Mom’s Eulogy

Carolyn Mary’s full celebration can be watched here:

At first, when I sat to write this, I had just a bunch of random thoughts in my head. Memories and funny stories, things my mother had told me. It all seemed like a hodge-podge of various quotes and stories, and then it dawned on me—I could compartmentalize these items into the two things that encapsulated my mother—

LOVE & LAUGHTER I’ll start with love first.

My mother frequently told us she was raised in the perfect family. She’d say, “I know it’s hard to believe, but really, it was exactly like you’d want a home to be.” Her father ran a barbershop in the front room of their house. There were many stories of how simply they lived. Like my grandmother would wait until grandpa had finished a few cuts for the day, so she would know how much she could buy for dinner. Then walking to the local butcher shop with the few dollars to buy their dinner meat.

My mother also said she was a bit of a tomboy. I wish she were here to tell it because this “tomboy” nature was not evident in the mom that I knew, but it turns out she enjoyed a bit of baseball, claiming she played better than the boys, and sometimes they didn’t want to let her play.

Lately, I’ve taken to chatting with her cousin Roni. She gave me this picture of my grandfather’s barbershop from the days before my mother was even born. The gentleman at the forefront would have been my mother’s grandfather, Frank Bennetto, and the young man in the back is her uncle, Roni’s father, Alexander Bennetto. If this was taken in 1907, my grandmother, Elizabeth (Bennetto) Larriccia, would have been two years old.

Roni tells me that behind the curtain in the back is where the magic happened. There stood the kitchen and the dining room with a massive table.

It’s where family meals were prepared and where all were welcome. She tells me it was a tiny house, especially compared to today’s standards, but there was always room for one more around the massive dining room table. She says that when my great grandmother would prepare ravioli for the family, she would need to carry sheet pans upstairs, laying them upon all the beds to “rest” so she could make the rest of the meal.

Roni also tells me it was her happy place too. She speaks of the love held in that house with such fondness. I spent my first year or so of life there, and although I don’t remember much of it, I will never forget the love and kindness—the depth of it—that exuded from both my grandmother and my mother.

My mother was my champion and my soft place to land—always. She had this way of both being there with me in my sadness but also helping to lift me up. She told me many times that I was very smart. One of the favorites was, “Renee, you are so smart you could even be an executive secretary.” That was the height of professional success for women in her generation—to assist the man who made it to the top.

She also frequently told me that all I have accomplished, I did on my own. She said it with words of praise, knowing she could afford to do little to help me financially, and my education surpassed hers. I used to take these words in, knowing the truth of the matter, but the reality is those words are not true. Not at all.

All that I am, all that I do, all that I have accomplished is because she loved me. Not only did she tell me I was smart, but she told me I was loving, kind, talented—that I could accomplish whatever I wanted. That I deserved the best, and she appreciated me. That even if the world was unkind, there was a Savior that is always there for me. We prayed together and shared our faith. We supported each other—she is the reason for my success. She made me what I am.

She indeed was amazing. Not once through this did I see her cry or even whine about her circumstance. Granted, she had lots to say about her care and other life circumstances. Never was she silent about that, but she never had self-pity around her cancer. She knew God was with her, and it would all be okay. She told me she was praying that God heal her, or He takes her quickly. He honored her prayer, and she suffered little.

Okay, now off to the fun. My mother made me promise that we would all laugh at this celebration and I have got some good ones for you. Every family gathering included something to laugh about, and usually, this was because Ma messed up a word, and mom did this right up until the end.

As an example, we are all in a Zoom chat, the whole family, while she is in the hospital, and she tells us that she had a CANOLA virus test. I think she probably said it a couple of times before one of the kids said, “GRANDMA, IT’S NOT CANOLA. IT’S CORONA—LIKE THE MEXICAN BEER.” Her response, “The damn thing is from China. Not Mexico.” LOL!

A favorite was she’d offer you TOBACCO SAUCE—to which she really meant—yes, TABASCO.

How many remember the Zepher dinner train that ran out of Stillwater? One spring, my mother asked me if I would bring her on it for Mother’s Day. The problem is, when she asked me about it, she suggested I bring her on  “THE HEIFER.” ALL ABROARD!

