"Be very careful if you make a woman cry, because God counts her tears. The woman came out of a man's rib. Not from his feet to be walked on. Not from his head to be superior. But from the side to be equal. Under the arm to be protected and next to the heart to be loved." – Hebrew Talmud
My beautiful, sweet and late mother, Viola LoBaido, often called her only son, "an army of one." Yet it was she who was truly an army of goodness – seemingly surrounded by angels.
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The genesis of her youth was hot and bitter like a dry prairie wind. She slept with three sisters in a bed under the elevated railroad tracks in a "home" without central heating. There was a potbelly stove fueled by coal. She never had a toy or even one Christmas present – ever. Her father (my grandfather) was often drunk and terrorized my young mother and her own mother. My grandmother was a godly woman named Antoinette who died on the steps of the church after morning Mass.
Because of her frozen youth, Viola could be found all bundled up in December under the covers, sporting her winter-style Pittsburgh Steelers NFL hat. I would say to her, "When do we land at Ellis Island?" I remember our gleaming Christmas tree and how Viola would cook delicious gourmet hors d'oeuvres on Christmas Eve. She wanted us to have all the toys she never had. This was typical of a beautiful, graceful and stylish woman who was widely loved, respected and admired by everyone. I was a truly lucky baby to have been adopted by her.
She was a prayer warrior and ahead-of-her-time eco-warrior. When my father was being deployed to Korea in 1950 – and was literally boarding the troopship – she prayed on her hands and knees to God for his safety. He was immediately pulled off the boarding ramp and transferred to the military police. This twist of fate/destiny was typical of the archetype multigenerational "Forrest Gump" life our family has navigated. Viola later sailed (alone) across the Atlantic to join my father in Italy, Morocco, Switzerland, Holland and Austria.
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Cartographies of memory
Mother's Day is truly a blessed day. It offers a broad, pristine canvass to recall all the things my beautiful, sweet and late mother Viola was to me. And, conversely, to be thankful for all she was not – loud, vulgar, drunk, a sexed-up bimbo, a public disgrace, godless, Christ-less, abusive, insulting, physically violent, mentally unstable, lazy, on LSD, incompetent, disorganized, constantly commenting on other men, a frontrunner and a clinical sociopath who blamed others for becoming sick and/or injured while working on her behalf. She was indeed a rock cut directly from her husband's rib. They were one in life and one in death. They met at 14, got married at 18 (she was 17) and were married for 50 years. They never even held anyone else's hand.
My previous tribute to my mother was published on WND here. My tribute to my late father Anthony Sr. is here. (My father served in the same unit as the late Col. David Hackworth, an outfit called "TRUST.") Viola was my touchstone. She read everything I wrote. She was my mentor and spiritual leader. She took care of my many injuries. She was my biggest cheerleader. She cheered my every step overseas as a journalist and photographer. She cherished the souvenirs I brought home to her from Southeast Asia and the Middle East. She excitedly deconstructed my photographs while claiming they "look(ed) like (I) stole them from National Geographic."
David Kupelian, the vice president and managing editor of WND, was the last person to speak to my mother before she slipped into her coma. She died in her bed, drowning in her own fluids after an 18-month-long battle with liver cancer. On that night, I left the room briefly to do some dishes. I felt someone pulling on my arm. I heard an inaudible voice say to me, "Anthony, I'm going now." I walked into her room – and in that very moment – she passed into eternity.
Viola was funny and often silly. We were always laughing. She was very kind. Her philosophies were resolute. Every single morning before I left for Catholic school, she would say, "Anthony, always be humble, and never be unkind." She said children should never have to endure the spectacle of their parents drunk in public or in private. Deploring the endgame of "godless parenting," she lamented "godless children-ing," meaning children handed everything on a silver platter only to throw it all away. She only had eyes for my father and never commented on another man. My father said she liked Victor Mature, the star of "The Robe" and "Samson and Delilah." (More on that below.)
