On Saturday we continued our Mother’s Day tradition of giving several hours of manual labor to the woman who went into labor for us. We weeded, edged, pruned, raked, transplanted and schlepped 25-pound bags of mulch. To be fair, my sister Kathleen is the only one who actually transplanted and pruned and I spent more time pushing the wheelbarrow. She was the brains and I was the muscles of the operation.
One of these years, we are going to take my mother out for brunch on Mother’s Day. Maybe even schedule a manicure or pedicure like I hear other people do. For now, we are lucky that we (my mother included) can still get our hands and feet dirty.
After our work was done, I once again found time to ask my mother a few questions about her life. And once again, I learned a few things I never knew. I also discovered that my older sister Kathleen had a habit of gently leading the witness on occasion.
ME: If you could meet any one person, living or dead, throughout the course of history, who would it be?
ALICE: Hmmm. That’s a hard one. (A minute of silence.)
KATHLEEN: Why don’t you come back to that one, because that one needs some thought.
ME: OK, true. What was your first paying job?
ALICE: I was a clerk at Baker’s Five and Ten in Hingham Square. I think all my sisters worked there at one time. Mr Baker was such a wonderful man and the job was just mine when I wanted to have it. We didn’t have an awful lot of money but I think I probably had the best Easter basket in all of Hingham because Aunt Eileen was in charge of the candy,
ME: Did you have any nicknames as a kid?
ALICE: No, I didn’t. Not really. A lot of my friends in high school called me Kelly.
KATHLEEN: I remember you saying the kids in the neighborhood used to call you Red or Chicken Legs or something like that.
ALICE: Well everyone called me Red. And Bunky Kehoe used to sing, “Does your mother know you are out Ceceila?” because he knew my middle name. It used to bug me terribly.
ME: What bad thing did you do as a kid that your parents never found out about?
ALICE: Well, I think they found out about it. I was with Jackie Welch smoking cigarettes at Molly Kelleher’s across the street. She had a huge bamboo patch so the kids would all go in there. The reason I knew they found out about it is because my father made me smoke a cigar as punishment. It was awful. That’s why I never smoked. I was the only one who never smoked.
ME: Are you usually late, early or right on time?
ALICE: I would say right on time. But Dad wants me to be early. Last Sunday when we went to Mass he announced he would wait for me in the car. We got there so early I could finish my tea in the parking lot.
ME: That’s been the story of your whole life. Who was your first crush?
ALICE: Probably Charlie Enos. He was my girlfriend Beverly’s boyfriend and then she broke up with him so he asked me out. I was probably 14. Then my brother Jack stepped in and said, “Dad I don’t know if I would let her go out with him.” He always did that. Whenever I wanted to go out with anyone, he would say, “I don’t think so Dad. This one’s wild.”
ME: Tell me about someone you really admire.
ALICE: I really admired Michelle Obama. I admired the way she raised her kids when they were in the White House. And my mother. I always admired my mother. She was such a strong person. She was understanding, reasonable. She knew how to do everything.
ME: Name your three favorite foods.
ALICE: Haddock, lobster and anything butterscotch or lemon. Is that too vague?
ME: No, but it’s four foods.
ALICE: OK, anything lemon.
ME: Tell me about something you regret.
ALICE: Not going to college, I always did. (My father yells from the other room: “Going out in a boat in Hingham Harbor with her boyfriend and the idiot didn’t have any oars.”).
ALICE: That’s true. We were right in the path of the ferry coming in from Boston. Someone had to tow us in. I told my father afterward what happened and he said, “Get rid of that one.”
ME: You just got a free plane ticket to travel anywhere. You have to leave now. Where are you going?
ALICE: Ireland. I would go back in a heartbeat.
ME: Can we go back to the first question. Just think who is the one person you would you want to go out for a coffee or tea with?
ALICE: Well I couldn’t if they were dead.
ME: No, Mom, you would travel back in time.
KATHLEEN: Can I give a thought I had? What about JFK?
MOM: I met him once. We went to a dinner when he was running for Senate. Let me think about it and I will call you tomorrow.
The next day.
ME: Did you think of anyone? There is no wrong answer.
ALICE: No. I am going to pass on that one. I was up at night thinking about it and I just couldn’t think of anyone.
This is not Watergate. Or FBI-gate. This interviewer is content to suspend my line of questioning. But I would encourage anyone to ask some of these questions to a parent, or spouse, or your own children. It’s funny how just when think you have heard every story, you learn a new one. And that’s a special gift in and of itself.