My ‘Mother Superior’

Eighty-nine years ago today, on July 7, 1928, the woman who brought me into this world, Marie Socci, was born.  Eight days ago, she was laid to rest next my father, Tony, in a cemetery overlooking Owasco Lake in Auburn, N.Y.  

My parents were first generation Americans who never let go of lessons learned from their experiences during The Great Depression and World War II.  They worked tirelessly, spent frugally and lived honestly, mostly devoting themselves to everyone but themselves.

No one benefited more than me, the youngest of their three boys.  To my mother, as I was reminded whenever she introduced me — no matter my age — I was her “baby.”  To me, for most of my life, she was my best friend.

Following is the eulogy I gave at her funeral on June 29, hoping to both celebrate her legacy and endow it with our family’s youngest generation.  

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On June 29 my mother Marie was laid to rest next my father Tony, reuniting after 17 years apart.

Mom’s Eulogy (6/29/17)

On behalf of my entire family, I’d like to thank each of you for coming today and express our gratitude to everyone — including many unable to join us —  who reached out since Sunday to offer sympathy and support, as well as fond remembrances of my mother.

I’d also like to recognize and express my own enduring gratitude to members of my family: John…Carl…Tina…and Jen for the enormous commitment you made to Mom in recent years — especially the last few months. My Uncle Dom…who gave his sister something special to look forward to with your regular visits…even when sipping Sambuca by her side was no longer an option. And my cousin Phyllis…who was my mother’s best friend and most devout caregiver.

*****

In the seventeen years since the death of my father, I’ve often had reason to speak to him, silently in my head. Sometimes with a roll of my eyes and an exasperated sigh while feebly trying to finish a home project — like the other day, for instance, when I struggled to hang blinds in our bedroom.

And more than occasionally, with a proud smile and nod, when my son’s creativity as a builder remind me of his late Grandpa Socci’s uncompromising craftsmanship.

Now I find myself doing the same to Mom.

And I know it’s bound to happen much more in the future.

In fact, I’m looking forward to it.

Because one of the things I missed most lately were the conversations Mom and I enjoyed for most of my life — right up to, and beyond the moment I made a new best friend in whom I could confide, my wife Monique.

****

As long as I can remember, as anyone who worked alongside Mom at the old Bank of Auburn can attest, I constantly rang her phone…dialing whenever I sensed there was something she absolutely had to know. Like when I was in grade school and just had to call her with the exciting news that our cable TV lineup had added some new 24-hour sports channel.

*****

Over time, our frequent talks focused on more life-changing matters, proving more impactful and instructive to the people we were both striving to be.

Speaking of Mom’s time at the bank, for example, I learned how unpleasant it could be as a middle-aged woman dealing with insults from rude customers…and conversely, how much of a joy it was to pridefully go to work for men and women that she deeply respected and admired, and to be surrounded by beloved colleagues who lovingly gave her a nickname to laugh about, as their ‘Mother Superior.’

*****

Certainly, mom could talk — a lot!

No doubt, at this very moment, she’s giving some of her best friends in heaven an earful, exactly as she used to do from the phone on her kitchen wall.

But she also listened — intently — and acted on what she was told.

When I asked of her as a young boy to quit smoking, she did.

If I told her as a young man of mistakes I made or disappointments I experienced, she simply advised me to “Live and learn.”

From adolescence to adulthood, I heard and took to heart so much of what Mom shared from her early life, growing up in one of the first Italian-American families to settle on Lake Ave, in the house her father, a man of prudence and patience who she always encouraged me to emulate, built mostly by himself, brick by brick; with a grandmother who spoke no English, often relying on Mom to inform her of any news of the day; a mother who was full of life, until her life was taken suddenly, years too soon; and a younger brother and their cousins, who seemed inseparable until some of them enlisted to do their part, as part of our Greatest Generation.

*****

Some of the earliest memories of my life included Mom and me sitting together, watching Mets baseball, while I openly dreamt of the day I’d play in the majors. Mom made sure I lived that dream — well, sort of — by designing, sewing and even crocheting my very own uniforms to resemble some of baseball’s biggest stars. Thanks to her, at least I looked the part.

When my focus shifted from the games on the field to broadcast booths above them, there was no magic Mom could weave to make those dreams reality.

What she did instead was always lend an ear and — when needed most — words of encouragement and advice.

That’s what Mom lived for, trying to help her kids — and later grandkids, and great grandkids — get what they wanted — and what she believed they deserved.  

