“And that’s the way it is,” I say to my sister Nancy in my best “case closed” voice.
“Jeez! You sound like Mom.”
“What! No way!”
“C’mon, Mom used to say that all the time. Here’s breaking news, Ceil: You’re sounding and acting more like Mom every day.”
I rushed her off the phone feeling more than a little peeved. I couldn’t possibly be turning into Mom — or could I? An unsettling development, for sure.
I called my sister Louise and yikes! She agreed with Nancy but added that we four sisters all have some “Mom” in us. As a former nurse and health care administrator, genetically speaking, she is on the money. But the other stuff — the Momisims?
It was time for some serious soul-searching. Folks, let me set the record straight. I loved my mom, dearly. But honestly, there were things she did that drove me to distraction. Things I vowed I would never do — ever!
Before I get into her Momisims let me tell you a little about her. Mom was feisty — and ahead of her time. She had a “sharp” tongue and wit to match. She told you what was on her mind in no uncertain terms, but oh-so-politely. She wasn’t the kind to stand by the stove (like most of her Italian counterparts) and cook all day. I mean, she cooked every day, but not all day. She had a beautiful voice and sang in community theatre and her church choir.
When Dad died, Mom was set adrift on the murky waters of widowhood. After a time, she met Mr. Irv who was 16 years her junior. They enjoyed many good years together, and guess what? He predeceased her without ever knowing her age. She pulled off quite a coup, except that my siblings and our kids had to mentally subtract years from our ages. We couldn’t let the cat out of the bag; Mom could be difficult if her age came to light.
Mom went to Mass daily and her rosary beads were always in her pocket. She walked a half mile to the club house gym to exercise on the treadmill. She was obsessed with her skin care products, especially Olay creams and moisturizers. During her last days, when confined to bed, she motioned for me to come closer. With a lump in my throat and my heart beating wildly, I leaned in. She whispered: “Celia, put some Olay on my face, I want to look good when I see Daddy.” Typical Mom.
Mom was a fashionista, long before the word was coined. We sisters have inherited her “clothes horse” gene. Mom could have taught Miss Manners a thing or two, as her manners were impeccable and she demanded the same from us.
I’m not one to rewrite history or canonize those who have gone before; they were human with human frailties. I always tell it like it is, politely, of course. Mom was quite a gal but those Momisims got on my last nerve.
Mom swore I was rebellious — and she may have been right. But wait…she wouldn’t let me do the “normal” teenage things like going out with an Elvis look-alike who sported a DA haircut and wore a black leather jacket. Oh, and he rode a motorcycle. (The best part!)
I dated him anyway; however, I was spotted by the Monsignor riding astride my crush’s Harley, in my school uniform. Needless to say, it caused a big brouhaha. I was punished and couldn’t go out for what seemed like forever. When I tried to reason with Mom she said, “Celia, that’s the way it is!” Hmm. I heard that Momisim so often that I was brainwashed. I can’t help it if it slips out, sometimes.
Mom couldn’t get her six kids’ names straight. She fumbled through the names until she found the one she wanted, so I was sometimes called James. I admit to mixing up my sons’ names: “Grjef.” Greg and Jeff. They are similar, don’t you think? But, how can you confuse Celia with James?
Mom had an annoying habit of rifling through her pocketbook. No matter where we were, I would find her going through her bag. I asked what she was searching for. Same answer, different day: “Nothing, just making sure.“ Huh? Making sure of what?
Because of my job, I have taken to carry a large pocketbook to and from work. It holds everything I need and stuff I don’t need. Of late, however, I have found myself going through my bag to make sure that I had my keys and cell phone. Well, folks, that’s only because I have left my keys or cell phone at home on a couple of occasions. Not at all like Mom’s annoying habit… or could it be that I inherited the pocketbook curse? Very unsettling.
Like Mom, I too am widowed. I am seeing a wonderful gentleman who happens to be a tad younger than me. A tad — not 16 years! Mom would be considered a cougar, I’m not. To my credit, I told my gentlemen friend my age, but he has been sworn to secrecy. The threat of pain by harsh and unusual punishment is a great convincer.
Mom was addicted to worry — mostly about her kids, who by the way, are adults. When she fell off the wagon it was torture. I stopped telling her too much or waited until the crisis was over. She would get insulted when she finally got the short version of the story.
My kids tell me everything: Sometimes good, sometimes not so good. When No. 1 son’s house was burglarized recently, I was so enraged that I wanted to fly out to California immediately. My son nixed that idea fast, leaving me to worry ad naseum. He admonished: “Mom you gotta stop worrying about me. I’m a grown man!” Ha! You and I know he is still my little boy.
I was in CVS a month or so ago, and tried this Olay product that Mom swore by. An admitted skin-care junkie, I fall for all that anti-aging hype that’s on the market. It’s kind of embarrassing, really. But this Olay stuff is pretty good — in fact better than good. I think I will stay with it.
I started this column with the idea of debunking the crazy idea that I’m like Mom, but I think my sisters may have something there. Who knew that everything that irritated me about Mom would come full circle?
Funny, if I listen carefully, I could almost hear Mom chuckle, “Now, Celia, I wasn’t so bad. In your heart, you know I did my best through the joys, shattering sorrows and everything in-between. You are a lot like me, whether you like it or not — with one exception: I do not approve of you wearing red nail polish, it looks trashy.“
“Mom, get out of my head” I whispered. “I’m old enough to wear red polish.”
Seeing my mirrored reflection while removing my red nail polish, I blinked back tears. I knew I saw that face before. It was part of Mom that I’d sworn I’d never become. I cannot begin to fathom how this scary metamorphosis occurred. Whatever! It’s official, folks: I have turned into my mother.
And that’s the way it is.
Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in ‘retirement’ — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.
Write to Ceil:
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