It’s Mare’s Birthday

marebirthdayToday, January 17th is Mare’s birthday. She often told the story of her birth. Her great aunt, who acted as the midwife to her mother, had to walk through “snow that was this high”, she would indicate about 3 feet with her hands. Her family home was “back lots”, meaning a place off of Hillcrest Avenue, where the DiStefano family now call their compound.

snow

The year was 1923 and Harding was President.

 

Mare was the first born to Frank and Angelina (Rossi) Germano, both immigrants from Italy. Frank and Angelina would have 5 more children in the next 12 years–Benny, Lena, Helen, Ray, and Anna. Thirteen years after Mare’s birth, Angelina would end her own life.

Her birth certificate gives her name as “Germain” and there are a few iterations of the name–Germani, Germain, Germano–before her family settled on ‘Germano’. Also, her mother’s maiden name was stated as “Russelli”, but was later called “Rossi”.

mare birthcertificate

Mare described her Mother as kind and gentle. She had “big hands” as did Mare, and as I have, too.

marenov2014

That is about as much as Mare remembered about her Mother and what I know about my maternal grandmother. I had a sense that there was some shame to her death. Angelina is buried in St. Thomas Catholic Cemetery in town and I often wonder what was done to achieve that feat when the Catholic Church considered suicide a sin.

Mare had only two things that belonged to her Mother–a beautiful cut glass sugar bowl and a glass vase. I managed to break the sugar bowl when I was dusting the shelf it was show-cased on. At that time, I did not know of Martha Stewart’s advise to remove all objects from a shelf or tabletop before dusting to avoid mishaps. I now have the vase and I am very careful.

mare vase

Mare was 13 years old when she lost her Mother. She was in the 8th grade and had to leave school to help manage their household and to care for her younger siblings. By this time, the family was living at 20 Bonair Avenue.

mare house2

Later on, Mare and my father would buy the lots next door, from her father, at 40 Bonair Avenue and build their home, the home I grew up in.

mare house

The two youngest girls, Helen and Anna, went to live with their godparents. Helen went to Warwick, Rhode Island to live with Louise and Larry George. And Anna, 1 year old, went to relatives in town who lived in what was called the Mittineague section.

It must have been heart-breaking  to leave school, for Mare loved her teachers and learning. Much later on, when Mare was in her 60’s, she returned to school, took “night classes”, and earned her GED. What a goal to set and an accomplishment to achieve!

Mare never complained about her childhood. She said it wasn’t easy, but she never said it was hard. It was 1936, in the throes of The Depression, when she was 13. Her family was poor and so were her neighbors. Her father worked as a conductor on the Boston & Albany railroad. He also sold fruit and flipped real estate. She said Pop brought a lot of “junk” home. I guess he was a collector of sorts.

She did say she “didn’t even have a doll”. Later on, as an adult she bought herself a doll and sewed clothes for it.

marew doll

Her childhood experience did not leave her bitter, nor sad. She was keenly sensitive to others who experienced pain and loss and she offered a compassionate, helping hand to many people throughout her life.  She had a formidable inner strength. Her byline was “to persevere” no matter what came her way.

Memorial bench at Old Tatham School in West Springfield where Mare attended grades 1-6.

memory bench

I give heartfelt thanks to my Mother for all that she was as a person and all that she accomplished in her life. Truly, she was the wind beneath my wings.

susanmarenov2014

Happy Birthday, Mom.

 

 

Wind Beneath My Wings

The song, Wind Beneath My Wings, was playing on the car radio the other day and it started me thinking how much my mother influenced me with her encouragement and support.

marenov2014

She was my biggest cheerleader and supporter.

I remember she told me when I was born that Joe went to the Tatham Social Club and told everyone there that I was the prettiest baby girl in the whole nursery. It’s not that I actually was; what’s important is that every loving father thinks his daughter is the best and every loving mother tells her daughter she is the best.

She told me it was the happiest day of her life when I was born~she had a daughter, after having two sons.

Once I had applied for a job and Mare inquired what was happening. I stated maybe they didn’t like me. Immediately she said “How could they not like you?”