All of us would agree, I think, that Mom would’ve gladly sacrificed anything to see that happen.

In her own youth, as I once read in a school yearbook, she aspired to be a nurse. But expectations in her time, and in her home, were different.

So Mom married, gave birth to three sons and eventually ventured out into the workplace — first at Firth Carpets and later at the bank.

Life wasn’t easy — working, cooking and caring for her kids and a husband who, as a product of the Depression, labored day and night, leaving too little time for tenderness.

Thankfully, as his temperament softened with age — and grandchildren — my parents grew closer and more affectionate. It’s something Mom and I talked about — a lot — long after my father passed away.

Now, if only I can act more consistently to embody the lessons that I observed and absorbed from her point of view — on what it takes be a true provider as a parent.

There was no better example than Mother Superior.

*****

Nor, in my biased opinion, was there a better cook. At our house near Boston, Mom’s recipe for sauce is considered a family heirloom.

And yet, she gave us greater gifts to be handed down, to sustain our spirit and nourish our soul.

Such as kindness…empathy…integrity…resilience.

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When a family friend gave me a Tom Seaver replica uniform, my mother kindly and creatively added to my mid-1970s All-Star collection; allowing me to live the big-league dream.  

For years and especially this week, others have echoed one another with words of the ways Mom touched them with her genuine sweetness and wide-reaching generosity. Whether she was serving us at the dinner table, unashamedly spoiling her grandkids, as well as four-legged family members — her dogs Cody and Emily, or giving time and money to places and people she kept in her heart…like the infirm elderly at Mercy Rehab, where she volunteered as treasurer…and children of St. Jude’s, who we ask you to remember today in her honor.

Mom cared about others and understood true importance in life — even as she added to her extensive collections of clothes…bags bearing the label of Vera Bradley…and the Christmas Carolers who visited her living room every December.

In retrospect, I realize, however, that her real interest was less about material things than the people who sold them. If we wandered into a Skaneateles boutique, she’d introduce me to the store owner and shop keeper, before trading stories about their respective families. Later, when we’d catch up from long distance, Mom would offer the latest updates on their lives.

She also thought of those who had far fewer possessions, like the young boy she sponsored from the Dominican Republic. As I picture him, remembering the photo Mom proudly displayed in her home, I recall with pride how he was part of her expanding world view — which continued to evolve well into her seventies.

Make no mistake, Marie held strong opinions, but she was extremely modest.

And as I gleaned from our heart-to-heart chats — in which no issue was too sensitive, no topic taboo — she grew increasingly open-minded, and accepting of others.

****

Hers was a big heart, with plenty of soft spots.

But it was strong enough to keep beating even after it was repeatedly broken, as a widowed wife and grieving grandmother.

When Mom lost my Dad — her ‘Socky’ — she stayed active and independent, relying only on herself to get around town in her little Honda.

She rediscovered a love of good music playing from her Wave radio, and replaced Dad’s gallon jugs of Carlo Rossi with wines meant to be served in stemware.

Eventually, of course, time and hardship took their toll.

Marie slowed…her body weakened…her memory faded.

And Sunday afternoon, two weeks shy of her eighty-ninth birthday, she was reunited with Socky and the younger angels in our lives, Katie and Chris.

Surely she was eager to get together again.

*****

My mother was always comfortable hanging out with her grandkids…Especially — and I’m sorry guys — the young girls of our family.

Though born of a bygone era, Grandma Socci was a woman well ahead of her time.

As she’d often remark to me, when I suggested that a certain subject might make her squeamish, “I’m no prude, you know!”

*****

I know Grandma Socci was particularly proud when Katie earned her nursing degree, and is again today, now that Jen has done the same — as a working mother no less.

******

I hope my own kids and I can converse exactly as my mother and I connected through the years. As I’ll continue trying to convey — now and in the future — I want them and their cousins to follow Grandma Socci’s example:

Keeping their minds and hearts open…and their intentions honest and noble.

And if I may, after all our countless conversations, I’m confident in speaking on behalf of their late Grandmother…saying something I trust she’d like them to take away from the full life she led for nearly nine decades.

To my nieces and my daughter, in whom I see my mom’s — and her mom’s — most endearing qualities:  Always remember that as a woman, your place is wherever you decide it should be.

And to all her grandkids, including my nephew and my son: Whether you write them in a yearbook or not, make your goals…and make them happen.

Nothing, I know, would make your Grandma Socci — our Mother Superior — happier.

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