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Somehow, I don't think Viola would have been drunk five times while pregnant if she had carried me herself – or even one time. We had normal holidays, holy days and blessed events. Viola recalled the day I was baptized. It was "the hottest day of the year." At that ceremony, she and my father made a vow to "defend [me] against all the works of the devil." I remember my grandmother and my mother teaching me how to make eggplant parmesan. My grandmother first made it in 1917 – 100 years ago! Until I was 8, I thought my name was "Taste This!" No one knew about cholesterol back then, so 7-year-olds were having heart attacks.
Our house was clean and immaculate. There wasn't stuff falling out of the cabinets. Viola was a gourmet cook who practiced in Italy while my father was in the military police. She even loaded his .45. My father would say, "With Viola on patrol, we'll clean up Rome in 20 minutes."
Viola truly despised the transnational illegal narcotics trade. Today, we see militias executing drug stakeholders in Mexico and the Philippines. There's no telling what a concerned mother (or father) will do to protect their children. For those raised in Sicilian culture, revenge is a dish that's always best served ice cold.
A true empath (like me), Viola was saddened by what she often called our "Christ-less, godless culture." Not long before she died, she surfed all 500 satellite TV stations, sighed and said, "Anthony, look at the filth on TV. I'm dying at a good time." She would have been shocked – but not surprised – that some employees I met at Saudi Aramco had also moved to Saudi Arabia to protect their children from America's culture, drunken holidays, drugs, abortion, gangs and many woes. (An employee with six children, including triplets, made this remark to me at the airport upon our arrival.)
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In her 25 years as a legal secretary, Viola learned much about the law, including real estate, wills and land conveyance. She studied Black's Law Dictionary. She actually worked on various legal documents for "The Amityville Horror" house. In another ironic "Forrest Gump" twist, Captain Kangaroo shared a sliver of space at Viola's office.
Between Viola's law experiences and my father's training as a professional military interrogator, it wasn't easy to get away with anything in their Spartan home. God was the center of their home instead of alcohol, parties and gossiping. Their home wasn't the Home Depot of drugs. My sister, Carol-Donna, and I weren't used as experimental laboratory rats for "safe LSD" to later be taken by other teens in the neighborhood.
My father said, "Birds of a feather flock together." He also said people who don't develop the talents God gave them will wind up "broken, unhappy and in the wrong place." Viola said a violent wife and mother who physically assaults her husband and child should be "sent to prison" after "wide exposure in the newspaper and on the Internet." She railed against "the felony of fetal alcohol abuse" carried out by pregnant mothers. Her harsh childhood drove Viola to abhor violence, drunkenness and abuse.
Viola said the Ancient Greeks – as private tutors – believed discussion was the highest form of learning and that "an unexamined life is not worth living." This was described on WND in "Burn Notice." As such, I recall watching the aforementioned "Samson and Delilah" on television when I was 4 years old. I became upset when Samson was chained in Gaza, blinded and doing the work of a mule. I ran into my room and hid under the desk. (This was in the same house that was put under four feet of water in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy.) My parents rushed into the room after me.
I asked, through my tears, "Why won't God help Samson?!"
I remember my parents telling me: "God will help him! But if you don't come in right now, you'll miss it." From "Samson and Delilah," I was taught lessons about alcohol, violence and loose, broken, unstable women without honor. Viola's "bimbos and tarts."
This was long before VCRs and Netflix. There were three major stations and three minor ones. They all went off the air around midnight. I would try to stay up "very late" with my parents, but I always fell asleep before Johnny Carson came on. I remember my parents waking me up to kiss me every New Year's at the stroke of midnight.
I remember when we were in a terrible car accident after dropping my sister off at kindergarten. Our car actually flipped over. My mother was put in the hospital for several days. When she finally returned, she was all wrapped up in bandages, even on her face. I ran into my room, shouting, "It's the mummy!" And she ran in after me, grabbed me, hugged me and said: "Baby, I'm not the mummy! I'm your mommy!"
