Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ma






Ma, My Dad, Pa

The cheery thought for today: Everybody Dies.

Thank God, this thought wasn’t brought about by any specific person passing away today. It’s just that I was reading a biography and it mentioned how much the main character enjoyed Christmas dinner at his grandparent’s home. I stopped reading and thought about the many wonderful Christmas (and Thanksgiving and Easter) dinners I’ve enjoyed in the company of various relatives. Then, when I resumed reading, the next part of the story was about this guy’s grandfather kicking the bucket, and that started me thinking about all of the people I miss.

My mind raced around, recalling many folks who gave me love but who are no longer around for me to say "Thanks!" to. That’s not a big problem for me - one thing about both sides of my family is that we tend to say things like "Thanks" and "I Love You" before it’s too late, and we’re also very big on hugs and kisses – but I’d sure like to be able to say it again, anyway, to a few folks in particular. Here’s one.

MA

On my father’s side of the family, the great majority of folks haven’t lived to collect much of their social security or retirement.


Ma and her children - David, Jimmy, Loretta, and Tommy (my dad, who looks
gigantic because of the big difference in ages between he and his
siblings. In reality, he stood about 5'10".)
My father died when he was 62. His sister was even younger, and so was his brother, David. There were four siblings, and the only one of the four still remaining is my Uncle Jimmy. He’s a stubborn bastard – an admired trait among the Sullivans, thus I mean that in the nicest way possible – so he’s not leaving until he’s damned good and ready. Pa, my grandfather on that side (two good stories about him here and here) lasted until he was 69, if my math is correct. His father died in his thirties.

My father’s mother, Ma, was the first person who died. That is, she was the first person whose death touched me profoundly and made me struggle with the concept of never seeing someone again in this life. I was 9 years old. She was 56.

Dinner at my Mom's parents, with Sullivans invited guests.
From other end of table, on left: Uncle David, Uncle Jimmy, My Dad,
My Mom, not sure but may be my Grandma Drown, Auntie Ba (to some Retzie,
to others Loretta), Pa, Ma, again not sure.

The cause of death was listed as cerebral hemorrhage, but she had a few other problems that no doubt contributed. She had a big loving heart spiritually, but a weak one physically. And she was severely crippled with rheumatoid arthritis. In the photo above, with everybody gathered around the dinner table, she’s easily recognizable by the odd angle of her hand as she eats. She always had such wickedly crippled hands when I knew her. I don’t know how long she had to deal with that disease before I was born, but I never heard anyone talk about the onset of it, so I’ve always assumed it was a given, pretty much always there.

Christmas 1960 at Ma & Pa's. L to R: Friend of Retzie, Retzie,
Grandpa Drown, Mom, Me, Tippie, Ma, Pa.

I have scattered warm memories of her, but only scattered. As I say, I was 9 when she died. I remember her cooking fantastic fish dinners when I came for a visit, always mackerel or trout, rolled in egg and corn meal and then fried in a skillet. Much of my love for seafood stems from those aromatic dinners. And, on Easter and other holidays, she and Pa would cook up gigantic feasts; huge green and yellow ceramic bowls full of mashed potatoes, carrots, turnip, corn, cauliflower (the only one I didn’t like), and rich gravies to pour over the potatoes and whatever meat accompanied the vegetables, usually a succulent roast of beef.

I guess it’s no wonder why reading a passage about holiday dinner would trigger a memory of Ma for me.

Sometimes we drove to their home, but often we rode the long-since-gone elevated train to Forest Hills and then took a bus. For a kid, that was much the better option. A car was just a car, but the elevated train was an adventure.

At Hialeah Racetrack, Florida, just a couple of months before her death.
Me (snazzily dressed, as always), Ma, My Dad.

At the time of her death, she and my grandfather were living in the Beech Street public housing project in Roslindale, a section of Boston. These days, you might be taking your life into your hands going into that complex. Back then, it was considered a decent place among the city’s housing projects, though it certainly wasn’t without crime problems. There’s always some crime among the poor.

(I'm not saying the poor are the only people who commit crimes. It's just that they're the only ones with any excuse to do so.)

