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Mom's brain and brawn powered the household

Jim Intravia with his mother, Olga, who is

Jim Intravia with his mother, Olga, who is turning 93. He recalls her sense of right and wrong, her skills as a seamstress and her pancakes. Credit: Intravia family

My mom, Olga Intravia, will be 93 on Jan. 6. She's not all that happy about it. She feels she has lived long enough. But she is alive and she has, as they say, "all her marbles."

Mom spends most of her day in her chair; we moved to Levittown in 1952, and she still lives there. Once a week or so, we go out to a restaurant via wheelchair. She will still occasionally climb onto her electric scooter and take a ride to her favorite shopping locales — Stop & Shop and Dollar Tree, where she will cruise the aisles for a few hours, asking others to reach items she cannot.

Of course, that part is not so different from in her youth. Mom was never taller than 4 feet, 11 inches. But she always said, "My legs are long enough — they reach the floor."

I have 67 years of memories of Mom, so far.

Mom was a seamstress. For most of her life, she made some of her own slipcovers, curtains, bedspreads, clothing, etc. But nothing could compare to the jacket she made for me. In 1955, when "Davy Crockett" was on TV, I was like a rock star with my Davy Crockett jacket, complete with homemade fringe on the sleeves, and, of course, a coonskin cap. My jacket was the hit of the second grade at PS 12 in Woodside.

Mom never complained when I brought four of my friends home from school and announced that we were going to have a birthday party for our dog, Jiggers. She hurriedly invented a new dessert — ice cream sandwiches made of ice cream and doughnuts, sliced in half.

Years later in Levittown, an occasional lost baby rabbit would turn up. Mom would always help build a temporary home, find a toy baby bottle and help us nurse it until it was old enough to let go.

In our house, Mom was the brains; Dad was the brawn — except Mom supplied a lot of the brawn, too. She built cabinets, wallpapered and painted the house.

When I was about 10, all the neighborhood guys scrounged up nickels and dimes and chipped in to buy a new baseball bat for about $3. The bat broke on the first day. We were devastated but felt there was nothing we could do about it. Mom took the bat to the store and got them to give her a new one, which lasted us the whole season.

Years later, when a new ShopRite opened in our neighborhood, and none of us local teenagers who applied for jobs got hired, Mom complained to the store manager. Within a few days, I was hired and shortly after, half the neighborhood seemed to be working there. In high school, two of my best friends, John and Paul, were cutting classes and hanging out in that supermarket. Suddenly, they spotted my mother. They made a mad dash for the exit, trying to be sure they were not spotted because, as they told it, "The Olga [as they referred to my mother] will bring us right back to school and call our parents." There was no escaping right and wrong when dealing with Mom.

Mom volunteered for years driving a teenager (a stranger to her) to kidney dialysis, just because it was something nice she could do. Like now, when she sends $5 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation every month.

When I got home from Vietnam, Mom, Dad and sister Nan gave me a big coming-home party. A week later, my best friend was home on leave from the U.S. Air Force. He came to get me on a Saturday morning at about 11. We were going to visit his brother. I was still sleeping. Mom decided there was no reason to sleep that late. She yelled into my bedroom, "Jimmy, your friend is here. It's 11 o'clock. Get up, you're not a hero anymore." That incident became legendary among my circle of friends. It was always good for a laugh.

In 1975, while my wife, Carole, was delivering our first child, Diane, she had an excruciatingly long labor of 31 hours. Mom and Dad showed up at the hospital around midnight with sandwiches for the doctor and nurses.

Mom always made potato pancakes for my birthday from the time I was a teenager. Last year, at age 92, despite being barely able to walk and with arms that don't work too well after three strokes in the last 15 years, Mom made me potato pancakes. And they were still excellent.

When someone asks how she's doing, I explain that her main complaint is she can't do things like stand on a ladder and paint her own ceiling anymore. She's tired now, and all that is behind her. But the memories are forever.

Jim Intravia,

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