This one is from a while ago, but bear with me—it’s one of the good ones. I took my mom to lunch, and we were driving along. She turned to me and asked, “Renee, what is a tripod?”

I am completely taken aback by this—TRIPOD? Why in the world would my mother need to know what a TRIPOD is? Before I answered her, I asked, “Why do you want to know?” My mother responded, “I heard about them on the news.”

This comment left me even more confused, and I figured if I asked her more about this, I probably wouldn’t get a better understanding, so I decided to answer her question. “Mom, a tripod is a three-legged stand. It could be an easel for a picture, as an example. But customarily, a tripod is used as a stand for a camera. That’s a tripod.”

Her response, “Why would the kids want that for Christmas?” Oh yes, she meant an iPod! I still wonder what that holiday season would have been like if my mother had gotten each of the grandkids a TRIPOD.

My mother used to travel with me in the summer months to the resort locations I would be teaching classes. She’d care of the kids during the day, swimming and vacationing, while I worked, and we could all enjoy the evenings together.

On one trip, my mother and I were driving along. Me in the driver’s seat, her in the co-pilot chair, as usual. We were trailing a minivan with a bumper sticker with Tweetie Bird, and in Tweetie Bird writing, it said:

My mother turned to me and asked, “I wonder what language that is?” I froze—laughing inside, yet unsure how to respond. If I burst out, as I wanted to, it would hurt her feelings, and if I told her what was evident to me, that would hurt her too. So, I mustered up as much composure as I could and said, “Maybe it’s Finnish.” Her reply, “Maybe you’re right.”

I have worked from home for most of my career, and it was always a challenge to get people to understand that even though I was home, I am still working. One afternoon, my mother called, and when I answered, she said, “Oh good, my phone is working.” I said, “Seems so—I gotta go.”

She knew I was mostly kidding, but she was also aware I was trying to get things done. She quickly said, “Would you please do me a small favor? I have been trying to call on my microwave warranty, and each time I do, the line is busy. Would you call them and see if you can get through?”

Although a nuisance, it was a minor request. It would take just a few minutes and would put my mother’s mind at ease, so I say, “Sure, give me the number.” She proceeds to give me the digits. About six numbers in, I begin to recognize this number. At the eighth digit, I finish the final two. She says, “How did you know that?” I said, “Mom, that’s your number.”

We both bust out laughing. She says, “No surprise it was busy.” We laugh about it for a while, and then I finally say, “Mom, I have to know—were you hitting redial all morning, or did you keep putting this same number in multiple times.” Her response, “I’m not telling.”

I am laughing right now, remembering all the fun we had, but now those giggles have turned to tears. Gosh darn, I miss her so much.

I want to end our chat with one final story. I want you to know why words to I’LL BE SEEING YOU are on the last page of the handout.

Eight days after my mother died, I posted something on FB about how I missed her, and in it, I asked her to reach out to me. A few hours later, I was sitting in the salon parking lot. I’d been to this same salon the morning just before my mom’s death, and they’d messed up my eyebrows.

As I waited in the lot, a dear friend texted me with a link to BILLIE HOLIDAY, I’LL BE SEEING YOU. Her words in the text stated, “This song keeps coming up in my playlist, and when I hear it, I think of you and your mom.” I listened to it, cried in my car, and then was called in for my appointment.

I showed the tech my crazy eyebrows, explained what I wanted to be done, then laid down for the work. As soon as I closed my eyes, this same version of this song began to play. I felt like my mom was with me in that room, and it comforts me when I miss her.

A couple of things worth noting—this version of the song—there are many versions. Even Billie Holiday has another recorded version from the 1950s live at Madison Square garden. But this version that I heard minutes apart on this particular day was produced in 1944—a year after my mother’s birth. I imagine she heard it often as a child. Also, the strong piano in this version, in the beginning, makes me imagine her brother playing it when they were kids—and the saxophone, well, that’s what mom played.

I have no idea if any of that is true. I wish I could ask her, but I do know that every word in this comforts me that mom is with us—always—in all the old familiar places.

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