Ma and Pa were, in retrospect, about as poor as church mice. Pa was a hard worker, but he drank, liked to gamble a bit, and he smoked four packs a day. Ma was burdened with her various infirmities, thus so was Pa, and God bless him. The thing is, though, they kept a nice home, no matter the money situation. It was always clean, you were always welcome, and food was always on the table for you if you paid them a visit. I never heard anyone moaning and groaning about some sort of bum deal they had gotten from life. They didn’t blame; they just did what was needed and got on with it. I admire the hell out of that.

I distinctly remember the details of hearing about her death. She was in the hospital, and it was no secret she was very sick. On that day, I was outside, playing in our back yard, when my mother called for me. I came around the side of the house and immediately knew something terrible had happened. I don’t know if it was the look on my mother’s face or just an instinct, but I knew. My mother waited until I got to her, then hugged me close, saying, "Ma died." I burst into tears.

After that, it gets foggy. I spent the next day with my other set of grandparents while funeral arrangements and such were made. They took me to Mystic Seaport, a naval and shipping museum in Connecticut. It was a place most boys would have found fascinating, and I did, too, but my reverie was broken on a continuing basis as the thought of Ma being dead crossed my mind again and again. I was turning it over and over in my head, trying to grip the fact that this woman who was such a huge figure in my life would no longer... be.

Me, Ma, Aunt Jeanne (my mother's sister)

She’s been dead 42 years now. 42 years! When I was born, she was six years younger than I am today. How in hell did I get to be as old as my grandparents were?

Thanks for the fish dinners, Ma, and for the Easter baskets. Thanks for letting me roll around on that bed in the spare room, the one that had the bedspread with the little white bumpy pom-poms on it. You kept your pet canary there, and he was swell in his own little birdie way. Thanks for an overstuffed flowery couch to hang out on while you watched "As The World Turns", and for keeping pillow mints and butterscotches and other snacks (Cheez-Its!) on hand for me to nibble on. Mostly, I think, thanks for making my entire world, when I was in your presence, a warm and comforting embrace.

*****************************************************************

As I started this little rumination on morbidity, I had intended to write about a whole bunch of people aside from Ma, but I kept recalling little details, so, along with the photos, my reminiscence concerning her stretched out to fill the space. That’s not a bad thing, I guess. Each important person in your life shouldn’t have to share any sort of limited space. I’ll write about those other folks later on.

Everybody dies, but the best folks live on in your heart forever.

Soon, with more better stuff.





42 comments:

jinksy said...

I'm glad you let memory dictate the length of your post; it makes it more worthwhile to read as a result. Makes it complete. x

Nana Net said...

Thank you for sharing this. It is hard when someone you love dies. I lost my oldest brother(first born son to my parents) 18 years ago. He was just 40 years old. I was just 29. To me he was my rock. Lord how I miss him to this day.Since then a sister, my Mom, two brother-in-laws, and other relatives. That my Mom outlived all of her relatives.
Still though like you said the best ones live forever in your heart!
Bless you Suldog for your wonderful post today. That your family sounds alot like mine. Full of love and warm memories!

Buck said...

...my reminiscence concerning her stretched out to fill the space. That’s not a bad thing, I guess.

No, it certainly ISN'T. Thanks for sharing this, and most especially for the wonderful photos. You're blessed in that you have these wonderful archives, Jim, along with all your memories, too.

Reasons to be Cheerful 1,2,3 said...

That's a lovely post Suldog, very moving, and it's true what you say about people living on in our hearts.

There is a little song over at my place today, I'd like to hear what you think of her.x

Jeni said...

Yep! Sure do agree too with your comment about the best living on forever in our hearts. Your memories of your grandparents, the way they led their lives -so familiar to me as that's how my Mom's parents were too. (I never knew my Dad's parents as my grandfather was gone 22 years before I came on the scene and that grandmother died when I was about 2 1/2 years old, so no memory of her at all.) My maternal grandfather though -I was 12 when he passed and I remember very clearly when he died. He was always my hero -a very quiet, soft-spoken man -so many wonderful memories of living with them as a child. Your post took me back in my mind to those days and not just to remembering my grandparents but many, many others much loved and greatly missed.
Beautiful tribute, this post was.

lime said...

your reminiscences of family members are always so wonderful. those of us who have such warm memories are truly blessed and you have blessed us by sharing ma with us. thanks.

Jazz said...

I have a friend who says the only afterlife is what people remember of you. However long you're remembered, is how long you live.

