Last night we celebrated my Mom’s 82nd birthday with a trip to Red Lobster in Blasdell, New York. Mom’s seen a lot of life in 82 years. Born to two working parents in the pre-depression years. Her mother was a court stenographer for the City of New York and her dad was a bailiff in the city court system. She was born Helen Hand. My grandfather died suddenly of pneumonia when she was four and her mother struggled to provide for Mom and my uncle. In the days before social welfare insurance my Aunt Mae and her husband Bill took them in. That environment was very formative for Mom. Mae and her sister Helen were Irish Catholics, Bill was a Lutheran and in that environment my mother grew to accept folks of other religious denominations without question. Bill and my grandmother worked everyday and Aunt Mae took care of the childcare. Mom went to Catholic grammar school and high school and graduated with high honors. She won a scholarship to attend D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York. In the fall of 1944 she boarded a train bound for Buffalo from Grand Central Station in New York. Buffalo was eight hours away and must have seemed like a frontier town compared to New York. Going summers she finished in three years and graduated Magna Cum Laude majoring in Mathematics. In 1947 she was admitted to the masters degree program in Mathematics at Fordham University and in 1948, my mother earned a Masters degree.
She returned to D’Youville College to teach and it was while teaching there that she met my father who was attending Dental School at the University of Buffalo. They were married in 1951 and I came along a little over a year later. Mom had four children, my brother Mark, my sister Kathy and my sister Mary. Mary died in infancy. Mom put her teaching career aside and worked with my father in the dental office for almost twenty years. She returned to classroom in 1970 as my father’s health began to fail and in 1973 after my father died Mom became a full time teacher earning $8500 year. With that money she purchased a home, established credit and provided for all of us and our friends. She taught high school mathematics for twenty years. Life was always tough on Mom but through it all she found a way to be positive. She grew up in a Catholic Church that wouldn’t even allow women on the altar and now she administers communion to the sick and infirm. In 1980 she married Jim Luscher and we now have a huge extended family. He became more than a father to us and she became a mother to his children. Jim died in 1994 of complications of congestive heart failure. I know that was very tough on her, but she’s still going strong fourteen years later. She’s active in church, going to daily mass, distributing communion to the sick and driving friends to doctor visits and the hospital. Mom has email and a cell phone now. It’s difficult for her with her arthritic hands, but she does well in spite of it all.
She has been a model to us all and a tower of strength. I call it the Zen of Helen. Happy Birthday Mom!