest of the story in her autobiography.
My first recollections of any kind of schooling is dancing school...my mother and father had great aspirations for me. And their delight knew no bounds when they discovered at the tender age of four I was double jointed. They immediately enrolled me in Peggy Neenan's School of Dance, and I was indoctrinated in the fine art of ballet, tap dance and acrobatics. Since this was the great era of Shirley Temple, my mother went a bit further and had pictures taken of me at the local newspaper office for modeling.
The truth was I had stage fright. I could easily do all the tricks my teachers had taught me and know my routine for what was known in those days as a circumse or recital, but as soon as I got on stage I forgot everything and did anything that came to mind. In fact I nearly had the piano player going crazy trying to figure out what I was up to. And oh, my poor instructor standing in the wings trying to prompt me to a one handed handstand fell on deaf ears as far as I was concerned.
Uncle George...wanted me to perform for a Christmas party for his V.F.W. post. The plans were for me to take a trolley over to their house right from school and to have dinner with them and then we were to proceed to the evening's festivities. Well I did take the trolley, but...I got talking to one of the most interesting girls from the academy. Mary Lou Simms was her name and her mother was the proprietor of the ice cream store at the foot of the school. It seemed like an ideal time for Mary Lou and I to become better acquainted, especially since I had been trying to cultivate this friendship for quite some time.
Note: I got an email from my Aunt Helen, Mom's only sister, with these additions/corrections:
Thought you might be interested to know that your mother's birth name was Patricia Ann Jane Smith. (Mildred was her confirmation name) Like me, she was given two middle names, mine being Mildred Helen Pius. ( I was named for Pope Pius 11th) My name was shortened to Helen after my mother's death because apparently it was a difficult reminder of the loss of my mother and too much for my dad to handle. I was 2 1/2 when she died and your mom was four years older than I. Dave was 18 months and Milt was one day. (Dec. 26, 1939) My mother developed a blood clot and those days they did not how to treat or dissolve them.
Also, the picture you labeled to be my dad, your mom and Donald - actually is not brother Donald, but is my cousin, Charles Bond. Also, the picture you show of your mom at the end of your first blog had something to do with the fact that she was a child model for Kaufmann's Dept. store.