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Good Morning

Memories of Mom: Love, strength and inspiration

Phyllis Reilly in July 1953 on her honeymoon

Phyllis Reilly in July 1953 on her honeymoon at a Poconos resort in Pennsylvania. She was 23 years old. Credit: Bob Reilly

We learn so many things from our mothers. If they were scholars, we often followed their paths. If they were avid readers, we devoured books, too. If they were screamers, we learned to yell loudly. Crossword puzzle fanatics produced other generations of puzzle solvers. Great cooks often begot great cooks -- even if the skill didn't present itself when moms could've used a break.

Our mothers inspire us, drive us crazy and give us more memories than we can retain. We know that no matter how they dispensed their love -- with mushy kisses in front of our friends, a fresh-baked batch of cookies or a gentle hand on a shoulder when we needed it -- they were there if they could be and wanted only the best for us.

Here are some letters from readers who remember their moms with adoration and admiration, shared with a Happy Mother's Day wish for all moms who are remembered as that very special woman in our lives. - Gwen Young, Act 2 editor

Getting to Teddy was a bear

Driving with my mother always brought unexpected adventures. Her intentions were thoughtful, fun-filled and insightful, but her sense of direction was laughable or, in Dad's case, wrought with frustration.

My sister and I were no more than 5 and 9 years old when Mom delighted us with the prospect of going to Theodore Roosevelt's house at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay. She regaled us with pictures of the rolling meadows and the house filled with stuffed animals, though I don't think I fully understood what those "stuffed animals" really were until I came face to face with them. My sister and I were filled with anticipation when the day of our sojourn finally arrived. We climbed into the backseat of our 1953 Oldsmobile along with a cooler filled with milk, fruit, chicken cutlet sandwiches and cookies.

Mom packed enough for a cross-country road trip. Off we went from our Plainedge home, music blaring, my sister and I singing as we went merrily along. It was fun at first, but about an hour into our drive I had a strange feeling something wasn't right because I started seeing the same scenery over and over again. At one point I looked at Mom, who, with furrowed brow, was very intent on the road.

We drove down innumerable roads. My sister started complaining about 90 minutes into our journey that she was getting hungry. Mom pulled over and distributed our lunches as she confessed, "It's supposed to be around here. I don't think we're too far now."

But I feared the truth -- Mom didn't know where she was going. I wished for divine intervention, anything to let us know we were close to our destination. And finally it appeared like an oasis looming up in the desert! Around the next bend, a great big sign announcing the Teddy Roosevelt Preserve. We finally made it! As we drove up a long, winding driveway, the rolling grassy meadows were impressive, but I must say that, as an animal lover even then, upon entering the house I was somewhat put off by all the deer and moose heads and skins. I would much prefer petting these animals, not gawking at their carcasses.

I was particularly surprised that our long three-hour ride to the house only took less than an hour on the return. But that was par for the course when it came to Mom's driving directions and constant attempts at finding short cuts.

Another memorable driving adventure with Mom happened a few years later. By now our Olds was pretty old and had developed one particular quirky problem -- it could no longer go in reverse. That meant Mom had to be sure of her driving directions before she attempted the trip. One night on our way home from the Huntington Drive-In, Mom made a wrong turn that landed us down a dead end street. It was about 10 p.m. and I gulped at the still summer night air several times as Mom got out of the car, knocked on someone's door and asked for help in turning the car around. This Good Samaritan pushed the car backward so Mom could force a U-turn. She waved out the window and shouted out a "Thank you" as we drove off.

Driving with Dad at the wheel was another thing altogether. One memorable visit to Mom's cousins, who lived in East Northport, was fraught with frustration for poor Dad. Mom encouraged him to make a right turn off Route 110. Dad's last words before following Mom's directions were, "Are you sure you know where you're going?" Mom assured him, "Just make a turn here. I know the way." Dad was hesitant, but he complied.

We passed farms and open fields. Dad was driving a good half-hour and getting more and more frustrated with every mile when he asked, "Do you know where you're going or are you guessing?" Mom insisted, "It's close now." Finally we made it to a main road: It was Route 110, about one block from where Mom had insisted Dad turn off the road. He just looked at Mom and let out a great big sigh that received a shrug in response from Mom. Dad said, "Do you mind if I get us there now?" Mom sat back in her seat, once again surprised that her impeccable sense of direction had somehow gone astray. - Barbara Anne Kirshner, Miller Place

A world built around me

My mother came to this country in the last huge wave of immigrants who emigrated from European countries in the late 1920s. Born in Lithuania, then part of Russia, she came to escape the pogroms and religious persecution of the Cossacks, who frequently harassed the Jews.