I like that concept.

Ragtop Day said...

Thanks for sharing your memories - what a beautiful post. I remember the bumpy bedspread at my grandparents' house too!

Isn't it weird to think we really are as old as our parents/grandparents? Surely that can't be possible....

jill said...

beautiful tribute....thanks for sharing Ma with us.

Karen said...

I loved reading this. Such great and loving memories of your Ma. Grandparents hold a special place in the hearts of their grandkids; I see it time and time again. My Gram lived to be just shy of her 102nd birthday so I have so many good memories of her. She loved me just because I was me and who wouldn't want to be loved just for that? I hope my granddaughter will have just as good memories of me when I'm gone.

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

fabulous post Jim, I hope David is visiting here soon!he greatest stories are the memory stories...

really enjoyed this...great insights retold.

Rhea said...

I love the old photos.

MVD said...

Definitely strikes a chord, as I've mulled over penning a tribute to my maternal grandmother for some time now. One of these days I'll don my sappy hat and commit it to cyberspace.

Again, well done.

Michael Leggett said...

Nice Story!

I'll Be at Citi Field for the 1st of 2 Red Sox-Mets Exhibition Games, at 6:10PM on Friday Evening;

Pics and Videos to follow.

John-Michael said...

I am so glad that your Ma continues to "Be" in your magnificent Heart, loving Recollections, and wonderful Spirit. Your heritage of comfort with expressing your "I love you"s makes for a comfortable environment for me to always feel welcome in letting you know how very much I love you. I am so blessed to have You Jim, and the Love that you engender in me, for You, as a precious part of my life.

With fond Admiration ...

Janet said...

Ma sounds wonderful. I can certainly sympathize with her RA - it typically strikes at a younger age (30s-40s). I am SO grateful for my medication. I'm sorry it wasn't available to her.

Craver Vii said...

That was a delightful tour back through time. Thanks for the sweet and vivid telling of those fond memories.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Oceans separate us, Suldog, but those pictures and tales of relatives leaving us well before their time, are just so reminiscent of the Fifties generations - I found Ma's biog to be perfect.

The photo of her in curlers is wonderful, she looks so full of life and love; And wasn't that way of styling hair such a big part of growing up when we were young?

I loved this, Suldog, thank you - and I am very much looking forward to meeting more of both sides of the Sullivans.

Mushy said...

As usual, a most thorough job in honoring a family member...thanks for sharing.

Daisy said...

This was wonderful- I love the photos, they are so perfectly not-posed, I really miss those kind of family shots that haven't been perfected after 10 tries on a digital camera. Ma sounds like the perfect grandmother to have had. Thank you for the memories- looking forward to more.

Angie Ledbetter said...

You do 'em all proud, Sul!

lakeviewer said...

Yes, our loved ones live on in our hearts and in the words we use to describe them to the living. You just left a legacy for your children.

Veronica Warning said...

I read alot of the comments and I'm not sure if I should tell you that I cried when I read that...no one else seems to be admitting it. But I did. It was beautifully written and thanks for sharing and bringing back some of my own memories.

Cath said...

That is such a wonderful post. So full of love and memories and warm hugs and good smells and ....

We all have people like Ma I think. You do a good job on paying tribute.
(Loved the snazzy dresser. Who was he again...?)

cuzin Joan said...

Jim,
Thanks! A stroll down the family line is always so wonderful! If you were 9 when Ma died that made me 4. I don't have the memories you have but I do remember when we would be at Ma & Pa's Beech St, apt. and do you remember over the kitchen sink they had shelves of canned goods covered by a curtain? Being only 4 and not understanding about Ma's illnesses I use to think it was the coolest thing, the way Ma could reach up on those shelves and grab a can of whatever and not even have to use her fingers! Wow that was so cool to me! And yes cousin dear I do remember the white popcorn bedspread on the extra bed. I will also remember the smell of Ma & Pa's house! When I was born I had two sets of grandparents, a stepgrandmother and a set of great grandparents, when my first son was born we had 5 generations alive. HOW LUCKY WERE WE! To bad we didn't realize it at the time. My son was 13 when his sister came along, 15 when his next sister came and 17 when his brother arrived (he always wanted a brother). They only have 1 nana and never ever knew the love of a grandfather. When my oldest daughter was little, she wanted a grandfather so bad she would cry for days asking why she didn't have a Papa when all her friends did. I would call my mother and tell her that her grandaughter was on the hunt again and she might find her a husband! One day, myself and the 3 younger children were on our way to Grandma's house, 3 hours away. We came to a red light and next to us in the next lane was an electricians van with the same last name as ours. My oldest daughter started yelling to follow the van because it could be Grandma's husband who "ran" away! I had to pull over I was laughing so hard. Finally I was able to tell my daughter that Grandma's (my mother) husband would have a different last name than ours and secondly Grandma's husband did not run away.(2nd husband, they're divorced). I really didn't mean for this to be so long..............sorry! It must be in the genes......eh Jim?

