A lot of people claim to be my No. 1 fan – God bless them – but my true No. 1 fan left this world last week. My mother quietly stopped breathing last Tuesday, as she slept peacefully, holding my hand.
She was the biggest fan of all of us – Father, me and my brothers, John and Jim.
After reading the eulogy column I wrote for Father last year – not to excess, probably only about 4,637 times – Mother realized to her chagrin that she wouldn’t be able to read the eulogy column I’d be writing for her, and started hinting that maybe I could rustle up a draft so she could take a peek.
But I couldn’t do it, until I had to.
The only thing Mother wanted to be sure my brothers and I included in her remembrances were her contributions to the Republican Party, the New Canaan Republican Town Committee and the Daughters of the American Revolution.
She was a direct descendant of at least a dozen patriots who served the cause of the American Revolution and traced her lineage on both sides of her family to Puritan nonconformists who came to America in 1633 seeking religious freedom on a ship led by Pastor Thomas Hooker. Or, as Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano would call them, “A dangerous right-wing extremist hate group.”
Even back in the Puritan days, Mother’s female ancestors were brought up on charges for their heretical dressing styles (and then sassed the judge). During the Revolution, one female ancestor, Effie Ten Eyck Van Varick, contributed to the rebel cause by donating lead for bullets from the curtain weights in her home in what was, even then, traitorous, loyalist Manhattan.
Mother’s deep-seated political activism saved me on more than one occasion.
At the 2004 Republican National Convention, I was taking my parents to a lot of the parties in New York and, at one of them, Herman Cain walked up to me and told me he was a big fan even though I probably didn’t know who he was.
Cain was the former president and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza who was then running for the U.S. Senate from Georgia. I had seen him on Fox News’ “Cavuto” – but I couldn’t remember his name for the life of me.
Luckily for me, Mother was standing next to me and she piped in, “I know who you are – I donated to your campaign.” Thank you, Mommy!
Mother probably contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to various conservative outfits over the years – all in her little $20 checks – especially to any organization that claimed it was going to stop Hillary. In fact, if they mentioned Hillary in their letter, Mother sometimes made it $25.
My brothers and I always figured we’d have no inheritance, but there would be a lovely memorial to Oliver North somewhere.
Mother may have thought her most notable characteristic was her Republican activism, but, for the rest of us, it was her constant, unconditional love. She was a little love machine, spreading warmth and joy wherever she went.
Every time she’d see me, even after just a few days’ absence, she’d hug me as if I had been lost in the Himalayan Mountains for the past 20 years.
On Mother’s birthday last year, I had a dinner party for her with Rush Limbaugh, Conrad Black and my friends Peter and Angie.
Mother was always delighted to be with people talking about politics – actually she told me that, lately, she was delighted to be around any conversations that didn’t involve who had a doctor’s appointment or who had died that day.
So I let her stay up until 3 a.m. that night, well past her bedtime. Mother was so happy that after I had her all tucked in and the lights out, I heard her singing herself to sleep.
Even on the rare occasions when I’d be cross with her, she’d completely forget about it, and within 10 seconds would be telling me what a wonderful, precious daughter I was. My brother Jimmy found out recently that she’d even forgotten that he had caused her to miss Reagan’s first inauguration by getting in a car accident the night before we were leaving – and she never should have forgotten that.
Everyone wanted my mother to be his mother. (The “his” in that sentence is grammatically correct and Mother would never let us forget it.) I’m sure everyone thinks he has the perfect mother, but we really did.
Since I was a little girl, friends, relatives and neighbors would bring their problems to Mother. She had a rare combination of being completely moral and completely nonjudgmental at the same time – the exact opposite of liberals who have absolutely no morals and yet are ferociously judgmental.
You could tell Mother anything, get good counsel and not end up feeling worse about yourself.
Several of Mother’s New Canaan friends sent us notes last week, calling her a “gentle lady” and remarking that she never had an unkind word for anyone.
As a family member, I can assure you that – much to our annoyance – she really did never have an unkind word for anyone. I mean, except Democrats, but not anyone she knew.
Whenever the rest of us would be making fun of someone – trust me, always for good and sound reasons – Mother would somehow manage to muster up a defense of the miscreant. Father would always smile and say, “Your mother defends everyone.”
She was, in fact, such a “gentle lady” that I had to go to her doctors’ appointments and hospital visits with her and be her Mother Lion. If officious hospital administrators had told Mother to get off a gurney, go outside in the pouring rain and stand on one foot for three hours before the doctor would see her, she’d thank them profusely and apologize for being such a bother.
She viewed her doctors’ appointments as social visits, which is the other reason I’d have to go with her, to make sure we eventually got around to the business end of the appointment.
When she began her final decline last fall, she had to go to her Connecticut doctor without me to find out what was wrong. This was the first time she didn’t seem to be getting better after a chemo treatment.
So I had been worrying about her appointment all day, but when I called her that night, she immediately turned the subject to me and asked me how my book was going.
I insisted on knowing if she had seen the doctor and she perked up and brightly told me that, oh yes, she had seen him, he had all my books in his office, he was worried about Obama, too, and he has such beautiful children!
Before she launched into a spirited discussion of his children’s extracurricular activities and triumphs on the athletic field, I had to ask her, “Mommy, did the doctor happen to say anything about why you’re feeling lousy?”
It turned out, of course, that it was the ovarian cancer – as well as the massive amounts of poison she had been receiving to kill the cancer over the past five years. That was the beginning of the end.
Now I’ll never be able to introduce my Mother to friends and surprise them with her charming Southern accent.
And I’ll never see my mother’s beautiful face again, at least not for the next several decades here on Earth. I’ve been looking at her across the room in doctors’ offices over the past few years, thinking to myself: There will come a point when you won’t see that face again.
Her angelic face always looked like home to me. My whole life, as soon as I’d see my mother’s face I’d know I was safe, whether I was a little girl lost in a department store or a big girl with a problem, who needed her mother.
Thanks to the doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering and mother’s fighting Kentucky spirit, we got to see that face much longer than anyone ever expected.
So now she’s with Daddy and Jesus. Every single day since Daddy died last year, Mother would say how much she missed him and gaze at his photo, telling us what an amazing man he was and repeating his little expressions and jokes. Even though I miss her, I’m glad they’re together again.
I don’t know about Jesus, but I think Daddy was getting impatient. But Mommy was always running a little bit late.