My siblings always referred to our Mother as Mamma. My father did, too, when he didn’t call her Bett.
Today Mamma would have been 115 years old.
She has been gone nearly forty years, but I can still hear her laugh and smell her peach pie and rice pudding.
But today, I will remember her 64th birthday.
September 3rd in, 1971, fell on a Friday. It was payday, so the guys from the mail room at Lorillard Corp gravitated to our Blarney Stone of choice for a roast beef sandwich and a cold draft…maybe more than one?
It also happened to be my last day working there as I would be entering my final year at St. John’s the day after Labor Day, which happened to be Monday.
So, the boys celebrated the upcoming three-day weekend and my forthcoming departure with a cherry-flavored Tiparillo. This was ironic because we worked for a tobacco company but elected to smoke another company’s brand.
It was a glorious September day in the City, which is often the case in the waning days of summer. On most Fridays, I took the express bus to The Bronx instead of the IRT. It was my weekly treat and well worth the buck it cost me to ride in air-conditioned splendor.
An overly packed and un-airconditioned subway car was no match to the cool comfort and luxury seating in a spanking new motor coach.
It was my Mother’s birthday, so I had to stop and pick her up something to mark the occasion. I opted for the traditional perfume and powder collection of one Estée Lauder. To be sure, it was my tradition and not necessarily my Mother’s.
When I arrived at 1261, dinner was ready to be served, as was a lovely birthday cake decorated with a politically correct number of candles. Just enough to offer a faint glow in our humble kitchen.
We sang Happy Birthday, but the real celebration would come tomorrow with my siblings and grandchildren to offer their congratulations.
(It’s hard to believe that I ever thought 64 was old!)
Knowing what was in store for tomorrow, I had no qualms about going out for the evening with my friends.
We met at Al’s Wine and Liquors which served as a pseudo clubhouse and a source of our desired beverages.
From there, a few of us decided to go to one of the local clubs along East Tremont Avenue. The Castle Keep was one of my favorites, but on this particular Friday night, the echo that its emptiness offered was deafening. We then moved down the avenue to The Hollow Leg. Previously known as the Bronx Irish Center, I was never a fan of the new rendition and thought seriously about giving up on the evening and going home.
It’s funny how life offers you a flashpoint that may decide your future, and you have no immediate sense that such a momentous decision awaits.
I decided to go in with the rest of the boys because I had already had a few and thought there was no point in going home so early.
Before I knew it, I was standing rather unsteadily by myself, perusing my surroundings.
I must have been quite the sight. Because as I bobbed when I wasn’t weaving, my eyes rested on a sight at the bar.
She was sitting on a bar stool, sipping a drink and smiling, if not fully guffawing, as our eyes met.
Momentous decision 101.
I made my way over to her to see her more closely and learn what was so funny about me.
I was awestruck by her beauty, and where I am usually glib and charming in such situations (I may be exaggerating just a smidge here), I was lost as to what I should say.
“I’ve been admiring you all night.”
It wasn’t Shakespeare, Browning, or even Edgar Allan Poe, but it did the trick.
Because fifty-one years later, Eileen patiently awaits my return to the lanai so that I can clean the glass slider in preparation for our Labor Day party tomorrow.
This tale began on my Mother’s birthday. All of my tales began on my Mother’s birthday.
How nice it would be if she could only read it and smile while saying, “Very nice, Luv.”
Happy Birthday, Mamma.