Up and at ‘em on a Sunday morning. It is Mother’s day, and I have a melancholy about me. My Dear Sainted Mother is with Jesus, and I have nothing to do today. I dashed about town yesterday attempting to finish my bi-monthly business only to find myself in the gigantic domain of the Sage from Bentonville. My bank rents space there and, being Saturday, was packed to the rafters with legions in search of those infamous Rollback prices on those items both necessary or unnecessary for the both the prolonging and nourishment of life. Riding my electric steed towards the pharmacy, I run into the gentleman who provides me with the chariots I use to do battle with life. He is holding a bouquet of roses and perusing a shelf with vases. We greet and I realized, in my single minded pursuit of goods and items that today was the day we celebrate the wondrous women who have given us vivacity and verve.
I woke to this reality this morn, and felt the need to honor my magnificent máthair. This usually gives muse to those words I regale the world with on this blog. I sat and put finger to key only to find little to write. I spoke to a friend last night who told me about having breakfast with his mother yesterday, and it brought sadness to my soul. I, being the Irish Catholic that I am, wanted to retreat into the guilt and shame we are so famous for. That does not accurately reflect my feelings this morning. I miss her, and I want to hold her and tell her I love her, but that is just the natural desire for someone who has lost a person from there life. I think what I really want to do is tell everyone about her. I did this once before and believe a reprinting is in order. There are those of you that have not heard of Helen Pearsall and anyone who knew her would tell you that your life is incomplete. That is the power of my mother. The world is not complete without her. So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you my mother:
All she ever wanted to be was somebody’s mother. Born in 1921 and raised during the Great Depression, she always just wanted to grow up and have kids. She waited while the world went insane and tried to destroy itself during WWII. She watched as her brothers and cousins and friends went off to fight and come home terribly damaged from the experience. She worked in a cigarette factory that supplied cigarettes to the troops and lost lose her job because they caught her throwing double handfuls of non-filter smokes to the hobos hanging around the railroad tracks outside the window where she worked. She married and had children, and married again and had some more children when the first marriage failed. She gave birth to two girls and two boys. Two died and two lived. The two that lived, were five years apart, and when her second husband left, the three of them grew up as a family. She taught the girl to care for her younger brother, and went to work at a hospital on the 11 to 7 shift so that she would be home when the kids came home from school. She met and formed a lifelong friendship with two small Italian women who embraced the Irish Catholic girl and her two fatherless children. All three women had a boy and a girl each, and the children thought of each other as brothers and sisters. When her two friends died, she fell easily into the mother position for the children of her friends.
She had two brothers and each had fought bravely and returned damaged from the war. She had two sisters-in-law that filled the role of sister for each other. When her oldest brother divorced, she kept his ex-wife in her heart as if the divorce had never happened. All three had been "Rosie the Riveters” in WWII, and all three worked hard to raised there children with love and understanding. That was probably the thing about this woman that anyone would remember the most…the love and understanding. Nobody came to her house and spent the night that they were not fed to the point of bursting, and received a hug and a kiss before they went to bed.
She never met a stranger. The family joke had always been that if she found herself stranded on a desert island, the monkeys would talk to her. She made friends just by walking in the door. Very few people ever responded to her by pulling away, and if someone did, that was usually a sign that that person probably was not anyone you wanted to know. She believed in her heart and soul that people were just people and everyone deserved to be loved. She taught her children this, much more by example than through instruction
She went to church on a regular basis and her third husband became a Knight of Columbus. She stayed active in church and adhered to the tenets of the religion. Dogma aside, she really just tried to live as her God taught. She was an Irish Roman Catholic from the day she was born, and never stopped. She said a rosary every day, and taught her children the same. Her daughter grew up to be just like her, and her son had a kindness to him that could only have come from her.
She had a knack for making friends. She would talk to people wherever she went and, make a friend. She always wanted to know about their family, and what they did for a living. She cared little for the external realities of life. You were a person to her. Long before it became politically correct to be open-minded and willing to accept people for who they were, she had friends that would never fit into society’s idea of social acceptability. The gay Janitor at the hospital she worked at in the 1950’s and 60’s became a fast friend. The nun who left the order to marry a neurotic ex-monk and have kids became life-long extended family members. Single mothers raising mentally challenged children always had a special place in her heart. The ex-wife of her second husbands adopted cousin, Joan, became her best friend when her friend Nancy died. The daughter of Nancy’s sister, Rae, became as a daughter to her, and her five children grandchildren.
She married a third time to a man that her children did not like, and stayed married to him for the rest of his life. He was not an easy man to live with, but everyone should have someone to love him or her. He was an extremely fortunate man in the person who loved him. He accepted her children as his, and the result was two decent, caring people.
