Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mom-Mom

My grandmother (affectionately known as "Mom-Mom") turns 91 today.

Ninety-one years ago, the following events occurred:

  • The Yankees bought the land in the Bronx where they'd eventually build Yankee Stadium.
  • The Brits were occupying Dublin.
  • Einstein was lecturing about this new-fangled Relativity thing.
  • Babe Ruth became the home run champ.
  • China founded its Communist Party.
  • Hoover became Asst. Director of the FBI.
  • The first Miss America Pageant was held in Atlantic City.
  • Mary Donohoe was born to a grocer and a hairdresser in Philadelphia.
Eighteen years later, WWII would break out, but not before this could happen:

Ed & Mary

I -- like most children -- assumed my grandmother came into existence when she was 60 or so, looking like this:

Just off camera is a newborn demanding Vienna Fingers.
 But all those years ago, she happened to fall in love with a tall guy with a goofy last name.  As a result of that, a bunch of children came into the world.

In descending height order: Ed, Mary, Mary Lou, Eileen, Sue

In the picture above, my dad wasn't born yet.  My grandparents are standing with my Aunts Mary Lou, Eileen and Sue.  My dad -- Edward (like my grandfather) -- and Uncle Joe would enter the brood a few years later.  It would seem, that having a girl first, I'm following a bit in their footsteps.

A lot of crazy and significant things happened in 1921 -- but if my great-grandparents hadn't brought their baby Mary into the world, there are 18 grandchildren who wouldn't have existed.  And at this point, I've lost count of how many great-grandchildren my grandmother has.  Suffice it to say, there's a lot of us about.  Being Catholic seems to have that influence on a family.

But she could tell you all of our names and birthdays.  I still get a card on time every year.  Each one of us is inked into her bible.  But she still recites them off the top of her head.

I have more anecdotes about the woman than time to record them all.  Some of my favorites:

Growing up through the Great Depression, she has a certain penchant for being a spendthrift.  She always bought two of something, even if she didn't need the first one, because she could get a good deal on it.  Her pantry was always full of two unopened versions of every foodstuff you could imagine.

My avid love of fishsticks is a result of her microwaving them for me every Friday night I spent at her house in Drexel Hill.

Despite my weight issues as a kid, she never failed to indulge me.  Even as my father would be telling her how important it was to keep me away from sweets, she'd be handing me two cookies behind her back and telling me to go watch television in the living room.

She never bothered with getting her license until she was in her 50s.  When she took the test, she meant to switch on the turn signal, but accidentally turned on the windshield wipers.  She couldn't figure out how to turn them off during the whole road test.  When she finished the exam, there were tears in her eyes because she thought she had failed.  The instructor asked her what she was so upset about and handed her the slip to get her picture taken for her license photo.

And before you get upset with the Department of Motor Vehicles, my grandmother only drove 5 times in her entire life.  Once was to take me to a swim lesson at the YMCA.  So, in 91 years, she never had a car accident.

Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop used to take me to church when I'd stay at their house on weekends.  I was restless and agitated, but Mom-Mom kept me in check with doling out a seemingly endless supply of Tic Tacs.  When she'd stand to take Communion, I didn't understand why I couldn't get a cracker with everyone else.  So she'd appease me with a Certs.  I may not have taken to catechism, but I have a devotion to fresh breath which will last me a lifetime.

She came to all of my plays, musicals and concerts (choir and saxophone) from elementary school through college.  That's a lot of crap performances to sit through out of the love for a child.  She still has the playbills with my name underlined in each.

Mary, with Joe Cool Ed (left) and
her brother, Buddy (right)
Growing up around Mom-Mom was one of the best things about my childhood.  If you could distill everything that is good and hopeful and kind and altruistic about me (sure...you'd have to distill for a really long time) you'd probably find that the majority of that was instilled in me by this woman.

Here she is, pictured cutting her 90th birthday cake.  I hope that I can show our baby girl how to approach the world with just some of your grace, joy, and endless supply of tic-tacs.

Love ya, love ya.

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