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“It’s a great life as long as you don’t weaken.” — My Mother
Marge, Maggie, or Peg was my Mother. She was born today in 1911. She was the oldest of eight. She had two sisters and five brothers. They lived in a three-bedroom home without indoor plumbing on the second mountain east of Pittsburgh. Everyone thought they were rich. Her father owned a coal mine. This mine consisted of a hole in the hill, a tipple, a black man named Rufus, a pickup truck like a dump truck, and a mule. Rufus took the mule down the shaft, dug the coal and the mule pulled it up the shaft on to the tipple and dumped it into the truck. Her father delivered it to local homes and tried to collect the money. He was apparently better at the delivery part than the collection part. They were not rich. Around 1925 the mule died. My mother’s father, my Grandfather also took the job of the mule. He died within a year. They say he just wore out and died. Mom was 14.
My mom was born two years before Eleanor H. Porter wrote the novel Pollyanna. If you look in the dictionary under Pollyanna there should be a picture of my mother. She was the most optimistic, positive, happy person that may have ever lived. We used to kid that mom could cross an eight-lane interstate in the rain with a blindfold and not get hit by a car or a drop of rain. She of course became a second mother to her siblings. Each were required to save their lunch bag they took to school and walk the railroad tracks and pick up coal that fell off the hopper cars and bring it home to heat the house.
Mom went to a one-room schoolhouse for grades 1 through 8. She then went to a consolidated high school and graduated first in her class. She was also the prom queen. She looked like a movie star. From high school she went to nursing school where she also graduated first in her class. By this time the Great Depression had set in. The only job she could land was a Public Health Nurse in the worst part of town. Everyone told her not to take it but she said, “I’ll treat them like I want treated and everything will be fine.”
On her first morning, after seeing several families and having no problems other than strange looks, she was passing a boxing gym. Imagine she is in her white uniform including a big white nursing hat and she is also the only white-skinned woman for many blocks. A young man was coming out of the gym and asked her if she was trying to get killed or something. No, just trying to help, she answered. He asked for the list of people she was to see for the week. He took her that day and for the rest of the week to each address. His name was Nate and he was the toughest man on the Hill. No one gave her a bit of trouble ever. He later became a neighborhood leader and civil rights activist.
My dad was engaged to a girl named Harriet. His sister, who was a nurse, brought my mom home with the idea that she would be perfect for Dad. Neither knew her intentions. Within 15 minutes Dad called Harriet and broke off the engagement. He married Maggie married a year later. They planned to have a big family (dad was one of seven). My sister was born in ’39 and mom and dad suffered three miscarriages and a still-born in the next six years until I was born in ’45. They had two more miscarriages before my brother was born in ’49. They mourned every one of those babies.
Mom was not a feminist. She was a strong person with a wonderful mind and body that happened to be a woman. I doubt she ever gave feminism a thought. Having five brothers may have helped. All my uncles said that they couldn’t take her in a fight until they were old enough to know they should not try. All but one of the five served during the War. One was killed, another made the Air Force, spending his career flying in three wars. They all called her Marge. My dad called her Maggie, and her friends called her Peg for some reason.
In 1956 the Sisters of the Holy Ghost (now, Holy Spirit) began building a home for the aged at the end of our street. Seeing that we were all in school, my mom volunteered. She began emptying bedpans, then formed a woman’s auxiliary to raise money. They had summer fairs and fashion shows and such. She was the president of the auxiliary for many years. Later the Nuns asked her to be on the board. Mom later became the president of it for five years. The board consisted of two doctors, two judges, two of the Nuns, and her. People would ask why she was president and her answer was “why not?”
I asked her more than once what she meant by “life is great as long as you don’t weaken.” She said that I would know as I got older and don’t weaken. As my dad was dying, he asked me to take care of his beautiful Maggie, and not to let anyone take advantage of her. I told him not to worry, she wouldn’t let anyone near her to take advantage. He pleaded it will not be a stranger that takes advantage, it will be someone she loves. It ended up being her oldest druggie granddaughter that did (with her consent), who abused her mentally, physically, and financially until I caught on, had her arrested, and put in rehab.
Mom never did weaken but her mind did. At the age of 77 we began to notice things going wrong. She was diagnosed with dementia. My siblings and I hired her a companion for the day and we took turns with the nights. We tried to keep her at home as long as possible but it was impossible to hire help 24/7. When she was 84 we put her (against my wishes) in a home other than the one she volunteered at all those years. My brother and sister were blinded by the new bright and shiny place near where she lived. After a year and a couple of falls, they realized their mistake. It was left to me to pay a visit to the Nuns. There was a year wait for the dementia unit. The head Nun said they had never since 1956 moved anyone ahead on the list but there is always a first time. Bring your mom tomorrow. She earned it. They had a room for the night nun nurse to sleep in the unit. My mom didn’t get that room but another patient did. They wouldn’t tell me where the night nun slept. They were the most wonderful women. BTW the dementia wing had my mothers name on it. She never told me they named a building for her.
George the Cop was one of our neighborhood policemen who keep an eye on me as I grew up in my town of 5,000. He knew me all too well but never arrested me, just gave me a lot of guidance. My mom hadn’t lived in our home town for 20 years when she died in 1998. My siblings, the funeral director, and I agreed that at the age of 87 it would be a small funeral. We agreed to have a afternoon and evening viewing and a mass the next day. George, who by then had retired, was making a few bucks helping the funeral director with traffic control. The morning of the church service George came up to me and said that yesterday’s viewings were the largest one-day event ever in the history of the funeral home. George estimated there were over 3,000 people. The line to get in was around the block. People I had never seen nor heard of praised my mom for help she had secretly given them.
She had some other sayings. ” Be nice to people and they will be nice back” and “treat people like you would like to be treated.” To me, whenever the circumstances warranted, she would say, ” knock them dead.” And “make sure to have fun.” “Never bet that the world will end you’ll never get paid.” “Take care of your pennies; the dollars will take care of themselves.” ” You’re a good egg.” “It’s the good life that gets you.” ” Your best dreams take place while you are awake.”
Happy Birthday Mother. I love you.