I remember her reading a children's Bible stories book to me about the life of Jesus. At the end of the reading session, I was overwhelmed with outrage at Pilate, Barabbas and Cartaphilus and exclaimed: "They killed Jesus! This is f---ing bulls--t!" Viola was aghast and incredulous. She washed my mouth out with Ivory soap. At the age of 5, I had learned some "new words" from a boy name Joey, who even today remains my sister Carol-Donna's mailman. After the soap, my mother gave me a long pretzel rod to eat.
I remember my mother homeschooling me for a year to work on my photographic memory. One day, she gave me some paper and told me to write "Aa." When she went into the bathroom, I wrote from "Aa" to "Zz" and every letter in between on my own.
I remember her giving me a copy of the Bible when I was 4 years old. She said, "The Bible is a very old book that has lessons about how to live in modern times." She told me to memorize the Bible. (Recall Russell Crowe's experiences with his mother and the Bible as described in "3:10 to Yuma.") When I went away to school at Texas A&M, my mother was astonished that the same Catholic Bible she had given to me was almost completely underlined and highlighted with a yellow marker. She said, "When I told you to memorize the Bible, I should have realized you would actually attempt to do it!"
She mentioned having nightmares of the skies over America being filled with Chinese paratroopers. I often slept my parents' room after my nightmares about tsunamis and storms. I would sleepwalk many nights, looking out at the Robert Moses Causeway over the Great South Bay. I would study the lights from the far-away cars and ask my father: "Who is watching out for those people? Who will protect them from what's coming?"
I remember watching the Apollo 11 moon landing with my mother on a very hot July day. She said, "This is historic!" (Little did we know that the world's first computer engineer, Margaret Hamilton, and her little daughter Lauren, had saved that very same moon landing, along with the Apollo 8 mission. WND published that story here.)
I remember her praying that the "Son of Sam" killer would be caught. Soon after, "Son of Sam" was caught. I remember my mother lamenting how her own father ruined her wedding and the after-party by getting so drunk – after she begged him not to do so. She said to my father, "Now you see why we had to [should have] elope[d]."
She cleaned the floor on her hands and knees – but she was no Cinderella. Often she told me how she sneaked out with one of her sisters to go to the local "Carnivale." They crept out through the window. She said, "I knew my father would beat me when he caught me sneaking back in – but I didn't care."
So she went to Coney Island and enjoyed all the rides and cotton candy. When she returned home at a very late hour – for her – before opening the door, she paused on her front steps to pray. It was August of 1945 – the day before the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. She prayed that her guardian angel would protect her. She told me she heard her guardian angel whisper, "Viola, don't be afraid … just walk right through that front door." And when she opened the door, she saw that her father had passed out from his homemade wine. Angels 1 – Father 0.
When her older brother came back from Utah Beach at D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge and liberating Dachau, Viola ran to his arms on the street outside. He was wearing his Army uniform. He marched inside and said to his father, "If you ever touch Viola or my mother again – I will kill you without hesitation, remorse or mercy." Angels 2 – Father 0.
My mother used to say money was "just pieces of paper that are only as good as what you trade them for." She added, "But it's what you have to go through to get those pieces of paper." I think of my own laboring for dollars in recent years – teaching nine university courses in a single semester; going to work with pneumonia, kidney stones and a 103.9-degree fever, while walking many miles in unimaginable heat; digging out 7,000 pounds of rock and mud per day alone, with a stress fracture in my hand, covered in poison oak and without much sleep. Today I finally understand what Viola meant. My father never missed a day of school or a day of work. The same for Viola.
Navigating modern times
Viola was very close with my mentor at Baylor, the late Dr. Loyal Gould, who offered me a full scholarship to study international journalism. Both of them studied German. Dr. Gould was a Navy SEAL in World War II. (They were known as "Frogmen" back then.) As noted, my mother's brothers were at D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, liberated Dachau and helped to build the Burma Road.
