Mother’s Day 2014

Rose Purcell Billies, circa 1938, Breezy PointYesterday was the day that we celebrate motherhood. It’s the one thing that we all have in common. We all have or had a mother. My wife called her mother, our daughter called her mother. Unfortunately, I couldn’t call my mom. Well, I could if we had a phone line to heaven because our mother died in 1985 leaving a grieving husband and five children.

My mother was only 60 when she died. Too young, much too young to leave us. I am her oldest child. She was barely 23 when I was born and I knew her when she was a young, vibrant woman. We used to go to a clothing store in Brooklyn where the salesmen always asked if this was my sister. She looked that young.

My mother had many habits, good and bad, that she passed down to her children. Some have stuck with us while others have fallen by the wayside. You see, our mother made sure that her children could decide for themselves. She wanted us to be leaders and not followers. I think that we have all turned out reasonably well.

Our mother was very religious. I’ve dubbed her Saint Rose of Oradell. One year when I was probably about 12, she determined that the two of us would attend mass every day during Lent. We had a brand new Rambler station wagon then and my father offered to park it on the street so that she wouldn’t have to navigate our extremely narrow driveway. Well, I’m sure she told him that she could do it herself that is until she hung it up trying to get out the garage.

Our mother had a saying for every occasion. Need a haircut: grass doesn’t grow on a busy street. Need some academic inspiration: aim high and you’ll be high. Lousy math grade: well, I got the math medal when I graduated from high school. She actually would wave that medal to reinforce that saying. None of us were very good in math so it was waved a lot.

Some of the things our mom did would be subject to an official investigation. Mom tanned very easily but three of her five children had ‘cheap Irish skin’ as my youngest brother says. We were all exposed to the bright sun at Breezy Point every year to get some ‘color’ as she would put it. The fair-skinned ones would suffer from terrible sunburn. I was fortunately not one of the fair-skinned trio.

Our mother loved the beach. We had a summer bungalow at Breezy Point in Queens, New York from the time that I was two. My first non-Breezy vacation took place when I was about 24. We all spent April, May and early June preparing that place for the rest of the summer. We all became proficient scraping, sanding, painting and other acquired skills necessary for maintaining a summer cottage.

Our mother had certain fixed ideas about painting. Never paint in the bright sun, it causes bubbles. We were all taught how to use a paint brush and a roller. Brushes were used on the railings and trim. Rollers were for the decks. Every year the same color: Kelly green. My sister’s former husband bragged that he painted the whole bungalow. My reply: 22 more years and you’ll catch up to me.

Of course, we passed down the wit and wisdom of St. Rose of Oradell to our children, only one of which she knew before her death. The other eight can only know her through her children. She only knew one daughter-in-law, my wife, who sometimes will allude to her at family gatherings.

We all have a piece of Rose Imogene Billies in us. Thanks, Mon. We miss you every day.


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