There was a Seinfeld episode with the very same theme. Remember when Jerry was pitching a pilot to NBC and he was waiting out their decision and he said “Maybe they don’t like me.” Mrs. Seinfeld reacted, “How could they not like you?” Every loving parent thinks the same thing and communicates it.

I had Mare’s approval on the way I dressed and how I decorated and cared for my home. She was always complimentary. My hair~not so much. She would tell me if it looked messy or dry and suggest I needed a deep conditioner. Once, when I said to her she needed a good haircut, she said: “You know, sometimes your hair looks like a horse’s tail, but I don’t say anything because it isn’t nice.” I think that’s a mother-daughter thing and probably a topic for another story.

She thought I was smart and believed I knew everything. Really. She would ask a question and if I said “I don’t know”, she would say, “But you have your Master degree.” Seriously.

Once, we were in the hardware store shopping. She needed garbage bags for the kitchen waste bin. I picked up a box of 250 bags. She asked if that was enough, should she get 2 packages? I said, “Well if you use one bag a week, this package would last 5 years.” She turned to the pimply faced young boy who was helping us and said, ” My daughter is very smart. She has her Master’s.” He must of thought, “Oh boy, it’s gonna be one of those days.”

It wasn’t that I thought I knew everything. Mare conveyed to me that she had faith in me to reason anything out, big or small. For the most part. She disapproved of me getting married when I was only 18 years old and she disapproved of me getting a divorce 7 years later. She worried about “where I would fit in.” As the years went on, she saw that I could manage very well on my own.

Mare was proud of my degrees and what I accomplished in college. It was Mare who financed my undergraduate degree. I had stupidly delayed going to college after high school and got married instead. So although I was married, against her wishes, she paid for my tuition because she wanted to see me go to college and  not be stuck without the ability to earn a living.

When I went to grad school, I was no longer married. I paid for tuition and fees myself as I had been working for 4 years and saved money. However, Mare gave me living expense money, monthly, to make things a little easier on me.  She was the one who made it possible to start and complete my education and go on to have a successful career, enjoy financial prosperity, and accumulate wealth.

She took pride in all the positions and companies that I worked for over the years in my Human Resources career. I have always said that ‘behind every successful person is a woman.’ For me, it was Mare.

She helped me run my home when I was working long hours or traveling extensively. She did my errands. She arranged and met the repairmen and contractors at my home. She did stuff that needed to be done at my home. She varnished my sun room that was covered in knotty pine paneling, walls and ceiling, one hot summer day. She had a neighbor remove a snake she found in my yard. Little things, big things, she took care of what needed to be done, to make my life easier.

She was concerned about the effects the demands of work had on me and how emotionally draining it all was. I had dinner with her every night [when I wasn’t traveling] and she was always nurturing and encouraging. A home cooked meal and a glass of wine and upbeat conversation~balm for the soul. Remember, Mare and Joe took care of my dog Casey for me while I was at work. What a Gift!

At one point, she suggested that I train to become a yoga teacher as she knew how much I enjoyed going to yoga classes and how much I gained in fitness and relaxation. In retrospect, I should have given more thought to her suggestion.

When she thought I needed help or advise she gave it. Mostly, what I remember of her loving, challenging, important words to me were:

Be bold. Show compassion. Persevere.

These were the hallmarks of her personality and her legacy.

maryamccarthybench

The thing is, the regrettable thing is, I didn’t let her know that she was the wind beneath my wings.

Mare passed on December 11, 2014, siting in her comfy chair, in her living room, in my arms.

Wind Beneath My Wings

This song was playing on the car radio the other day and it started me thinking how much my mother influenced me with her encouragement and support.

She was my biggest cheerleader and supporter.

I remember she told me when I was born that Joe went to the Tatham Social Club and told everyone there that I was the prettiest baby girl in the nursery. It’s not that I actually was; what’s important is that every loving father thinks his daughter is the best and every loving mother tells her daughter she is the best.

16072303

 

She told me it was the happiest day of her life when I was born~she had a daughter~after having 2 sons.

16072301

Once I had applied for a job and Mare inquired what was happening. I stated maybe they didn’t like me. Immediately she said “How could they not like you?”