My mother mentioned how the U.S. Armed Forces telegram people would come to her neighborhood – and sometimes to her house – by mistake. She'd run into her closet and cry and pray for her brothers fighting overseas to return and save her from her father.
While others ran off to Canada to take drugs during the Vietnam War, my mother's favorite nephew fought in Vietnam, and then he served as a firefighter in the South Bronx when it all went up in flames. Nothing about this was detailed on Twitter or Facebook.
These days, people are different. Even mothers behaving badly expect a $10,000 to $25,000 cash bonus on Christmas morning. Yet some mothers might receive $225,000 in cash from their husband and still call him a "loser" and a "moocher." Viola often claimed, "Everything you need to know about a woman you can find out from the kind of bathing suit she wears." She said women should think of money as "God's muscle."
As for turning your parents' lovely home into the Home Depot of illegal narcotics and designer drugs, Viola's answers would have been to bring in the DEA (who have lost mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and parents in the line of duty because of drug traffickers and recreational users) to freeze and seize, set up police dogs with drug checkpoints, class-action suits, and town hall-style meetings. "Anthony, always write everything down," Viola often said after work at her law office.
I sometimes wonder what Viola would say about today's society. In California, we're surrounded by swingers, threesomes, open marriage and an otherwise pretty, nice, smart and successful young lady who became possessed by a demon. Some want "Christians to be put into internment camps." We've even seen iconic ancillary cultural products like the toys from "Merry Christmas Charlie Brown" smashed to the floor in a drunken rage while shouting, "You don't know what that [the Baby Jesus in the manger] is!"
Yet we do know exactly what it is – thanks to Viola's philosophy. Before we can know Jesus' love, honor, power, peace, authority, miracles and resurrection, we must first know His suffering, abuse, slander, abandonment and insults. We must be struck by Cartaphilus – Pilate's gatekeeper. We must wear a crown of thorns. We must walk through the Stations of the Cross. Perhaps along the way we'll encounter a strong, kind man from Libya, as Jesus did during His darkest hour.
Viola often said that through love, kindness and sacrifice, you won't lose your honor as a sibling, daughter, wife, mother and/or member of the community. She said we all were "only one decision away from turning to God." One of her mantras was, "There is more joy in heaven for one sinner who repents than for a thousand righteous."
On her tombstone it is written, "Jesus, I trust in You." I had wanted to put, "Lord we give you Viola – try not to piss her off." With Viola the Sheriff gone, we are left leveraging the DEA, State Troopers, Al-Anon, local police, life coaches, WASC and the local church. Like Samson, after recovering our power and purpose, we can pull down any house.
She missed Katrina, Sandy putting our home under water (as noted), what's happened to Bruce Jenner (although she probably would have hugged Caitlyn and said: "You were my son's idol! He won gold medals on the high-school track team after being inspired by you at the Montreal Olympics. And thank God that at least you're a Republican!"), the $20 trillion debt, the lost wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the deranged rape of Yemen, the rise of Twitter and Facebook gossip-fest and thousands of other postmodern events.
I lament in some ways that she died too soon. I think she would have liked to have seen me get invited to interact with Stanford University, Cal-Berkeley, Google X, Apple, Saudi Aramco, National Geographic and Amazon Create Space. Along those lines, I wish she had lived to see films like "Invincible" and "Cinderella Man," and TV programs like "Burn Notice," "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" and "Carnivale."
Viola loved history and was a voracious reader. She knew Spartacus was the world's greatest Special Forces soldier. A white slave from Macedonia, he was sold into slavery, became the champion of the gladiators and led a slave revolt taking on Crassus' armies from Sicily to the Italian Alps. It was Spartacus who said of the godless Romans, the only answer is to "kill them all." He also said – echoing Viola – that no one should be maimed or killed for the amusement of another. The scene of Spartacus annihilating elite Roman legionnaires, alone, while outnumbered eight to one, embodied Viola's "army of one" philosophy. Watch it here.
