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Stories >  Remembering Mildred

Last update: 06/29/2013

Thank you for your kind words of condolences regarding the passing of my mom on June 23.  Copying here the remarks I made to family and friends who were able to attend the church service on Staten Island. 

I think who we admire tells a lot about the person.  I recall that mom admired President Roosevelt and first lady, Eleanor; John Kennedy, Jack Parr, and her good friend Nora Kelly, a professor of Literature at SI Community College.
She loved conversation, the meaning of last names, baseball… the Mets.   She’d know more about the life of a neighborhood in a day than we’d be “up” on in years – just be engaging people she met on a walk.  
Mom, Mildred (Helene), was a city kid.  She was born in 1918 in New York City.   
Her mom died of breast cancer when Mildred was very young.  Reinventing themselves (their history and background), the family moved to their summer bungalow in Midland Beach, Staten Island, which became a place of great family joy.  … Aunt Vi, Uncle Jack, dad, Uncle Raymond,  Aunt Millie, George Gillespie, Stanley and Rhoda, the kids, the beach, the woodlands.  Small as our bungalow was, it was a big place to be.
Mom had her share of troubles.  About that she’d say “Be patient.  Know that you won’t feel as sad the next day or the day after that. Your mind will adjust.  Remember this when you are feeling overwhelmed.” 
Marriage to our dad didn’t go well, but not for lack of love.  He was a machinist, inventor, artist, problem solver … but, tragically, he could not solve the drinking problem.   Here mom taught us (by example) about making hard choices; how to end something that just wasn’t going to work.  She made the decision without ever demonizing dad – or asking us to take sides; without heated arguments in front of the kids.   
We “Latch-Key” kids did alright.  As a single and working mom she trusted us, or she had to.  She’d get the shopping done on her lunch-hour break.  She’d prepare meals the night before.

 “I like to roast two chickens at once: the second for the next meal,” she’d say.  She’d cook up a Stew (with chuck steak) on Saturday - pork chops on Monday with mustard and soy sauce.  She planned our meals to have together as a family. 
She had rules and rule one was that she expected us to get a quality education so we’d be prepared for our lives.  Mom had her preferences, like “there’s nothing like a city job,” because you could rely on it to be there for you.  
How did she do ALL OF THIS on a secretary’s salary?  She had much to say about everything it seemed, but never much to say about that.       Most importantly, you didn’t want to disappoint her.  
Mom was, maybe, 5 foot tall.  We heard of her comings and goings from friends in the neighborhood.  “Saw” your mom – her head barely above the steering wheel of the Chevy Nova. She needed a pillow to drive that car.
She’d take you anywhere and back in it – to the Little League game, or to Fort Lee NJ, to pick up my ride back to College. 
Finally, she liked a good debate.   On the question of “Nature versus Nurture” she’d say: “our genes mattered the most – that children were very different in temperament – and this is a first-hand, observed fact.”
But on the lower rank she gave to Nurture, I did not realize until now that she was just being modest.   
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