My mother passed away last Tuesday morning. I felt like it was important to share this here, as there wouldn't be a Kyle's Bed & Breakfast if not for her. Not only because she gave birth to me, but also because of all of the support and encouragement she gave me throughout my life, to pursue my dreams and to aim for excellence in whatever I do.
My mother was an amazing person.... beautiful, brilliant, generous, kind, and extremely hard-working. She graduated from high school at 15, after being accelerated 2 grades, and got her bachelor's degree 4 years later, graduating from college at 19, when most people are just getting started with college! From there, she went immediately into her chosen field, teaching.
Liberated before there was ever a "Women's Lib" movement, I don't think it ever occurred to her to be anything but a strong, confident self-sufficient woman.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, her father was from Italy, and her mother was of Irish-German descent. My mother had the gorgeous, crystal blue eyes of her father, which apparently are quite common in the Naples region of Italy where he was born. (My older brother & sister inherited them, too, and I suppose I did also, although with a touch of green from my Irish father's side). She actually modeled for a bit, back when the big NYC department stores had women modeling clothes on runways for the public to observe and be dazzled by. But I think she was far more interested in books and intellectual pursuits to ever take that too seriously.
She met my father, (also a teacher, also born & raised in Brooklyn, NY), in her mid-twenties. After they were married, they eventually moved out on to Long Island, to Huntington, (in the West Hills area, most famous for being Walt Whitman's birthplace). She took some years off from teaching to raise my brother, sister, and myself, (I came along a bit later than my brother and sister, born when my mother was almost 40. But she took it in stride, going back to college to get her Masters degree soon after I was born, and then back to teaching).
Life wasn't always happy times for my mother, though. When I was 10 years old, a couple of years after we'd moved to a new house in Cold Spring Hills, my father passed away. Incredibly, my mother kept our living situation stable. Thank God for her successful teaching career. We never lost our house, and I never felt like we were in need in any way. She had a way of making me feel safe, secure, and well-cared for.
That included making sure I was able to go to college & get my BA degree at Geneseo College, a magnificent experience for which I have her to thank. I'm also grateful that she, (and my father), were of the philosophy that one should go for a career where your heart is, not necessarily where the money is, (and if they can coincide, that's great, too! But she never put the pressure on me to find some Wall Street-type job, when that so clearly was not where my head was at).
My mother felt it was very important to travel, so, from a very young age, I saw the world at her side. Originally, my whole family went on some amazing trips together, but after my father passed away, and my brother & sister were off on their own, my Mother and I traveled together, just the 2 of us, far & wide. Because we have plenty of family in California, that also meant a lot of trips there. (Some people still think I'm from California, due to my accent and general demeanor). The fact that California is such a rich part of my history and life-experience is another thing I have my mother to thank for. We also went on a number of great vacations with my Aunt Sheila and Uncle Vincent, which may have started my love affair with the state of Vermont.
After I'd went to college, and in the years afterward, I'm so glad my mother got to go off traveling on a bunch of great trips with her friends, to see the places she'd always dreamed of. Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Ireland, and a lot of other places, (I'm especially glad she got to see France, as she'd always dreamed of going to Paris). She also started a new phase of her life after retiring; never one to sit still for long, and always eager to help people, she became a dedicated volunteer for many years at Huntington Hospital.
My mother and I were both big fans of figure skating, and I have many warm memories of us watching the competitions on TV and critiquing the various skaters. I think it reminded her of her dancing days, back in college when she was voted the best dancer in the Newman Club.
Some of my warmest memories, too, are of the TV shows we'd watch together and talk about. I think her favorite of all time was the Mary Tyler-Moore Show. She just loved that show, and I think I may need to buy the DVD box sets just to somehow feel closer to her now. She also liked a lot of the police shows like Hill Street Blues and LA Law, and of course Law & Order. She would often mention that if she were to do it all over again, she'd like to have become a lawyer. And she was a BIG fan of ER, especially of George Clooney, (who, she always would mention, "has a very handsome father").
I don't want to sugarcoat everything here; it's not like we had a Norman Rockwell family relationship. (Even Norman Rockwell didn't have a Norman Rockwell family relationship! Trust me, I'm a big fan, I read his biography). This is really my own fault, but... knowing the strong Catholic background of my mother, I never really felt comfortable discussing many gay topics with her. It's not like I was in the closet with her, (please, she was too smart and I'm too outspoken for that to ever happen. And then, of course, the New York Times interviewed me about Kyle's Bed & Breakfast, which, believe me, is a good way to come out to everyone in your life in one shot). But I just never felt very comfortable including her in that aspect of my life. However, she met and was quite friendly with my boyfriends, and I never heard her utter a single anti-gay phrase or sentiment, about anyone. Perhaps I should've been more inclusive; she was certainly sophisticated and intelligent enough to handle it. This was completely my fault.
But then, things were getting difficult for my mother as the years passed. After 2002, she began having some very serious health issues. Facing them all with her usual grace and fortitude, it was admirable, but heart-wrenching. I'm grateful I was able to be there for her, for so many of the doctor's visits and various challenges. But it was a darker time for her. For someone who was so used to traveling and living independently, it frustrated her to not be able to drive anymore, to go to the supermarket, (something she loved to do previously), to go traveling the world. The past year was particularly challenging, and the past month, excruciating. I'm grateful, at least, that in her final week, she was able to go somewhat peacefully.
My mother never remarried after my father died. She never dated, never even showed much interest in any other men, (except for perhaps George Clooney.... and his father! LOL). Seriously, though... I think she was so in love with my father, and missed him so much, she just couldn't bear to be with anyone else.
I'd like to think they're finally together now, after all this time, after all these struggles. I hope you're in a joyful, sweet place, Mommy... you've earned it.
I love you, and I miss you so much.