A nice lazy Sunday brunch somewhere cozy would be a much easier way to celebrate Mother’s Day. But what my mother really wants every year is the gift of manual labor. So our tradition is to weed, rake, edge and mulch around her house on Cape Cod the day before Mother’s Day, with her getting dirty right beside us. I still laugh at the memory of my brother grumbling under his breath, sweat drops pouring off his forehead, as my mother suggested we return to the Agway store for the third (maybe fourth) time to buy just a “few” more bags of mulch. It’s hard to disappoint Alice.
This year I added a new tradition and decided to interview my mother with some Oprah-like questions as we rested our weary limbs. I think I know my mother very well, but I learned a few things. I also confess I committed some cardinal sins of interviewing and tried to influence some of her answers. I laughed a lot and cringed a little as I listened to the recording this morning. Here’s an edited version of the conversation complemented by some of my favorite photos of my mother.
Me: What’s the most important thing that your mother ever taught you?
Alice: I would say mostly to always be kind to others. Nana was a very kind, thoughtful person. That’s what comes to mind first.
Me: What is one of your best childhood memories?
Alice: When I was 13 or 14 at Christmas and I received a record player. We didn’t receive big gifts in our family. My father went out on his own and bought me this record player after my mother had bought all the gifts. And knowing it came from him was very special. I think I had everyone crying because I was so surprised. I know Aunt Eileen was crying. He hated listening to that kind of music, but for him to go out and buy that was a very important thing for me.
Me: What’s the bravest thing you have ever done?
Alice: The biggest undertaking I ever did was going to Europe with my friend Marie McLaughlin for 12 days and going to three countries I didn’t know anything about. I had never been away from Dad that long. We never traveled apart. But I had this opportunity to go with Marie’s school and Dad encouraged me to go.
Me: What do you consider your greatest strength?
Me: You think so?
Alice: I guess you don’t think so.
Me: I think you can be an impatient person. I think your greatest strength is empathy, always trying to put yourself in other people’s shoes. But, huh, so you think you are patient?
Alice: I guess you really don’t. (She laughs.) I think I have also always had a way of laughing at things. I can laugh at myself, as long as people don’t laugh at me; they laugh with me. I think my brother, Jack, helped me to be able to do that. He would tease me and we would laugh a lot together. Looking back I can picture a lot of laughter in my life, there is sadness, but laughter too. OK, move on.
Me: See, you are impatient.
Me: Name one place in the world you would still like to visit?
Alice: If I won the lottery, I would want to take everyone back to Ireland. But I have seen a lot. I have been lucky.
Me: Name something you think is better about the world today than when you were growing up.
Alice: Not much. I think so much is harder for kids now. But I also think any older person kind of forgets all the bad things and kind of thinks everything is better back in the good old days. I think one thing that’s better today is the emphasis on preventive medicine and how people are now living longer.
(Interruption hollered from the other room: “Red Sox lost two in a row to the Yankees.)
Me: What makes you smile consistently?
Alice: Your father. He does, he makes me laugh. We do laugh at the same things. And my grandchildren.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom. You always say you were very lucky to have the mother that you did. That’s another way I am living like Alice. Thank you for, well, everything.
NOTE: The drawing at the top I made for a Mother’s Day card in 1983. The shamrocks are a nice touch, I think.