GreenJello said...

Wow, thanks for sharing that. Maybe someday I will get up the courage to do a post like this about my ex-husband.

David Sullivan said...

Well cuz I have pictures of "Ma" at my first birthday, but I have no recollection of her. I do remember Pa when my old man used to take me up to his apartment. In our family I must be considered a gereatric at 44.

I am working on a "death" post about my aunt Rosie that I'll be posting tomorrow. We buried her 24 years ago tomorrow.

Shammickite said...

I'm envious of your happy memories.
I didn't have any grandmothers, everyone was dead and gone before I came on the scene.
And my sons are just the same, their only grandmother lived in a far away country and died when OlderSon was 9. And YoungerSon never met her.

Pat - Arkansas said...

This is a wonderful tribute to your Ma, Suldog. I'm sorry she died at a time when both of you were so young. Lovely memories; thanks for sharing.

Hilary said...

Beautiful, beautiful tribute to your Ma. I'm sure she's beaming. Thanks for sharing your lovely family this way.

Fi from Four Paws and Whiskers said...

Thank you.. made me reflective all day.. :)

Carolina said...

A wonderful and warm story. Lovely photos too. It looks like your Grandpa Drown is 'wearing' a halo. Very holey ;-)

Carolina said...

or is it holy, hehe, oops

i beati said...

Your vivid memories say it all. Those big big memories are the simple ones that special people help us create.My family was poor as church mice and boy did we have fun and learn a lot.My aunt with no children saw to it that I saw the world before age 18, and I would never exchange those simple folk for anyone else.Loved the progression of pictures here and the contented look on your face.

Suldog said...

To Everyone -

Thank you. It was my pleasure to relive those pleasant memories, and to be able to talk about the harder ones. Thanks for reading!

To Cousin Joan -

Never apologize for something that cool! That was a great, funny comment!

Yeah, I remember the shelves in that apartment, and I was fascinated, too, by how Ma could do the things she did without really using her fingers. The one thing she did that I forgot about, until you mentioned that shelf, was lighting her cigarettes. Since she couldn't really grip matches too well, she'd usually turn on a burner on the stove and stick the cigarette into the flame until it started smoking, then take it out and puff on it to really get it going.

Cousin David -

I'm really looking forward to reading your story. Because of the circumstances, we still don't have as many shared memories as we should have had. I enjoy filling in some of the gaps for you, and having the gaps in your story filled in for me.

Michelle H. said...

Beautifully done!

Moannie said...

I am either crying with laughter or moved by your words,Jim. This was a fine tribute to a wonderful woman. Like you we never shy away from emotion. My son asked me once 'But what will I do without you? and I said...'You will know that I loved you and I know you love me, because we always tell each other we do.' He was seven.

Jenn said...

Jim your last line really says it all, thanks so very much for sharing all that you do remember about your Ma with all of us. That is why your stories are so great, you can start out intending to share one thing, write something entirely different and not only keep all of our interest throughout it anyway, but make us excited and curious to read the chapters to come. :)

Rich said...

What a great tribute and great old photos of your family.

Woman in a Window said...

Shit Suldog, you've got me crying. Your stories of family are always the best to me. Shows your core, it does. OK, now enough crying. I'll go look at that picture of you in your striped shirt and laugh. There's a good note to leave on.

Cheffie-Mom said...

This is such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your memories with us. The pictures are wonderful. I came over from authorblog. Congratulations on the POTD award!

Sniffles and Smiles said...

A beautiful and moving post! I truly enjoyed it, and am back now to leave my compliments!!! Congrats on your mention in POTD! It is certainly well-deserved!!!!