My grandmother told her, "There is nothing here but potato fields. Go to America."

At Ellis Island, the inspector asked her to read. Her retort was, "In which language -- Russian, German, Lithuanian, Polish, Hebrew or Yiddish?"

And so, all alone she went. When I think of my mother, I see her bravely giving up whatever she knew for a world she couldn't see; giving up everything for me. We were the children of immigrant parents. We knew we had to make something of ourselves. I became a teacher.

My mom divorced my dad and her world revolved around me. When she was older, she took four buses from Rockaway and traveled 21/2 hours to see us all -- through my marriage and widowhood. She visited every Friday through Sunday and cooked, shopped and baby-sat for me. I was an only child, so she wrapped herself around me and my children. She was my confidante, financial adviser, therapist and best friend.

When my mother became ill, the entire family surrounded her bed. She smiled and said to no one in particular, "Look at my daughter. Isn't she beautiful?" My heart said, "Only a mother would say that." It was at that moment I realized that there is no love stronger than a mother's love. It is an endless love. I cherish this feeling every day and it will stay with me forever. - Lillian Lippman, Merrick

A mom who goes the distance

I don't know how often a 67-year-old man can view his 91-year-old mother as a role model, but I can emphatically say that my mother fits that title.

Shortly after my mom's 60th birthday, she went for a medical checkup. The doctor advised her that she should walk each day to lower her blood pressure and keep muscle tone and balance. Mom took the advice and began a new phase of her busy life as a mom, and wife. Having been married for more than 35 years and raising three children and devoting all of her time to her family, it was time to make a slight change in course, and so she began a daily morning walk routine. The doctor had advised her that were it not for her age, he would suggest jogging, but at 60 he thought it best that a good morning walk would suffice. My mom took that as a challenge and so the walking soon morphed into a walk and jog, gradually increasing distance from a mile and then, two-, three- and four-mile morning routines.

One spring, Mom told us she signed up for a local 5k race. We thought she was pushing it a bit too far. Then came a 10k race, and she was one of the top three finishers in her age category. That trophy still sits proudly in the den of her home, which my parents bought in 1955. The house is where my siblings and I were raised.

When my mother said she was going to run in the Long Island Marathon, we really thought she had lost it. But I thought, if my 70-year-old mother can do the half marathon, at least her much younger son could keep her company. My mother finished before me and I barely crossed that finish line, feeling more like crawling rather than running. Marathons came and went and my mom looked forward to each one as a new challenge. With grandchildren in attendance, she wanted to set an example and provide a memory that would remain with all of us.

For her 80th birthday, Mom decided she wanted to celebrate by doing another half marathon. I wasn't so sure about myself, but despite my father's misgivings, Mom and I forged ahead. That year, Mom was awarded first place in the 80-and-over age class and was invited to have pictures taken with elected officials.

Although she has not run a marathon since then, my mother's desire is still there, so I won't be surprised to find out that a 5k race is in her future. The only problem is that she is running out of room in the den for all of the trophies. - Raymond Goren, West Hempstead

Saying no to family violence

My mother put a stop to a long history of domestic violence in our family. She grew up in an atmosphere where it was considered acceptable, even necessary for a man to beat his wife on occasion. She would watch for her father coming home from work and judge by the look on his face what kind of an evening her mother was in for.

When things looked bad, she would hide herself behind the curtains, drawing them to block anyone from looking inside their house to block the shame. The curtains were her armor against what was about to happen. She would hear the yelling and wait for the sound of the smack, then her father crying for what he had done and promising never to do it again. Then the snoring, at which point she would come out from behind the curtains and her mother would hug her and comfort her and say, "There, there, Irene. It's over. No need to worry!"

This was not an everyday occurrence; twice, maybe three times a year, but the effect on my mother was devastating. She lived in constant fear her whole life, but witnessing the violence as a child made her shy, kind and nonjudgmental, fighting for the underdog whenever possible.

Her childhood had been a nightmare. She told us stories of Christmas with her cousins when everyone would perform some kind of entertainment, but she never did because she was too shy. There was feasting and laughing. When they got home and she was in bed, she would hear the jealous accusations again; then the smack, the crying and the snoring. She told herself, "I'm going to put a stop to that one day.".

