Mothers Day Memories

Mother, Then and Now

by Kathy Coogan

When our mother was 44, our father was offered a job transfer back to their hometown, another step up his corporate ladder. Dad went ahead at Easter to start the new job. Mom stayed behind with five daughters from age five to age nineteen and our almost two year old brother. We were a caricature of a Catholic family in 1965.

We would finish the school year giving Mom grief about having to move, while living our shallow selfish lives imagining that we could stay. We became martyrs to our friends, “Oh, you can’t leave.” “Tell your parents you won’t go.” “Cincinnati, Ohio? That’s in the middle of some cornfield,” our Baltimore-bred friends criticized, unable to imagine a life without the Chesapeake Bay, and the Orioles and crab feasts on the lawn. We did not suffer in silence.

Mom went about the business of selling our house, packing our stuff, getting our school and medical records and putting up with our nonsense. She let us include troops of friends in the packing, which slowed down the process but made it bearable. She stopped what she was doing to serve us tuna sandwiches and Kool-aid on the picnic table in the back yard, only requiring us to watch our brother while we ate so she could get something done.

A tall, husky boyfriend of mine learned how to disassemble bed-frames and was the muscle who carried junk from the basement to the driveway where it was sorted to be kept, given away or trashed. The littler kids discovered old abused toys and wanted to keep them all. “But, Mommy, I love this hula hoop. I can unbend it.”

By June we were in Cincinnati, moved into a newly built house that our father had selected in a brand new neighborhood advertised as Homearama. It’s curving streets and cul-de-sacs had not a tree in sight. This house was fancy for us and mother quickly reversed the moving process that she had mastered leaving Baltimore. Furniture in place, clothes, dishes and stuff put away, junk back to the basement.

Mom enrolled the girls in the neighborhood parish schools: two in grade school, one in high school. The oldest sister had remained in Baltimore to work. I would be starting college. Little brother would remain underfoot wherever our mother was. Dad would go to work every day.

Mom met other mothers at school events and in the neighborhood. She was the oldest of the mothers, most of them younger by ten years. A core group of these women glued themselves together, forming a unit who would laugh at the same stunts and sob at the same tragedies for the next forty years. One husband named this amazing conglomeration of women/girls/dames/broads/angels/surrogate sisters, “The Do-littles,” a nick-name funny in its irony.

Instead of hating it, these friends embraced it, using it as shorthand when planning events. “The Do-Littles are meeting for lunch at Bob Evans at noon.” Or, “The Do-Littles are having a cook-out at the Murphys on Saturday at 5:00.” No other guest list was required. If they could, they came, with armloads of food and drink, which formed a magical menu. The husbands were negligible to any and all scenarios, rarely consulted. They went where they were told to go, most of them happy with the arrangement.

The Do-Littles’ personalities and private circumstances defined them: the flashy one, the sweet one, the annoying one, the creative one, the smart one, the unhappy one. They loved each other and like sisters bickered, gossiped, hugged and comforted. And laughed. God almighty, have they laughed. They never abandoned one another, would never have thought of it, not through embarrassments, menopause or memory loss.

Mother turned 90 in March and all the now-80-year-old Do-Littles turned out for the royal party fresh from the beauty parlor, bearing gifts and decked out in their newest outfits, though now in comfortable shoes. Mother’s walker was festooned with purple bows and flowers and she didn’t sit down for more than five minutes at a time. Baby brother toasted Mom and we all cried a little as he mentioned Dad, in heaven, we hoped, raising his glass with us.

When each of us five sisters turned forty-four we compared what we were doing with what our mother was doing at that age. Six kids, a baby, a move across country for god’s sake! Mom believes that she was just Dad’s wife and our Mom, easy roles played out in a day to day fashion: a Do-Little.

Her daughters and son see her spunk, her unflinching love, her generosity, her optimism, her devotion, her humility, her humor, now enhanced in these later years by a newfound brass that may have been there all along. She’s 90 and we know that she's never been a Do-Little. To us and for us, she has always done a lot.

Mo's fictional story about a family

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