She worked many different jobs in her life. Her two friends and she would assemble mechanical pencils at home. There were bags of parts and wooden boards to stack them in for the assembly all over the house. She and all the children of her and her friends were put to work helping. When school was not in session, there was always the trip to the pencil factory to deliver their weekly work. It became a field trip of sorts. On the return trip they would always stop at MacDonald’s for lunch. One time, sitting in the front seat, Aunt Nancy poured a soda on her lap when asked what time it was. She just looked at her watch and did not realize that the soda cup was in her hand, drenching herself in Coca Cola. They laughed the rest of the day. To this day, it is still a favorite story in the family.
If there was a single thing that held the family together it had to be the stories. How they would go out and get Chinese food when the men went to North Carolina every year on business. Aunt Nancy’s husband did not allow Chinese food or pizza in the house. They would have to hide the garbage when he got back. When her son came home one day and told them that he had asked the nun at the catholic school he attended if his name was an Irish name, they all laughed uproariously. He had spent so much time staying at, and eating at, Aunt Nancy and Rae’s house, that he thought he was Italian in spite of the fact that his regular name was the most common Irish surname in the world. That story stayed with them forever. He was asked that question every birthday for the rest of his life.
There was a soft-serve ice cream chain indigenous to where they lived that served the best ice cream around. Whenever they got near one, she would always tap her chest with her fist and proclaim, “got a little heartburn” before pulling into the parking lot. She would drive whoever walked in to get the treats, especially her second husband, crazy by asking them “find out what the special flavor is.”
Cooking and eating was her gig. She always related any situation to eating. She had been raised during the Great Depression, and would not allow her refrigerator, freezer, or pantry to get too low on food. Holiday meals were grand events. Thanksgiving always meant huge turkey’s with her dressing and so many vegetables that it was near impossible to move around the table for fear of spilling something. Not that anything went to waste. If something fell on the floor all you had to do was “Kiss it up to God” and pop it in your mouth before the germs took a hold. Lot’s of potatoes and cabbage to honor the fact that she, and her brood, were Irish. Italian pasta was served a couple of nights a week to give homage to her dear friends of Italian lineage. At every big meal with guests every one would be admonished for not having eaten enough in spite of being full to the point of bursting. In all situations, food was the answer. Comfort food had an entirely different meaning in her house. It meant eating to the point of discomfort. “Thank God for that little bite, that many a man would call a meal” was the mantra after every repast. It was a favorite memory of one of her Aunt’s.
She worked in the maternity ward of a Catholic hospital. She met and became fast friends with everyone. She would baptize the babies she cared for regardless of their nationality or family religion. “Their goes another good Catholic” she would say. It was not that she thought other religions were wrong, it was just her way of keeping the children safe and loved. God knew what he wanted from people, and she felt that it was her duty to help him. She made friends with the doctors and nurses and they became part of the family. She introduced one girl to Aunt Nancy’s son, and they married and stayed that way raising four kids and becoming grandparents. They brought the first grandchild to visit her, and she sat holding the baby singing the same songs she sang to her son and daughter when they were babies.
She faced adversity of some sort all her life. She kept it in its pace. She loved to move, and in some other life would have been a great explorer. She would have been perfect company for Marco Polo, or Lief Erickson, or Lewis and Clark. In truth, she probably would have made things a much easier for them in their journeys. The first thing she would do is make friends with the frightening natives they discovered, and put together a feast that would leave everyone too stuffed with food to argue or fight. In reality, if she were on those noble expeditions into the unknown, history would ultimately record them as Helen’s Expedition, and the principle players would take a back seat to the force of nature who always asked everyone she met if she could give them “a little something.”
When faced with life, good or bad, she beat it back with an apron, a stovetop full of pots, and an oven full of massive hunks of meat.
When she could not pay the bills because she made less than it cost her and the kids to live, she fed and clothed her kids before paying the rent, and somehow things got taken care of. When her daughter came to her to tell her she was getting a divorce the same month the wedding bill had finally been paid off, her reply was “don’t worry about it dear, it was a good party.” When she rode in the car with her son and someone raced passed them, her comment was, “go ahead, you son of a bitch, hell ain’t half full.”
She is everywhere in my life, in the grocery store buying Ragu spaghetti sauce, in a woman sitting in the park singing to her infant child, in the eyes of a woman at work that sits at lunch and says a rosary and in the Corning ware I use to cook meatloaf. I looked in my refrigerator the other day, and remembered the recipe for “Ann Mack Casserole.” All I need is some cheese and I can make it tonight. It will not be hers, but it can live on. I get this vision of her placing it on a table and answering the front door. Standing there is Jesus and His Mother. She gives them a big hug and says, “Come, have a little something.”