Momma. Mommy. Mom. Madre. Mother. Grandma.
As Mother’s Day approaches, it’s clear that my perspective of the day has changed. When my kids were little, it was all about me. Now, it’s about my daughters and how proud I am of their love for their children: Katie with her boys, Henry and Peter (now 8 and 5 ½, and Meghan with newborn Willow, just 6 weeks old). Of course, I can’t help but feel so blessed to have Mary Lou Eddy, my children’s paternal grandmother, in my life. She’s an incredible woman and I have loved her since I first met her in 1969; so many wonderful mothers in our lives to celebrate, as we should.
Initially, Mother’s Day was ALL about my beautiful mother; as I made her construction paper hearts with too much glue and glitter when I was little. Later, buying her the “perfect” card in a Hallmark store, so she would know how much I loved her. With six siblings, there’s a need to make your voice heard! There’d be a little gift to go along, nothing fancy, just something to show her my love. Later, there’d be dinners out and Mother’s Day brunches – I remember an especially lovely brunch at the Gideon Putnam Hotel, where the buffet featured fancy foods including Lobster Newburg and chocolate éclairs. My mother, Virginia McGeehan O’Farrell, loved dining out more than almost any other activity. When we asked her, as children, what she wanted to make for dinner, she’d respond, “Reservations.” Ba dum dum.
As my first impression regarding the institution of motherhood, my mom was the epitome of what a mother should be. She appreciated it. She and my father had been married a long time before their first child, my brother Michael, arrived. After almost eight years married and a slight medical intervention, Michael was born. The following ten years saw the arrival of six more babies – Patsy, Steven, Jeannie (me), Ginny, Danny, and Anne. While my mother was certainly flat-out busy, she always had time for a hug, a kind smile, a generous laugh. She was beautiful in that Irish kind of way – dark, dark hair and blue eyes. Standing all of 5-foot two (and eyes of blue!), her presence was more than her height. Her clever sense of humor won her life-long friends. Life was not easy with one car and a husband who was away for a number of work days at a time. The minute he arrived home on a Friday, we’d all pile into the car and go for a “little spin” just so our mom could have a change of scenery, and maybe a dinner out for this family of nine!
My mom was a homemaker. That was her chosen career after working on Wall Street before babies. I don’t remember her working constantly (as she must have for a family of nine) with laundry and dishes and cooking. She managed it all so well. Our house was always presentable and people could show up at any time without notice. There were coffee klatches around our formica kitchen table, ash trays out, wafts of Newport cigarette smoke circling our heads (yikes) as we enjoyed the neighborhood banter and goings-on. It’s not like that now. People were home more in the 1960s and our home seemed to be a hub of activity for my mom and her friends, and for our friends as well. Sometimes my mother would warn the ladies around the table, “Little kettles have big ears.” I know what she meant, but that statement doesn’t even make sense!
My mother was a devout Catholic. We observed every Holy Day of Obligation and never missed Mass on Sunday. Even after it was deemed OK, we never had meat on Friday. We went to confession (reluctantly), sometimes just before Mass which I found humiliating, exiting the confessional. If we didn’t have a hat or a veil entering church, she’d bobby-pin a Kleenex to all the girls’ heads. Our family took up the entire pew. My mother went to church to go to church, not to be seen. She let us leave after Communion if we had to be somewhere. As long as we made it from Homily through Communion, we were good.
We moved a lot, as kids. Here are the locations of our births: Santa Monica, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Dayton, Colonie NY, Saratoga Springs. No more births after Saratoga Springs, but the moving continued to Clifton Park NY, Moorestown NJ, Huntington LI, NY (twice) and back to Saratoga Springs. My mother used to joke that she should have married Mr. Mayflower, of the moving van company.
I have so many memories of my mom. She suffered through a heart attack at 68, losing our Dad when she was 74 – they were a match made in Heaven. To witness a love like that is a gift and a hard act to follow, I must say! But we were blessed to have been raised in that home. After my dad passed away, the spark left my mother’s eyes. She had us and her grandchildren, all adored, but she missed my father. Virginia McGeehan O’Farrell lived to be 82 years old, and we’ve been missing her for over fourteen years now. She loved and was loved greatly, and we are left with memories that make us smile more than cry, now. What I wouldn’t give to hear her voice once more, to hold her hand which I noticed, the very last time I held her hand, was so much like my own.
The memories sustain us. I must have been barely two years old, around 1956, when I remember being in our living room on MacArthur Drive in Saratoga. I stared as my mother was walking away. She turned and focused right back on me. It’s odd to think that I knew what beauty was as such a young child. She was beautiful. Her curled black hair, her bright blue eyes, but most beautiful was her radiant smile for me. It reached me and was inside me, and I realized joy.
Jeannie O’Farrell Eddy
Mother’s Day 2016