I was leaving the restroom at La Guardia airport.  Looking straight ahead, I noticed a woman walking toward me.  At first glance she looked familiar, on second glance, I froze in my tracks.   

As the woman continued to walk toward me, I met her gaze and saw the confusion that crossed her features.  The woman was a dead-ringer (no pun intended) for my mom, who has been dead for over a decade.  Then it hit me:  I was looking at a mirror image of myself. Astounded, I realized I looked like my mom.  

I told my travel companion about my encounter with Mom’s ghost.  He laughed and said, “That’s a good thing, no?”  Still in shock, I answered.  “Hmm.  I may look like her but am I like her?” I had five hours of flight time to mull that  over.  

Mom was devoted to her family; yet, we had a complicated relationship.  Did we love each other?  Absolutely.  Did she direct my choices?  Absolutely—but not in the way one would think.

Mom was classy, feisty, a clean freak and  had direct communication with the Virgin Mary.  She was a fashionista decades before the word was in vogue. My sisters and I were  dressed like “little ladies” — patent leather Mary-Janes and white ankle socks. Imagine Mom’s  shock to see women today parading around in ripped jeans? 

In her world view, one never wore red nail polish.  It looked tacky. Never white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day.  Girdles were a must — even though Mom weighed 120 pounds. 

The oldest of six children, I was Mom’s “rebellious” child.  I didn’t follow the rules.  (Nothing much has changed.) Her favorite line was: “Celia, you should know better and set the example.”

I suppose she had a reason.  I was caught smoking by Mother Cecil in the girls bathroom.  Our priest snitched on me for riding on the back of Frankie C’s bicycle in my  school uniform.  And the biggie:  I rode on the back of a horse down my residential street into my driveway.  My mom became hysterical and said, “You will be ruined.”   I had no idea what she was upset about. 

Mom went to Mass every morning and always had her rosary handy.  This was especially true when we took the ferry from Staten Island to Brooklyn to visit relatives.  The rocking motion that I loved caused her to fret about me and my siblings falling overboard.  

After Dad died, she dated  Mr. Irv, who was 16 years her junior.  Why she worried about the age difference was difficult for me to comprehend.  I would point out that being a Cougar was a good thing.  

It became problematic when Mr. Irv attended family gatherings.  We had to subtract from our own ages to fit Mom’s narrative.  Mr. Irv died never knowing the truth.  

Mom lived well into her 90s. She walked a mile to the gym in her community, rode the exercise bike, then walked back home.  She was also a health aficionado.  It came as  a shock to me when my friend offered me a cold Coca-Cola.  I thought you could only get a Coke in the candy store!  

Nowadays, I  am still rebellious.  I cannot sit silent when rules are broken by our politicians who should know better.  I am prone to adventure. But I have to come clean.  I am more like Mom than  I thought possible—similar but not the same.

I too love fashion, but wear jeans often.  However, they are not ripped.  I love my family and fly often to visit.  I am devoted to my church and church family.  Although I don’t carry rosary beads, I do pray on my daily beach walks. Yoga and the gym are an integral part of my life.

I am  fiercely protective of my sons, Gregory and Jeffery.  I didn’t sleep much when they were teenagers.  If I heard an ambulance or police siren, It had to be a dreadful accident that involved my sons.  My husband would try to be the voice of reason:  “If something happened, we would be the first to know.  Now go to sleep.” (Sleep?  I never quite got that statement.) 

I understand Mom more now that I am a woman of a certain age.  I know her vulnerabilities, understand her fears and heartaches.  I now  grasp how she championed her children when they faced difficulties.

Last November was a big birthday for me.  I reluctantly gave in to the party idea at the expense of sharing my age.  My sons gave beautiful tributes in my honor.  I was so moved that tears were pouring down my face ruining my perfect makeup.    My daughter-in-law Cassandra’s words unleashed a fresh torrent of tears. At one point, I wondered who they were talking about.  

Ah, ha!  It was me.  A few telltale words from my sons:  Greg called me “the Celianator” and Jeff called me “Captain Obvious.”  Cringe-worthy was  that Greg and Jeff divulged that they were adept at ducking the “guilt balls” I threw from New York to California. 

Yup, I was a perfectly imperfect mom as was my mom. No matter how much I   rebelled,  I am my mother’s daughter.  I only wish she had lived long enough for me to tell her. However, my faith tells me she knows. 

A little aside:  I don’t wear red nail polish. I did try it, but it looked a tad tacky.

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Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in 'retirement' — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.