PHOTO INDEX: BLOG EDITOR AND MOM, THE NUMBER 500.
When I first started this blog/site two years ago, I never dreamed I'd have the material to crank out 500 editions of The LuLac Political Letter. But with all of the material at hand, now I wonder how I never got to 500 sooner. As I approached the number, I wondered what I would put on the site for edition number 500. I toyed with the idea of a historical perspective or some opinion. But instead, I decided today, with your indulgence to post the euology I gave today at my mom's funeral. She knew about LuLac but never really "got" what I was trying to do with it. All she said was "just make it good". Through 500 editions, I tried my best to grant that wish. There are breaking developments happening that will make certain we'll return very shortly with news of politics and pop culture. But for today, the milestone edition, #500, belongs to the person who always encouraged my writings, whether she "got it" or not. Now that's unconditional love and trust that only a mother can give.
When I worked at Rock 107 as a salesman, my least successful days were the best days I spent with my mother. If you didn’t get a sale by 1pm, it usually meant the day was shot. So some radio reps went to a bar, or some would park on a side street and smoke a cigarette of dubious legality. And others like me would visit our moms. When I sat in the TV room as she was watching her stories, we’d talk about a lot of things. Sometimes we talked about death. And she’d say, “I don’t know what Sandy is going to do when I die.” And I said, yes Sandy would be very sad. Then she looked at me and said, “what about you?” And I told her I’d miss her very much but I’d most likely see if I could stand up here and tell a few stories about her. She then said, “Don’t you dare, don’t you dare get up and say anything about me”. Now for anyone who knows our family, you know that my sister always listened to everything my mother said. I, on the other hand listened to nothing she ever said. Which is why today I am standing before you telling stories about my mother.
She was born the 10th of 13th children, the youngest girl. Her name was supposed to be Barbara but legend has it that her god parents got confused on the way to the christening. Back in those days, parents stayed home and the godparents took the child to church for baptism. When the priest asked what the name of the infant was going to be, the two godparents were flummoxed. Again, this is family legend but the story goes the two were so taken aback their frantic eyes finally gazed upon a statue of the Blessed Mother and both cried out in unison “Mary!”. And thus little Barbara became Mary. But there was a problem with that. You see the Pribula’s had an older daughter, their oldest named Mary. So there was a big Mary and a little Mary. And my mother remained “Little Mary” until July 1965 when Mary Seman, aka “Big Mary” died.
My mother enjoyed all of the jobs she had. As you know she was a department manager at Grant’s and K Mart as well as a type of nanny for a child who’s parents owned dress factories. Another job my mother had was at Consolidated Cigar in West Pittston. She had the misfortune of having her older sister Anna as her supervisor. And my aunt, so as not to show favoritism was a little bit harder on my mother. She would never complain but once in a while I’d hear her say to my father, “I wish just once she’d disown me for a week. Just a week!”
My father also worked in that factory. He’d work the night shift while she worked days. I remember Friday nights, my father would come home at 1130PM and there’d be stirring in the kitchen. Then by midnight, a few neighbors would come over, Stella and Bill McCauley, sometimes Bertha Milkannin or Dinah Milkkanin. Sometimes a friend from the factory. And by 1230am, they would either be canning if it was the fall, baking cookies if it was the holidays or concocting home made root beer in the summertime. When I got up the next morning, I’d come down the steps, and honestly, it looked like the Food Network had landed in our kitchen. Then when they remodeled the kitchen, there was no stopping them. I asked my mother on one of our visits how she did it. I said, “You left for work at 630am, you came home and made me supper, you helped me with my homework, hosted my friends, took care of the house, then when your husband came home you did all of this stuff straight through the weekend including banquet waitressing, what were you on?” And she looked and me and simply said, “Maxwell House!”
Mothers protect, nurture and warm us with their love. That’s an undisputed fact. I can say without exaggeration that my mother and her friends were responsible for at least 250 quilts coming out of our house during her lifetime. The quilts, efforts of skill and love were gifts for weddings, engagements, graduations, baby showers and many were donated to various churches. You named the occasion, they’d make it. The ladies would gather together and sew. It was like an all star team of sewers. Joyce Prandy, Thelma Prandy, Margaret Sincavage, Alberta Kridlo, Stella McCawley, Bertha Muroski, Anna Copper her daughters Anna Mae and Marie, Mary Sookey, Bertha Milkannin, Mary Simalchick, Helen Harmonous and Margie Gerboc. They, along with my mother were the players. But then there was the big three. They were my godmother, Anna Yonki, my second mother in the neighborhood Dinah Milkannin and Katie Haddock. Hearing these ladies debate the issues of the day was like The View on steroids. And my mother was right in the middle to moderate.
Now my mother was not all smiles and flowers. She had a very determined streak that served her well in life. She was not afraid to speak her mind like one night in the late 90s. My sister was very upset and called me telling me that my mother was going out of her mind. I got on the phone and I asked my mother what was wrong. “They bought a horse she said, there’s a horse in my living room!” Now my mother never thought I should drive anywhere at night, so when I asked her if she wanted me to come up, I was surprised when she said yes. When I got there, it turned out that Sandee and Owen promised Troy a dog if he had a good year at school. Because of his success, they brought home Travis. “Look at this thing” she said, “it’s gonna kill me. I’m gonna die because of this horse. Now Mom, I said, Dad’s tombstone says, “In my house there are many rooms” what are we going put on yours, “annoyed by a dog?” I got a harrumph. Then I thought I’d invite her to live with me and Mary Ann. She said no. “It’s either me or the dog. He goes or I go.” She said. Then I played the mother card. I said, “Mom, Troy got good grades, Sandee and Owen as parents promised the boy a dog. Just stay away from him”. She shrugged her shoulders and harrumphed.
So Travis for the first 24 hours was the horse in the house.
48 hours later, it was that dog.
3 days later, he was the dog.
A week later, according to my mother, Travis became “her dog”. When Troy would roughhouse with the dog, my mother would scold him saying, “leave my dog alone”, or “don’t you hurt my dog”. Adaptability.
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to do some reporting on current events and sometimes a TV or radio show host will say, “what’s the headline on this story?” And if I had to write a headline on my mother’s life, it would be “Fearless and Faithful”. Not fearing to take a chance on a guy 10 years older than she and building a marriage. Not fearing to take on a new job to support her family and molding it to her own personality and making it her own. Not fearing to live her life for decades after the death of her husband. Faithful in her abilities, optimistic in her outlook on life. Faithful in her family and friends who were the bedrock of her life. Faithful in her God. People took care of her like she took care of them. She had faith and it was rewarded with friendship and love.
The last few months have not been kind to my mother. The only consolation we have in her death is that she will suffer no more. On Mother’s Day I asked her what she wanted. She said “I just want to go home!” With the iron will of my sister, the staff at John Heinz and her own tenacity, she got home to Dewitt Street one last time. Now she’s in a permanent home. A home with no bounds or walls, a home where she can now walk or if she meets up with my father, drag him out on a dance floor. A home where the pain of the past year is washed away like you’d wash away dirt from an old painting. And a different picture emerges, the one where you see the smile, hear the smart remark, see the arched eyed brow and witness the boundless energy that made her the person we all knew and loved. Fearless and faithful once more, in her new home with God. “Little Mary”, “Big Mary’s” ready to give you the grand tour of heaven.