There was a Seinfeld episode with the very same theme. Remember when Jerry was pitching a pilot to NBC and he was waiting out their decision and he said “Maybe they don’t like me.” Mrs. Seinfeld reacted, “How could they not like you?” Every loving parent thinks the same thing and communicates it.

I had Mare’s approval on the way I dressed and how I decorated and cared for my home. She was always complimentary and I often overheard her talking to her friends and family about me.

My hair~not so much. She would tell me if it looked messy or dry and suggest I needed a deep conditioner. Once, when I said to her she needed a good haircut, she said: “You know, sometimes your hair looks like a horse’s tail, but I don’t say anything because it isn’t nice.” I think that’s a mother-daughter thing and probably a topic for another story.  Here’s me having an 80’s bad hair day.

16072307

She thought I was smart and believed I knew everything. Really. She would ask a question and if I said “I don’t know”, she would say, “But you have your Master degree.” Seriously.

Once, we were in the hardware store shopping. She needed garbage bags for the kitchen waste bin. I picked up a box of 250 bags. She asked if that was enough, should she get 2 packages? I said, “Well if you use one bag a week, this package would last 5 years.” She turned to the pimply faced young boy who was helping us and said, ” My daughter is very smart. She has her Master’s.” He must have thought, “Oh boy, it’s gonna be one of those days.”

16072304

It wasn’t that I thought I knew everything; Mare conveyed to me that she had faith in me to reason anything out, big or small. Here I am at my graduation from Our Lady of the Elms College. Happy moment.

16072305

Mare was proud of my degrees and what I accomplished in college. It was Mare who financed my undergraduate degree and she gave me monthly living expense money  when I was in grad school. She was the one who made it possible to start and complete my education and go on to have a successful career. Here we are at my graduation from UCONN School of Social Work.

16072306

She took pride in all the positions and companies that I worked for over the years in my Human Resources career. I have always said that ‘behind every successful person is a woman.’ For me, it was Mare.

Receiving a service award from VP Navroze Mehta.

16072309

Here I am in a corner office, wooden desk, and leather chair.

16072308

She helped me run my home when I was working long hours or traveling extensively. She did my errands. She arranged and met the repairmen and contractors at my home. She did stuff that needed to be done at my home. She varnished my sun-room that was covered in knotty pine paneling, walls and ceiling, one hot summer day. She had a neighbor remove a snake she found in my yard. Little things, big things, she took care of what needed to be done, to make my life easier.

16072302

She was concerned about the effects the demands of work had on me and how emotionally draining it all was. I had dinner with her every night at her home [when I wasn’t traveling] and she was always nurturing and encouraging. A home cooked meal and a glass of wine and upbeat conversation~balm for the soul. Remember, Mare and Joe took care of my dog Casey for me while I was at work. What a Gift!

16072310

At one point, she suggested that I train to become a yoga teacher as she knew how much I enjoyed going to yoga classes and how much I gained in fitness and relaxation. In retrospect, I should have given more thought to her suggestion.

When she thought I needed help or advise she gave it. Mostly, what I remember of her loving, challenging, important words to me were:

Be bold.  Persevere. Show compassion.

These were the hallmarks of her personality and her legacy.

maryamccarthybench

The thing is, the regrettable thing is, I didn’t let her know that she was the wind beneath my wings.

Lesson learned~ Tell people, show people how they have encouraged and influenced you throughout your life.

 

Tribute to Theresa

pray

The mother of my friend died on July 4, 2016. Cheryl asked me to give the eulogy at the funeral mass at St. Ann’s Church in South Hadley, MA.

Today, with heavy hearts, we come together in this solemn space, to celebrate the life of Theresa and to mourn her loss in our lives.

We learn from the events of her life, our own lives, that life is unpredictable. And yet, we go on each day weaving our dreams, making plans, taking steps towards what we think will make us and others happy.

Theresa had big dreams and she put her whole self into making them a reality. Her sights went beyond the farm she grew up on, with her loving parents and sister. She did not feel bound by the earth.

She looked to City lights and a career in modelling. And, although she  achieved  some acclaim in modelling, it was not to be her lifetime career, nor would she experience celebrity and all the wealth and perks that go along with that. Yet, she was happy that she strove and attained a piece of the pie, however small.

