My mother’s 100th birthday is today, March 25th 2017. I have been thinking a lot about her lately.
On February 16th, 1987, my mother alerted me to the fact that it was her mother’s 100th birthday that particular day. Even though my Grandma Margaret O’Donnell died on May 29, 1956, my mother was remembering her in a special way on the 100th anniversary of her birth.
I have been doing the same thing –thinking of my mother and remembering her life. I have a theory that when you actually live inside another human being, right there under her heart, like I did for a full nine months, that person stays close to you even after her body dissolves.
I was wondering what can I say, what can I post to honor my dear Mother on this special day? Then she mysteriously gave me her own words to share with you.
My daughter, Diane, found the following entry in my mother’s Marriage Encounter Dialogue notebook dated 1971. It is a simple black and white Penmate Composition Book that we unearthed in my father’s house after his death. At some point, in my parents’ “non-move”, it had been transported up from 62 Interboro Parkway, Brooklyn, NY. This 1971 copybook was found among many such notebooks that were stacked in several cardboard boxes. After attending a Marriage Encounter weekend, the idea was that a couple would continue the dialogue they had begun on the Encounter Weekend. Thus my father and mother were taught this technique: Spend 10 minutes dwelling on a feeling(s) about a certain topic, write these feelings down in their notebooks and then spend ten minutes sharing these feelings with each other. The fact of the matter is that there are many more composition books in my mother’s lovely hand-writing and a whole lot less in my Dad’s distinctive script. Strange that out of stacks and stacks of composition books, Diane, picked up this one and opened to this particular page. On the front of the copybook my mother wrote two things – her name Rita Fries and this message in quotations, “The only true gift is a portion of thyself”.
The question that my parents were pondering this particular day was this: “What are my feelings about my childhood?”
These are my mother’s own words, written in her own beautiful hand.
“I feel fortunate and grateful for my childhood. My earliest recollections are of Halsey Street and the ground floor apartment we had there. I use to sleep with my sisters in a folding bed in the living room or front room. I can remember laying in the bed and listening to the neighbors talking outside our window. I can’t remember the conversations but I know it use to intrigue me. The trolley cars passed in front of our house and once I was sick with scarlet fever and they kept me awake. My father promised to have them take a different route or stop running at night. His assurance contented me so I was able to sleep.
Christmas was a time of year I especially remember. Each of us had his or her chair with gifts laid out on Christmas morning. We awoke before dawn to see what Santa had brought and quickly ran in to show my mother and dad the new doll, which was always there. We always got a few other toys – coloring books, story books or games, but always it seemed more than we had asked Santa to bring. These wonderful Christmases went on for me till I was nine or ten. Then one year Maureen discovered the same books in our pile from Santa as she had seen a week or two before Christmas in our storeroom. That was the last year Santa came for us. My mother invited us to help prepare for Anne, Dot and Joe’s Christmas gifts from Santa but the thrill was never quite the same. I’ll have to continue or elaborate on this question another night. “
( Like I often do, I don’t think my mother ever got back to this subject).
This following section was at the top of the page that pertained to the Coleman Family ( which I posted on March 23rd, 2017)
The first born of Thomas Joseph O'Donnell and Margaret Mary Coleman O'Donnell was born on the 25th of March 1917. Although I didn't realize it at the time, it happened to be me - Rita Mary O'Donnell. I was born at home at 50 Howard Avenue between Jefferson and Putnam Avenues across the street from Bushwick Hospital in Brooklyn. At that time, the section was called Bushwick. Today the area is considered a part of Bedford Stuyvesant.
As was customary in those days, I was born at home. My mother engaged Mrs. Willet, a nurse, to be with her during her confinement. When my mother felt certain that my birth was imminent, she begged Mrs. Willet to call Dr. Stevens, the doctor she had engaged for the delivery. This officious lady refused her request. The result - I was born before the doctor's arrival. Needless to say, my mother did not hire nurse Willet for the birth of her other children.
Thank you, Mom, for giving me a portion of yourself, the only true gift.