My mother, at age 67, made a loud announcement at the wake of my beloved Aunt Katie, a devout Catholic. Mom said, "I'm going to live to be a hundred!" This was March 1992. Mom smiled and laughed as she touched my knee, and turned in her seat to look at me. We were in a room filled with my late Dad's relatives. I cringed when she said those words, partially out of embarrassment because after all, we were at a wake. But that was my Mom. Maybe she was nervous. She always joked when she was nervous. Afterall, she had said good-bye to my father, her husband, in the exact same room five years earlier in the same month of March. She carried depression for at least three years after his death. I had to give her credit for not saying, "I'm next."
She was gregarious, and free with her expressions. It took me years to grow less of a snob with her unfiltered remarks. She was honest, and turned people's heads with her words. And if a person listened closely, they heard her mirth. So much suffering in her life, and she still conjured up joy.
Mom was not raised Catholic like nearly all in the funeral parlor that day, but Protestant. She changed her 'Old Rugged Cross' faith to marry my father, and to please his Catholic family. She felt early on that she was not deemed good enough by my father's family. She was not only going to wed their eldest brother, but also his siblings surrogate-father since he was age 19. And she was not Polish-speaking. Even though she carried a deep hurt, she kept her arms opened to all.
Mom did not harbor any superstition in pronouncing a long life of 100 years that day in March 1992. But in my mind, which was threaded with Catholic school institutionalization, a thought popped up like a good dose of brainwashing: One should never tempt fate by declaring how long one might live.
Four months later in July 1992, I was at my mother's wake in the exact same room at the funeral parlor. As I stood looking in to her casket, I vowed to live my life more like my dear mother ... in her sense of freedom. She was herself, she did not impede upon others, and never let anyone impede upon her. She had strong opinions, but she was just, generous, and open-armed to many who needed anything from hugs, to clothes, to a meal. As I sit here thinking back on the gift of life she gave to me, I am glad she thought she could make it to 100. And she will, as long as a 'basic memory' of her is within me.