My mother told me when that "one day" came. When she was 18, she was getting ready to go out with her friends, but she heard her father come home and saw the look on his face. She knew he was in one of his rages, so she sat at the top of the stairs, waiting. Then came the yelling, the smack. This time she burst into her parents' bedroom. She pointed her finger in her father's face. "If you ever hit my mother again, I swear I will kill you. I've spent my life listening to you accuse her of things she would never do, and I'm sick of it. That's the last time."

Eventually, she met my father, who was raised with three sisters and had been taught as a child not to hit girls. My parents had two boys and two girls and the boys were never allowed to hit my sister or me. My mother also told my sister and me to look for gentle men to marry.

My grandma, many years later, told my mother that after she confronted him, my granddad never hit her again. Because she was quiet and shy, I never realized that my mother was a hero.

Elaine D. Beatson, Hauppauge

Patterns of persistence

As one of seven children, all girls except the youngest, we were destined to be enrolled in sewing classes. Transplanted from Sunnyside, Queens, we moved to Baldwin Harbor in the summer of 1965. During those first long, lazy days, we rode our bikes, exploring the neighborhoods and making friends. We hopped on the free bus to Jones Beach and Point Lookout.

My mother had been an only child and was a Depression-era baby, born in 1930. She was intent on arming her girls with the survival skills she felt we would need as young women. Besides baking, she signed us up for sewing classes. We loaded into the station wagon she had recently learned to drive and went to a local shop in Freeport. It was one of those mom-and-pop places that sold everything. Walking on the creaking wooden floors, we headed for the sewing aisle. There we flipped through huge portfolio-type books filled with patterns by McCall's, Butterick and Simplicity.

I was excited, believing that my lessons would lead me to becoming a well-dressed schoolgirl. We would select fabrics, threads and other notions, then go downstairs where we could spread the fabric on long tables, pin our patterns for cutting. We each had a sewing machine.

Having picked the most basic pattern, an A-line skirt, my hopes never faded that I could create something not only wearable, but FASHIONABLE and one-of-a-kind. I had visions of being asked, "Where did you buy that beautiful skirt?" This never came to pass: Mine turned out quite simply, PATHETIC.

My mother would arrive at the end of each lesson to see what we had accomplished. She beamed with pride as we showed off what we had learned and made us feel good that we had put together something with our own hands. The beauty of the experience is my memory of my mother, who always encouraged me to keep trying. She had sparked something in me and went on to spend many more hours helping me to try to learn what she viewed as some essential life lesson. Her philosophy came from a world where women married and took care of such "household" things. She was passing along her knowledge, taught by my grandmother, about how to be frugal during difficult times.

As long as I was willing to try, she was there to guide me. I also relish the time spent with my sisters, each of us so very different, excited together, and having fun trying to make something useful!

I never was very good at sewing, but I grew into adulthood with the loving support of my mother. - Irene Reilly, Northport

My street of memories

My mom passed away May 14, 1999. Five days after Mother's Day. It took many years for me to find consolation in the phrase "Happy Mother's Day," even though I am a mom myself. My kids would bring comforting gifts, but my heart wasn't in it. My own mom was gone.

My parents, along with so many of their generation who left Brooklyn to retire, bought a condo in South Florida to relax and enjoy their remaining years. My mom became quite the athlete in her 70s and 80s. She would walk three miles at dawn, then rush to put on her bathing suit and rubber cap and swim 30 laps in the condo's grand pool. Her daily routine kept her strong and physically healthy.

Dementia was her downfall. She had a silly kind of disease. She would sing and recite poetry. It came to a point where she would croon a tune from a Broadway show in response to anything you asked her. Our family would accept it and just go on loving her.

My way of paying respects to my mom is to visit Avenue M and East 18th Street in Midwood, Brooklyn, the street where I grew up. I can picture my mom walking with her groceries from Waldbaum's after a hard day's work in the city. She left the house at 7 a.m. and returned at 5 p.m. like clockwork.

I am a young girl again on this street of memories as I picture Mom holding my hand, whisking me to school with my Dale Evans lunchbox; she hugs me goodbye when we get there. I remember her strength and confidence in everything she said and did. She had an air of self-assurance that even a young child could admire. I had the best mom of anyone. I was proud to be her daughter.

A drive to the old neighborhood that shaped you as an individual may be more befitting than a mere cemetery visit. Everyone you knew and loved becomes alive again in your mind for a moment's time. After 16 years, I can now spend Mother's Day with my wonderful family in good spirits. My son and daughter have fond memories of Grandma, too. My granddaughter is named after my mom. She is our wonderful Annie. -Phyllis Weinberger, North Woodmere

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