Fred T. Tomasello Jr. Guest Contributor
Mom took good care of me as a child. From four to 12 years old, I was in no position to evaluate how well she did as a mom because two years after me, my sister Norma came home, and a couple of years after that, my twin sisters Nancy Dee and Angie Lee rolled in on a double stroller. Then, my brother Joe arrived. So Mom was busy.
But there are a few stories that stand out in my mind.
In elementary school, she knew I loved to read funny books so she’d sneak several home from shopping and hide them under the seat of a chair in her bedroom. She rationed them to me, one a week. I acted surprised and went along with her ruse. She didn’t know I found her stash the very next day, read them all and put them back.
When I was about ten, she bought me a bag of marbles. I was one of the youngest in our neighborhood, and when we shot marbles we played for “keeps.” The next day when she came home, I was crying on our porch steps, and when I told her I lost all my marbles (no pun intended), she not only bought me another bag, she took me to a smooth sandy area, got down on her hands and knees and taught me how to shoot marbles. She also taught me how to throw a baseball. She hated to see me cry and hated to see me lose in a marble game or in a fight.
Her advice, when I got beaten up, which was often, was to pick up a stick or anything nearby and go after the kid who beat me up. My uncle had given Mom a homemade steel knife about a foot long for cutting meat. I took that thing out after getting beat up one afternoon and began swinging it at the person who did it. Everyone backed away. The kid’s mom came out and yelled at me to go home. She took her son inside their house and locked the door. I never told Mom about that, and I still wonder today if she knew and whether she would be proud of me.
Jumping ahead years later…
Mom loved to play the quarter slots at the casino, and the sound of silver clang-clang-clanging into her tray brought smiles to her face. So we all went to Las Vegas and stayed downtown at the Plaza where we could walk to several casinos without passing out from the heat. At one nearby casino, Mom was using a cardboard bucket to carry around her quarters. She then noticed it was missing. She came up to me, her eyes aflame with tears of anger, explaining that someone pointed to a quarter she may have dropped on the carpet and when she leaned over to pick it up, her bucket was gone. And so was the guy. We went to the nearest security officer and told him what happened.
“Well, what do you want me to do?” he asked.
“Look at the security cameras,” I answered, “Identify the guy and get my mom’s quarters back.”
“Listen, he said. “Those security cameras are here to protect the casino, not your mom.”
Not a fun mom story, but a true one.
And then there is this one.
My wife Kathy and I decided to take a trans-Atlantic cruise with Mom and Dad and interview them on the way back from Portugal to Florida about their lives. They could tell stories stories on video to identify who was who in many old family photos Kathy was using to make an album.
We discovered my Dad completed the 8th grade, went to work and got his GED years later. My Mom went to work after the 6th grade. Somehow the conversation led into times when Mom would help the five kids with their homework.
My Mom began to cry.
“After you all got past elementary school, I couldn’t help you with your homework,” she said. “That made me feel so helpless. I’m so glad you all finished school.”
A few weeks after Dad died, we took Mom to the casino to play the slots. There were no quarters; no blanging of coins into a tray; nobody walking around with cardboard buckets full of money. Just printed receipts, like you get from a cash register.
The machine swallowed Mom’s money one $20 bill at a time. Mom just pressed buttons, no rhyme or reason, while all of us tried to read the chart on how one wins at the game. When we tried to explain things, Mom just kept pushing buttons, mesmerized by the music and the sounds. We ate dinner and went home.
We all realized there comes a time when Mom helps us, then we help Mom and then we can’t help each other any more.
Thirteen months later she was gone.
But not gone is the appreciation that God gave me a Mom who cared so deeply and lived so fully.