She was accepted into a prestigious, private college and that was a proud moment for her and her family. During the 3 years that she attended, she loved the college atmosphere, drawing in all that knowledge, being exposed to new ideas, contemplating what was possible.

Completion of the degree would elude her. Yet, she used what knowledge and skills she learned at AIC and the Charm School and the modelling School as well as her own innate intelligence to craft a work life that was satisfying and successful and earned her own money.

This period would not last long as she had married and now had a baby daughter to care for. Theresa was keen to see that she and her husband did not share the same dreams and values to make for a happy marriage and family. After the divorce, the gold dust she gleamed from this short relationship was her daughter Cheryl.

It was as if the heavenly angels brought these two spirits–Theresa and Cheryl– together for mutual caring, encouragement, friendship, and love.

They did exciting things together. They went on short trips. Theresa bought Cheryl the latest fashions. They lunched on tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. They had fun together!

Of course, underneath the fun times and adventures, was the stress and struggle of being a single Mom and raising a daughter. Theresa did it with such grace and poise, others could hardly notice the sacrifices she was making for Cheryl.

Cheryl has become a lovely woman, inside and out. She graduated college and has enjoyed a successful career and financial prosperity. She is in a long-term loving relationship with a kind, gentle, caring man who loves her deeply and is devoted to her.

So what eluded Theresa, Cheryl has achieved. We see the values Theresa instilled in and the behavior she modeled for Cheryl, in Cheryl.

Jackie Kennedy, one of Theresa’s heroine’s once said: “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”

This is Theresa’s legacy: her role as a single devoted mother who, on her terms, raised a beautiful daughter. A mother’s love.

We can assume from everything we know that this was God’s divine plan for Theresa. We can give Thanks to God for it.

And now, it is time to turn to God and Thank God for His promises to Theresa, to Cheryl, to Al, and to all of us for eternal life; life without beginning or end.

Jesus said “in my Father’s mansion, there are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you; For I am going, to make ready, a place for you.”

Jesus also told us “I am with you always, til the end of time.” So let’s go on, with some joy in our hearts, knowing that God has fulfilled his divine promise to Theresa. And, for us to take comfort in the Holy Spirit who God has given us. And, give heartfelt thanks for the life lived by Theresa.

bird

Mare and the DPW

Bruce Barone  and I were just having our lunch and Bruce was expressing his dissatisfaction with the West Springfield DPW for only having 2 special pick ups in the Spring for lawn debris. He thinks there should be more pickups, rather than having citizens bring their own debris to the town dump. He asked if Mare was ever dissatisfied with the DPW.

I can remember one time Mare called the DPW. She told the Superintendent that she “didn’t like the way the trash man T-H-R-E-W her trash barrel, rather then placing it down, upright on the side of the street”. She said there was no need for that.

trash

He responded: “Lady that’s the LEAST of my problems.”

Can’t you just picture him? I big man with a gravely voice with a cigar hanging out of his mouth, taking Mare’s call?

Later when she told me about it, Mare laughed. She said he’d have  something to tell his wife that night about his day at work.

Lesson Learned~If you are going to complain, be sure it is legitimate and significant enough to be taken seriously by the receiver.

Joe: His Work and his Businesses Part I

power plant

Joe worked at the West Springfield Power Plant for 4 decades. He was a first class stationary engineer, a highly skilled and paid position. He worked the rotary shift, which means he worked 7 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. one week [2 days off], then 3:00 p.m. to 11 p.m. the next week [2 days off], and then 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. the following week [4 days off]. He didn’t seem to mind it, but Mare said it was hard. She said it was hard to keep the children quiet while Joe was sleeping during the day and to keep household noises to an absolute minimum.

Joe was always reliable, dependable and when he worked ‘maintenance duty’ which was double shifts he earned extra money. When he retired, his supervisor said that Joe never called in sick except when his horse was sick [more about that later].

He was a member of a union called the I.B.E.W. [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers]. He was part of the successful unionization effort as conditions at the plant were unsafe and hiring practices were unfair [jobs were not posted or relatives were hired and promoted over seasoned workers].

