76° Good Evening
76° Good Evening

Remembering mom, and how she was usually right

Clara Fenster with her children: Dan Fenster, Laraine

Clara Fenster with her children: Dan Fenster, Laraine Millman, and the letter writer, Marlene Willard, of Oceanside, in 2008. Willard says that as a child she wasn’t always pleased with being an older sister. Credit: Fenster family

It often takes time before we realize the wisdom imparted by our mothers, especially if it was drilled into us regularly as kids. We asked readers to share the moment when they realized Mom was right. Here are some of their stories, edited for space. Happy Mother's Day to everyone who has been a mom, by birth or by proxy.

Gwen Young,
Act 2 Editor


'Be grateful you have a sister," Mom said after the toddler pulled my tiny sunflower plants from their makeshift planter box. "Be grateful you have a sister and brother," she said when I had to baby-sit while my friends went out.

I did not come to realize the validity of her statements until many years later. When we all married, had children, and gathered at Mom's for bagels or brisket; when our children became friends; when we all lived in the same town; when we always had someone to talk to. Then I knew, Mom was right.

In her last five years, my mother's physical condition deteriorated. Her macular degeneration worsened until she was legally blind. Her osteoporosis resulted in back fractures that made walking risky without a walker and an infection in her prosthetic hip required a daily antiseptic cleansing and dressing change. It was hard for her to chew, and the foods she so loved became impossible to eat.

But we were all there for her. She spent the winter in Florida, where we had an aide for her most of the day. We'd visit several times but the most special was always when we went there for her birthday. We had omelets in the morning, piña coladas at sunset, and dinner at a fine restaurant. We rode in the golf cart with my brother in the Keys and once, when we got stuck with Mom's car, we all rode in a giant tow truck, laughing like teenagers. Only my siblings could share this with me.

Mom's "be glad you have a sister and brother" became most prophetic in these last years of her failing health. Each of us had our specialty in dealing with the situation. Dan, the businessman, handled all things financial; Laraine, the counselor, tended to all things emotional and spiritual; and I dealt with all the paperwork and medical forms. We had become quite a team and grateful that we worked so well together.

My sister and I each held Mom's hand as she took her last breath at age 91 on Aug. 26 last year. I could not have shared that moment with anyone else.

Now, it was a year of firsts: first Thanksgiving without Mom, first Passover, first birthday, and first Hanukkah that I did not phone her to ask how many onions to use with 10 pounds of potatoes for latkes.

As I set the table for Passover recently, I realized something was missing. Each year, Mom sent a beautiful floral centerpiece to my sister and to me. With tears in my eyes, I called the florist she used. I told them she had passed away. They knew what she always ordered and we'd have them in time for the first seder.

"What do you want your sister's card to say?" asked the florist.

"Mom would want you to have this," I answered.

Marlene Willard,


When Grandma's sister, Aunt Birdie, died, we inherited her lovely set of Bavarian china. I was about 10 and greatly admired the white dishes with blue and gold trim and painted flowers. My mother happily used the set for our next Thanksgiving dinner. As I helped clean up, I accidentally dropped a bowl. I thought of how my mother enjoyed pretty things, and started crying. Mom immediately said, "Don't cry! It's only a thing! People are more important than things." Then she picked up another bowl, smashed it on the floor, and dried my tears.

I never forgot that day. But it was only after two events in the past couple of years that I truly grasped the importance of my mother's lesson. On Oct. 29, 2012, our house in Oceanside was flooded by superstorm Sandy. We lost my car and furniture. Our home became uninhabitable. That's when my mother's lesson began to sink in: "It's only stuff," I realized. My dear husband, Sid, and I had been able to evacuate before the flood. No one we knew was killed or injured. We even saved our precious photos. Soon, we were having our picture taken eating lunch outside amid the debris and I could laugh again.

We told our best friends: "We're homeless!" and they replied: "No, you're not! You live here." They hosted us in their lovely Merrick home, even though they were dealing with a flooded basement and lacked electricity for weeks. It was wonderful to have their support and advice. Our emergency stay lasted six months. They even let us remain after they left for Florida.

In the next few months, my husband and I raced around to stabilize our house, file insurance claims, tote our clothes to the laundry, take what we salvaged to a warehouse, and buy "one of everything" we needed for everyday life. We juggled finances when insurance money was delayed, rented an apartment, ordered furniture, bought another car and moved -- all before our friends returned from Florida.

Our lives were stressful, and we became clumsier and less considerate than usual. I accidentally smashed a medicine cabinet door in our friends' lovely home. We also eroded a spot in the wall-to-wall carpet and dripped a medication that damaged the sink. Worst of all, we failed to notify them of the damage. When they returned, they became extremely upset. They felt that we had betrayed their kindness. We apologized profusely by phone and in writing and paid to replace the damaged items. It didn't help. We haven't heard from them since then.

