Today is my Mom’s birthday. Born ninety years ago at a small hospital that no longer exists on the east side of Manhattan. Her Dad was an bailiff in the city courts and her Mom was a court stenographer. Helen was their first child. Yesterday as I sat in her room here in Tempe, AZ I looked a picture we had painted of the two of them holding her when she was two years old. I wondered what was going through their minds. Could they even imagine that their daughter would live another eighty-eight years? What were their hopes and dreams for this little girl whom they cradled in their arms?
Mom’s been through a lot in all these years. She lost her father at four and went to live with her Aunt and Uncle along with her mother and a baby brother. They managed like that all the way through her high school years. Then she was off to college in far-away Buffalo, New York. There she completed a bachelors degree in three years while working in the D’Youville College library to supplement a full tuition scholarship she had earned. She graduated from college magna cum laude. Then she returned to New York City looking for employment as a teacher. She was denied any position because she was a woman. Then through the intercession of a neighbor whose son was a Jesuit priest she managed to enroll at Fordham University and get a graduate assistantship which allowed her to complete a Masters in Mathematics and Science. She returned to D’Youville and was hired to teach mathematics. While she was there she met my father who was enrolled at the University at Buffalo. They eventually were engaged and married and had three children. Dad died when he was forty-six and she managed to finish raising and providing for us by becoming a high school mathematics teacher. How she managed to keep us going on her spartan teaching salary was no mean achievement.
Eventually she re-married and our family size increased from 3 siblings to five brothers and three sisters. Our new Dad really pulled us together as a family and he and Mom had fourteen wonderful years together. During that time she retired from teaching and was able to spend a few years relaxing and traveling with Dad. Even after our Dad’s death in 1994 she continued to be active in our lives and her community. She visited the sick, drove friends to doctors appointment and hospital visits and became “Grandma” to twelve grandchildren and eventually a great-grandmother a couple of years ago. About eighteen months ago she came to live in a retirement community in Arizona. She’s still our Mom and now it’s our turn to hold her hand and help her in whatever ways we can. My sister and her husband have done a wonderful job of helping make Mom comfortable in her new surroundings. She’s really glad that we came to be with her on this special day. Earlier today we connected with my brother Mark and his family via FaceTime. Yesterday my Brother Brian and his wife Lillian came and we had a birthday lunch at a local restaurant. Later today we’ll be going to a special birthday dinner at my sister’s home. We’re doing our best to celebrate Mom’s birthday and her wonderful life with us.