With Love to Mom…
Our mom, Dorothy Richie, was a beautiful soul, the very meaning of the word gentle. She gave us so much even while hurting inside. Mom was never concerned with herself or personal feelings, oh Ma-ma, even while she lay dying. My insight was gone, and Mom never mentioned that she was dying, so I assumed she would get better and be home soon to make the family another sensational spaghetti dinner.
Dad would come bounding across the grass – peel open the sliding door and say, “Hey Ma what’s for dinner,” then walk over to the stove where the sauce was simmering, give it a couple o’ stirs and ask, “You got any of that Dago bread from Roma Bakery?”
“There, on the cutting board but I haven’t sliced it yet,” Mom would reply.
Dad got out the sharp bread knife and the sharpening steel. Chef-like he gave the blade a quick ten strokes then like a machine he cut the whole thing before stopping and put a half-dozen slices on a small dish. He quickly buttered them up and getting a bowl of sauce he asked, “Ya’ got any peppers?”
“Why don’t you just wait a few minutes and we’ll be eating – I just have to cook the pasta! If you had a certain time you’d be home it would be ready and waiting for you, I never know when to make it.”
“Yeah, you’re right Dorothy.”
“I wish we could all eat together,” Mom said and we did have a meal together occasionally.
“I stopped at Mike’s (Mike’s Pin-Up Bar) to play a little Gin.” And so it would go…
Following my car accident I was unable to twirl the spaghetti but Mom instinctively knew to fix Rigatoni with the same great, simmer all day, sauce. The aroma filled the house and I could envision a guy roaming the streets in the Abruzzi Region of Italy strumming his Mandolin. Mom loved Dean Martin’s voice as he romantically sang from the album on the stereo, “Return To Me” (Ritorno mi), Arrivederci Roma, Inamorata, In the Misty Moonlight and a myriad of others…
More things I lovingly remember… waiting for her to get off work always at the same time without fail, everyday. I instinctively knew when it was time and I would be sure I was upstairs to look out the window in grandma and grandpa’s living room.
I watched for Mom to come walking down the street from the bus stop a block over on the corner of Maryland and Van Dyke. Yes my head is full of silly memories and each indelibly etched in my mind. Then after the grandparents’ moved back to Arkansas I remember the summers Mom took us kids by train and later by car to visit them for the entire summer; I used to love those times. Like the time we had to switch trains in Chicago, prior to the Civil Rights Act, and we were all in a dark car when the conductor came and said, “We put you in the wrong car ma’am. This car is for coloreds; do you want to move?” A ridiculous and shameful time in American history.
Mom didn’t care if a person was Black or White as long as they were well-kept, “People can be clean even if they are poor; there’s no excuse for being dirty in today’s world.” Linda was a baby that trip and nearly everybody in the train car commented on her cuteness as we journeyed to St. Louis.
Then there was the time (actually many times) when we drove down in the 1964 Chevrolet; on this particular journey we had driven non-stop and were all kind of tired and cranky and especially when we got turned around at night. Dark, alone and stranded in the hill’s of the Ozark’s, it was kind o’ scary. The lighting on the highway was minimal if at all and of course we were on a desolate mountain road; we had run out of gas. “Oh shoot!” Mom said, “We almost made it to that little town up ahead with lights,” and she pulled off the narrow highway. Fred and I argued about who would go for help and as usual, I lost. I trekked to the nearest station with lights and explained what happened. The attendant filled a can with gas and his partner drove me back to the waiting family. He put the gas in our tank and followed us back to the Gulf gas station so we could get a fill. This was in the sixties and the roads were narrow but the speed limit was still seventy and we never wore seat belts, hardly anybody did because they were always scrunched in the seat crevices. The air conditioning was unusable because without fail it would cause the engine to overheat, and on a new car! The wind whipped our faces ceaselessly, I don’t know how Mom survived those trips…One year we even took the bus with it’s big city transfers.
I was pitcher for the “First Electric” baseball team and I was proud of my first baseball uniform and I think Mom was too because it was always washed and pressed before each game. Oh sure I played ball in St. Paul, but we never had a real uniform, only a t-shirt.
Now that I think back to those years I see how poor Mom never had a break from us kids and believe me when I say that I don’t know how she survived those years, except that she would always say, “You do what you have to, to survive, don’t even think about it just do what needs to be done.” Mom was a pragmatic woman, levelheaded and serious so I must say that opposites do attract because Dad was the opposite, there was no doubt about it and their marriage remained hopeful and satisfied for more than sixty years. They maybe didn’t realize it, but I think all of us kids could clearly see how they would argue amongst themselves but would be there always, for the other.
I recall Fred and I chasing each other around the ancestral home in Adona, Arkansas shooting b-b guns at one another. I remember walking down a gravel road in Adona and being in awe of the hillbillies who had come barefoot out of the mountains to play with me and Fred and how they could walk on the gravel that hurt my tender feet so. We made our way to Adona Creek and there was a long rope tied to the limb of one of the trees, so of course we played Tarzan. Grandpa took us swimming to a rock quarry once and the water was wonderfully clear I remember being amazed at the transparent water.
Grandpa bought me my first bike years before and now he was taking me to my first rodeo. He even got me a ride with the star of the show as we pranced around the makeshift arena, on his white horse . I recall visiting my great-aunt Ruth, grandpa’s sister who still had an outhouse up on Perry Mountain and I had to use it once…P – U! She lived there with her mother who was also my great-grandmother and lived to ninety-nine; a very devout Christian woman. Grandpa’s brother Virgil and his wife Vilma lived across the road and always had a large vegetable garden, but you know, there wasn’t anybody as strong or hardworking as gramps…
There are many fond, homey type memories. Another is of hanging clothes on the lines outside, washed in the machine in the basement and carried with the large wicker basket to those lines near the apple tree. Few things could top the fragrance of newly washed sheets on the bed that were blown dry by the summer-pure outside air. Glade has the scent in a can that somewhat duplicates the fresh linen smell, but it is in a can and you are unable to touch anything tangible or to have that scent linger.
Before Dad sold off the corner lot we played baseball there and used the huge trees for home and second base; many of the neighborhood kids were there because there were no fences to speak of in the fifties and so everyone knew when and where the kids were playing. We also played ball on the street in front of our house; there were few cars to deal with at that time. A more solemn time in our yard had me as a toddler trying to pet a squirrel.
Then my younger sister was born and I cried when they brought her home, extreme jealousy huh, well it does happen.
Mom was right back at her cleaning and she showed me how to really clean the walls and floor in our musty, sandstone walled basement with the animal-like octopus furnace. That was not a fun place to be, but Mom tried never to show fear even when a mouse would scurry in front of her or she would accidentally awaken a sleeping bat or baby squirrel that got in through the porous foundation and attic…the original “Animal House.”
Like Dad said, “I was married to an angel Steve, but I didn’t know it.”
“Well Dad, we didn’t realize it either.”