He was the shop steward and he was a negotiator for the unionized workers. Joe was rough around the edges, but you would want someone like him negotiation your wages, benefits, and working conditions.

After one particularly contentious negotiation in which the union prevailed in all the ways that were crucial for them, Joe telephoned Mare to join him and others on the team as well as management for a celebratory drink at The Schine Inn where the negotiation meetings took place. Of course, at that time, mid 60’s, Mare did not have her own car and Joe suggested she call Barbara, a pretty young woman who lived next door who had a car.

schineinn

Mare got all dressed up and she and Barbara went to the Schine Inn for drinks with Joe and the other men. She must have felt this was a special occasion as she ordered a Martini which she had never had before.  She said when she and Joe got home and she was in their bedroom undressing, she could not unzip her own dress. Joe had to unzip it for her. She said the room was spinning around her. I bet it was!

martini

 

Lesson Learned~ Never order a Martini unless you know you can handle it.

Something about Mare

There was something about Mare. She was endearing. She smiled; hardly ever frowned. There was a softness about her; no hard edges on her. She was easy to approach and was eager to offer help. She told me her goal was to be kind and helpful to someone, everyday.

She was eccentric and said things that made you laugh out loud. She talked to everyone. She wanted to know “where people came from”. She was non-judgmental. She was habitually running late, but never hurried. Her watch, the kitchen clock, and the clock in her car were hardly ever set to the correct time and she didn’t care.

Despite her outward softness and approach-ability, she had an inner steel rod of character and strength. Her constant advise to me was: “Be bold. Persevere. Show compassion.” These were words she lived by.

maryamccarthybench

She was an extrovert. She loved to get in her car and “go out’. She loved her cars and they always seemed to turn heads~the 1968 Firebird, the green Dodge Charger, the black Lincoln Continental, the Ford Taurus SHO. Cars represented freedom to Mare.

There were some things Mare was dead serious about and she would let you know it. She had no use for the post office because they would return her out-going mail because she had the wrong zip code. “Now couldn’t they just figure it out?”, she would say.

mailman

Automated voice systems irked her to no end as she would try to talk as if she were talking to a real person. The telephone company was another irritant. She would dial a number incorrectly, a recording would come on and say the number didn’t exist and she would insist she dialed correctly. I would say “But Mom, it’s not a real person, just a recording.”

telephoneoperator

Red traffic lights were negotiable~ “Why waste my gasoline and time?”

She would never buy fruit or vegetables already in a bag. She thought the companies trained their employees to put one rotten piece in every bag just to make more money at her expense. She often used the 800 numbers on appliances to let the companies know that their “engineers didn’t know anything and they should ask house wives what they needed before they embarked on designing anything.”

Comcast was her nemesis as the television was a great source of entertainment and diversion for her in her later years. When it didn’t work, she got worked up. She would call customer service and “tell them off”. If I tried to defend the company or give and alternative explanation, she would say, “OH, bullshit!”.

comcast

Where my father was ‘thing smart’, Mare was ‘people smart’.

You wouldn’t want to argue with her as somehow she would always prevail, despite logic. When Christa McAuliffe was chosen as an astronaut for the Challenger Mission, Mare thought that was awful. Joe thought it was a great accomplishment. “No woman should be sent into space. Her place is in the home with her husband and children”, Mare stated. When the space ship exploded and Christa was killed, Mare spoke up for her bereaved husband and two children, aged 6 and 9.

christa

Lesson Learned~Don’t bet against Mare. In the long run, you will lose.

Mother’s Day 2016

mare 2

I miss Mare everyday and today is no different. I focus on what makes a ‘good’ Mother. What I mean is how does a parent love and protect and guide a child to help them become the person God meant them to be.

I think of Mare’s qualities and her character and her sole devotion to my brothers and me. Even at a young age, I marveled at her selflessness.

I don’t think or say things like “She was the BEST Mom.” A statement like that is judgmental and comparative. It says another Mom is ‘less than’ and I just don’t think in those terms.

I like to hear and read other mothers and daughters speak about their experiences and relationships~smooth, rough, troubled, overcoming conflict. And, I think about all the ways we can show our love for one another.

Lesson Learned~Don’t judge. Be loving and generous with your love.