Viola would have been overjoyed that her son was at Busch Stadium when her favorite MLB player – Rick Ankiel – returned to the St. Louis Cardinals as a star centerfielder, after his phenomenal debut and almost biblical exile. I think Viola would also have cheered when Rich Hill – having seen eight MLB teams let him go, witnessing the death of his son, exile to the Long Island Ducks Independent League team, having surgery for a torn labrum and enduring blisters on his pitching hand – emerged at the age of 37 to sign a $48 million three-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers this past autumn.
From beyond the grave
When times were hard, when I was in an oxygen tent hovering near death, my father had no work and my parents were about to lose their home, Viola didn't call my father "a loser" and leave him with a 2 year old to go to a party. She cared for the sick. She said, "Only marry someone who is all for you." She encourage me to marry a beautiful blonde or "you will always be looking around for one."
She wanted everything done the right way. From age 15, I was doing all the work inside and outside the house. The lawn in the heat of August sported a special checkboard cut – much like the former California Angels MLB outfield. My favorite pitcher was Jon Matlack, whose daughter Jennifer (in another "Forrest Gump" twist) was my student at Texas A&M. There was also "Faultless" Frank Tanana. (His 55.1 WAR ranks higher than Sandy Koufax.) My mother loved his teammate Nolan Ryan, who wore eye black and whom she called "Nyland Roland" for some strange reason we never could figure out.
When my mother was struck with liver cancer, I returned home from Denmark and Cyprus to be at her side. I would clean, cook, do laundry, shovel snow and cater to her every need and whim. She loved nature and her long walks. And even during her 18-month-long battle with liver cancer, we often walked and talked together. She would say: "Look at the world, look at nature, look at the diversity and beauty. How can you look at a rose or a koala or an elephant and say, 'There is no God,' and/or 'God did not directly create all of this'?"
Even after death, Viola seemed to speak to me from beyond the grave. One of my spiritual gurus, Madelyn, called me in St. Louis, Missouri, one day out of the blue. She had gone to visit her own parents at the military cemetery and literally tripped over my parents' graves. Madelyn offered her sage troika of wisdom to me that very same day. "Anything that comes directly from God is easy. Learn to let go of the things and the people that no longer serve you. There are no victims – there are only volunteers."
And then years after that – again, completely out of the blue – a woman who had read my WND stories about my work in Southeast Asia with abused and injured elephants, lepers and land mines wrote me an email saying: "You have to be Viola LoBaido's son! Only Viola's son would do such things. Only Viola's son would go to the British Army's jungle warfare training in Belize. Only Viola's son would meet with the North Korean woman who escaped by walking 8,000 miles to freedom in Thailand. I knew Viola. Viola was my best friend in high school. Viola always wanted to become an international correspondent, but she couldn't study journalism because her parents were so poor."
That woman turned out to be Ann, Viola's best childhood friend. My mother used to hide out at Ann's house to escape her (Viola's) drunken and abusive father. I heard of Ann from Viola but never actually met her.
And so we traveled several times – around trips to Bali, Thailand, South Korea, Oman and Qatar – to meet Ann in person. Without my journalism and without WND, this gateway to my mother's unknown past provided by Ann would never have been possible. As noted, Viola was my mentor, touchtone and spiritual leader. I told her everything. Beyond the grave, she spoke to me. This is not surprising to me. Before she fell into her coma, I had asked Viola to watch over me as another guardian angel.
"God is a good God," Viola often said. She would sometimes add, "Anthony, remember that Bible I gave you to memorize when you were so little? It says, 'Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.' But that means the pure of heart won't just see God someday. They'll see God every single day."
Viola has gone to be with her first love – Jesus Christ – the original "Army of One."
Happy Mother's Day!