The ‘Spirit of 76’…Happy Birthday Mom!!!

Grateful Blog: Day 88: Today was Mom’s Birthday. 76. Wow…76. I sent her flowers from my favorite florist back home. Mom cried. That’s how it goes. I called but she was at choir practice. Singing for the angels—much better than singing with them. Later I called again. It was past 11pm her time but she answered and we talked for close to an hour. About this, That. Nothing and Everything.

Mom comes from tough Bavarian stock. Her Mom—Grandma, made it to 89. I hope she does too. Sometime I think it’s out of sheer stubbornness, but other times I’m not so sure. This is the same woman who calls me every year on 9-11, my birthday, and no matter the time of day or night and sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. And she cries when she gets flowers. Probably 15 years ago in a particularly nostalgic moment I took the cassette tape of her singing on my answering machine and kept it, because you never know when you’re going to miss hearing your Mom sing you ‘Happy Birthday’. Besides, it’s Tradition…

There are so many stories. I can’t tell them all. Mom always likes to tell how she was 72 hours in labor with me before I finally made an appearance. Being the 4th boy and being promised 3 consecutive girls the doctor asked Mom is he should ‘push me back in’ because she was hoping for a girl. To which she replied ‘Hell no!’ In 1967 ‘Hell’ was a swear word and high treason to good Catholic gal like Mom, but I’m pretty sure she meant it what she said ‘Hell no!’ I was here to stay…  

Ever since then she’s survived 44 plus years of me. Tonight we talked about the wedding in 1974 inBrooklyn; I was not quite 7 yet. In the smoky din of the PFC (Polish Falcon Club) and the polka music I went around table to table drinking the leftover champagne. At the ripe age of 6 I got drunk, danced, and then passed out in a corner. It’s funny how we’ve always been able to laugh about that like ‘well, sometimes things happen’. Mom said something to the effect of ‘Hey, you were 6, a handful and impossible to keep track of.’ That’s so true but I’d never heard it so well said.

Yet despite that, along with Dad, they did an amazing job raising me. I knew right from wrong, and the value of things like hard work and respect. There’s no way to quantify that. One day you’re 6 years old and then you’re 44. One day your Mom is 38 and then she’s 76. It all happens so fast: Labor, kindergarten, champagne, baseball, soccer, high school, college, marriage, house, job, the flowers, and then here we are in 2012.

On the phone, Mom tells stories like I do. She weaves in and out until no stone is left unturned. And where the memories and the truth get mixed up there’s the undeniable fact that what’s important is the telling, the passing of the torch, the storyteller handing off he muse to the next generation. I get that from her. No one who knows me or her will deny that isn’t the gospel truth.

Yet talking to Mom tonight, on the 76th anniversary of her birth, there’s something different there. I’m no longer trying to prove anything and she’s not trying to teach anything. We’ve achieved that weird parent/child relationship where we can enjoy each other person to person, for who they are, not who we thought they were. It’s cool beyond belief because it hasn’t always been that way. She’s proud of me and I’m proud of her. We’re both survivors. Both stubborn. Both singers. Both storytellers of the first order. We’ve both been working on this a long time. It’s nice to come to the spot where she can cry when I send her flowers and I can cry because it means that much to me to make her happy.

Mom reads this blog. Every day. Hey, Mom—somewhere I still have that cassette, of you singing me ‘Happy Birthday’. Someday I’ll be 76 and I’ll need to hear your voice again. But tonight we can still call and do it in person, and tell our stories. I’m so, so Grateful for that. About every other day this ‘blog’ makes me cry and I’m Grateful for that too. It tells me I’m alive. And Mom, it’s OK to cry now. I’m way ahead of you….