I miss their friendship of more than 40 years so much more than our many lost possessions. Mom was so right: People are more important than things.

Phylis Fuchs,
Rockville Centre


In 1982, when I was contemplating marriage, I sought Mom's advice. What has always stood out from that conversation were her words: "He is a really good person."

At the time that seemed a very trivial characteristic. I was more excited by the fact that he was so cute and a great kisser. The fact that he was a good person seemed so boring, and I didn't absorb the importance of what my mother was attempting to convey to me. When I finally decided to say "yes," I searched through books to find a romantic piece of poetry or prose to give to my boyfriend that would represent how I felt about our relationship. Finally, I found something that represented the way my boyfriend loved me. I copied it by hand, gave it to him and accepted his marriage proposal.

With each passing year, Mom's words have come back to me time and time again. My husband of 31 years has always seen the good in me, always supported me, and is always there for me. At every age, and now in our late 50s, he continues to think I'm beautiful -- with or without makeup, thinner or heavier, and is unseeing of any imperfections.

Years after our marriage, I was looking for a Bible passage to read at a friend's wedding. I came across 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and realized they were the words I had written when I accepted my husband's marriage proposal. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

At that moment, my mother's words came back to me once again, but now I truly understood what she had meant when she said, "He is really a good person."

I am truly blessed to still have my 86-year-old mother in my life. She continues to teach me about truth, justice, goodness and leading a positive and hopeful life. And for this I am eternally grateful.

Pat Schaefer,
South Setauket


When my older sister turned 15, my mother came home one day and told her she had gotten her a job. Not that my sister had asked her to, but Joan started the next weekend working as a cashier at a nursery.

The day before I turned 15, my mother asked what job I was getting the next day. My girlfriend and I both got jobs spooning out cold relish to patrons of Cookies Steak Pub. The only benefit was the chocolate ice cream they would give us at the end of the shift!

My younger brother, Ken, worked at the Thrifty Beverage hauling around cases of soda.

We all pretty much hated those jobs, but it gave us our much-needed spending money. When my mother was in her later years, I asked her why she made us all get those jobs so young.

She grew up with very little and had an absentee father, so she and her mom were pretty much on their own. Her mother cleaned the apartment building where they lived, which was tough work, but they had to survive.

Mom was trying to teach us the value of a dollar, and boy did she. Luckily, I married someone who was on the same page as I was, and we were able to buy a house on Long Island and, hopefully, will be able to keep it until we pass on.

We have had a good life and feel very thankful and blessed. We raised our daughter the same way. So, thanks Mom. We understand why you made us get those jobs. Dad taught us the importance of family and that still resonates today. Mom and Dad were both veterans and taught us well, and we will be forever grateful.

Marilyn Coschignano,


In August 1968, Mom had a lump removed from her breast, and then a mastectomy. I knew about cancer because Grandpa died of lung cancer when I was 5.

The follow-up was radiation. Dad switched to the Grumman night shift so he could take Mom for cobalt treatments. She was tired after each session, but she got up each morning, and with the help of her two sisters and Gram, made sure our home ran as efficiently as always. She did the arm- and muscle-strengthening exercises -- walking her hand up the wall as far as she could -- each day forcing it a bit higher. I did not know how she was reacting to her new self, but can only imagine her sadness and fear. In the 1980s, Mom started having mammograms, which unnerved her. With each negative result, she would breathe a sigh of relief and say, "Until next year."

Over the next 30 years, Mom took care of my father when he was diagnosed with lung, kidney and intestinal cancers, helped plan my 1982 wedding, took care of me after several surgeries and when I had a serious bout of pneumonia in 1994, the year of her 75th birthday -- all without complaint. She believed that it was her place to look after those she loved, even after having her aortic valve replaced at the age of 78.

In 2001, she discovered another lump. A mammogram showed nothing suspicious, but her history warranted a biopsy. The report said it was a fatty deposit that hid an extremely small but aggressive cancer. At 82 -- 33 years after her first mastectomy, Mom underwent a second one. In 2005, Mom was pronounced cancer-free.

Despite her surgeries, Mom was Dad's caregiver during his battle with Alzheimer's. She was determined to give Dad a family life until his death at 92. In 2011, at the age of 91, Mom died peacefully. She missed Dad and, as the oldest, wondered why she outlived her siblings. I guess her reward for living a life of challenges was longevity.

Now, whenever a difficult situation comes my way, I think back to Mom and remember how easy it would have been for her to give up. I don't think those words were part of her vocabulary, and now, they are not a part of mine.

Jo Solomito Haslam,

Submissions to My Turn must be the writer's original work. Email, or write to Act 2 Editor, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747. Include your name, address and phone numbers. Stories will be edited, become property of Newsday and may be republished in any format.


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

More Lifestyle