Memories of Mom . . .
It’s been almost 16 years since I said goodbye to my mother.
And there is not a day that goes by I don’t think of her.
I adored her. She was forever and unconditional. I was so lucky.
The woman my Maryland-bred father called his “wild prairie flower” died in Atlanta in 2006 — nearly 75 years after leaving the North Dakota prairie of her birth.
During that time Mom was in charge of packing up and moving our family more than a dozen times keeping up with my father’s climb up the U.S. Corps of Engineers ladder, pausing at an exotic rung in Saudi Arabia before winding up at the Pentagon.
Always pulling up stakes, Mom made it an adventure. New friends, new schools, new stories and a life beyond the locomotion of a one-horse-shay.
Nearly 10 years ago, I wrote a column about my mom on Mother’s Day.
So, in her honor, I repeat these excerpts.
“I don’t remember my mother being an avid newspaper reader.
“She married twice; began to golf in her 60s; made potato salad with Miracle Whip, and introduced me to mincemeat pie.
“Ostensibly named after her birth month, June — my partially farm-bred mother — had a pet duck, snuck her dog Nippy table scraps, read Zane Grey western novels by firelight, loved the song of the meadowlark . . . and regaled us with her recitation of the poem ‘Little Orphant Annie’
“She loved jokes, but didn’t tell them; played with dolls way too long; was called “Olive Oyl” because she weighed 90 pounds at 5 feet 8 inches when she was in eighth grade; and grew into a willowy beauty.
“Unlike my father, who was like the bold reds and oranges of late summer, my mom was the soft pastel colors of spring flowers. Dad was raised on the eastern shore of Maryland, loved adventure, memorized the poems of Omar Khayyam and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his prowess as a turret gunner on a B-17 in the Pacific during World War II.
“While Dad was bombing the Pacific islands of Truk and Emidji, Mom did her duty waiting for my father by working with the war effort in a naval yard in California — until she became pregnant with me.
“Then she did what all good mothers did back then. She gave up her clerical job and went home to have her baby.
“And when she finally left North Dakota for good to start a new life with my dad, she never looked back — and was glad to leave behind the incessant noise of what is known as the prairie’s zephyr, the incessant blast of wind blowing unfettered across treeless plains.
“But I can still hear my mother’s reassuring voice, her calm counsel encouraging me to do more than she was able to do. To be anything I wanted to be. To take advantage of opportunities not available to her back then. To take chances, but obey the rules.
“It may have been my larger-than-life father who gave me curiosity, but it was my precious mother who gave me courage.
“Mom kept an immaculate house, fixed three meals a day even though she hated to cook, and hugged and kissed us on our way out the door each day until our cheeks were raw.
“In other words, Mom wasn’t just always home. She was home.”
Every morning, while the coffee is brewing, it’s almost a certainty a photo of my mother and grandmother on a kitchen windowsill will ignite my day’s first smile.
It was taken on November 16, 1947, and this four-year-old is in the kitchen watching them light the candles on my incandescent cake.
Next month, on June 8, I plan to visit the Mandan Union Cemetery, where we buried my mother on a sun-dappled day in September 2006, and tell her how happy I am peonies grow nearby.
And I’m hoping no loud prairie wind interrupts this visit.
That would surely be the prairie’s way of thanking Mom for finally coming home.
The Ryan express . . .
Former Illinois governor George Ryan, 87, who issued a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois that later led to its demise, was honored at two book signing parties last week at Carnivale restaurant hosted by his longtime friend, former State Sen. Billy Marovitz.
The event honored the publication last August of Ryan’s first book: “Until I Could Be Sure,” which details Ryan’s lead-up to taking his hand off the “death machine” switch.
It was published in the midst of the pandemic through pre-order on Amazon.
The events, attended by White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, former Illinois Attorney General Neil Hartigan, Gibsons owner Steve Lombardo, Civic Federation President Laurence Msall; Women’s Business Development Center legend Hedy Ratner and former Teamsters chief Bill Hogan; also included a little dessert served up by Ryan in the former of a vignette.
To wit: Ryan claims one day he was having a corned beef sandwich at Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen when he got a call from his office that South African legend Nelson Mandela was calling and wanted to talk to him.
“Mandela had heard about George’s efforts regarding the death penalty and urged him to declare a moratorium,” said Marovitz.
Sneedlings . . .
Saturday birthdays: Enrique Iglesias, 46; Olivia Culpo, 29; and Kemba Walker, 31. . . . Sunday birthdays: Billy Joel, 72; Rosario Dawson, 42; and Sasha Farber, 37.