Better late than never, Mom 

Mothers — where would we be without them? Nowhere, I suspect. Unborn and unloved.

That’s why each year we set apart a great national holiday in their honor, a holiday that’s more revered than Presidents’ Day, and that holiday was … last week. OK, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing about Mother’s Day a week late.

It’s simple. Because I didn’t want to disappoint my mother, wherever she is. Because that’s what my mother would expect, and I can already hear her saying, “You’re always a day late and a dollar short.” To which I respond, “Better late than never, Mom.”

When I was a youngster, my father always asked, “What did you get your mother for Mother’s Day?” I promptly responded, “Nothing. What did you get her?” Then, he’d give me a few bucks to buy her a gift, but not before whacking me across the head.

Year after year, I got her the same gift — purple and white petunias I bought at the Pine Rock Park Spring Fair. She always acted surprised and never once complained, although she had every right to say, “Why can’t you two cheapskates think of something original? How about a bathrobe, slippers or $500 gift certificate to the casino?”

The petunias, however, proved to be an enduring legacy because we planted them over the septic tank, and when we sold the house 40 years later, they were still spreading and blossoming.

Back in the 1950s, during the era of Ozzie and Harriet, before working mothers were common, my mother would get up at dawn and leave for the helicopter assembly line. When she got home, she made dinner, fed the dog, did the laundry and drilled me for my spelling test.

Like many Italian mothers, she was known for her homemade pasta sauce and her incomparable melt-in-your-mouth veal parmigiana, which was better than anything Mario Batali could ever or will ever create in this lifetime or the next.

And when I needed a chauffeur for school activities, she was always there. You’re probably wondering, “What the #*!@! did your father do?” We asked ourselves the same question. To his thinking, he did everything, and maybe he did. My mother just seemed to do more.

Yes, mothers do it all. Even though my daughters are married, they still turn to their mother for advice, encouragement and recipes — at least once a day. For her part, my wife rises to every occasion and crisis, like a few weeks ago when my pregnant daughter Julie and her husband were rushing to the emergency room.

The first one she called wasn’t the doctor, her father, the parish priest or Donald Trump. It was her mother, who dropped everything, jumped in the car, raced to the hospital, had a collision with an ambulance and ended up in the ER two rooms down from Julie. Could I possibly make this up?

I told her, “Next time there’s a crisis, don’t call your mother — call the Obama administration and if you can’t reach them, call the Malloy administration or maybe the Vatican.”

I suspect those words fell on deaf ears, but I can understand. Whenever I got sick or had to go for tests, my mother was the first one I’d call, and her response was always the same: “It’s going to be all right.” She said that even before I told her what the problem was, but that was all I needed to hear. A characteristic of great mothers is they reassure us when our world is falling apart.

However, for all my mother’s successes, there was one failure. She couldn’t say, “I love you.”

I imagine she was never told “I love you” by her parents. Back then, it was a different world. Parents rarely spoke of love to each other or to their kids, so she grew into adulthood and motherhood unable to utter those three terrifying words. I’m sure she wanted to say them. She expressed love in countless other ways, but not vocally.

Toward the end of her life, when she was afflicted with Alzheimer’s, we tried desperately to tell her how much she meant to us. After every visit, as we were leaving, my daughters would say, “We love you, Grandma.” She’d get a panicked look on her face and mutter ever so quietly, “Me, too.”

That was as close as she could come … until we all meet again in the hereafter, where there will be enough love, laughter and veal parmigiana for everyone.

Mom, wherever you are — and I hope it’s the good place — thanks for everything. I love you. And a happy belated Mother’s Day to ALL mothers. The world needs you more than ever.

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