(originally published at www.uwritesports.com)
by Ron Sen, May 2003 (author's note, Mom passed on in January 2004)
May brings us Mother’s Day, which means thinking about Mom. Moms are special, as the sideline reporters catch the ‘Hi, Mom’ and nouveau riche athletes buy mom the dream house she never had. Even if Dad were teaching the fundamentals, everybody knows Mom was the law.
From the time a boy or girl is old enough to crawl, Mom is usually the one who rolls them the first ball. With time and practice, the little one starts to enjoy their first game with the rolling ball, the precursor to chasing some other ball on the diamond, the court, or the field. Mom probably signs them up for T-Ball and Little League, and does more than her share of driving to and from practice. Moms even earn the special moniker of ‘Soccer Moms’, a ‘focus group’ for political parties, a constituency of van-driving, referee-baiting power.
Mom always tried to make a game of everything, Spelling Bee or Math Rounds during washing the dishes before there were dishwashers, and Scrabble or cribbage to sharpen a young mind. She introduced me to medicine, too, with a book called ‘The Great Physicians’ at age 12, where I learned of Galen, and Vesalius, whose grave-robbing exploits revealed the circulatory system, and the wonders of Morton and Pasteur.
Sometimes mothers become the catcher, or the goalie, or the batting practice pitcher. I remember how Mom’s sister was the athlete, who could play ‘catch’ with ambidextrous ease. Still Mom was the one who got dinner out early, and never complained as we wolfed it down to get to practice or games on time. Mom was always my biggest fan.
Mom would make sure the uniforms were clean, and that we had spikes, or cleats, or sneakers, even when money was tight, which it always seemed to be. There was never any question about hustling on the field or on the court; it was very obvious that Mom and Dad hustled to make ends meet. When progress merited it, there were a couple of years where the ‘rents’ scraped up the dough for me to go to Sam Jones’ basketball camp. I still can’t understand how Sam could put four quarters on the back of his hand, turn it over, and catch them individually, as though he were a machine.
Mom and Dad would make the traveling appearances to watch a game when they could, ‘night games’ mostly, because they worked, and there was only one car anyway. They’d sit on hard bleachers in cold weather to watch their son pitch or hit, or try to field. They never could make it to any soccer games, but tried to go to every basketball game, even when I didn’t really want them there. They came to the “Tech Tourney” games in the Garden, and were rewarded with a photo of their son kissing the Division I North trophy along with his smiling teammates. They came to Wakefield, Winchester, and Waltham in sweltering heat to watch the Inter-City League games, and even after Dad had passed, Mom still came to watch her ‘little boy’ try not to embarrass himself as a forty-year old in the Wakefield Twi-League of twenty-somethings. She smiled a lot, even though she started to feel the pain of advancing age, just like her son the pitcher.
Mom wasn’t perfect. A meticulous housekeeper, she was a neat-freak nightmare beyond any teenager’s belief. She was a domestic tyrant. If displeased, she unleashed a stream of undeleted expletives which let you know where she stood. Those times made it easy for a son to find comfort at the ballpark, the gym, or the library, safe with teammates and books. She never had a lot of friends, and her outbursts kept those at a distance. Her Irish temper had a volatile and short fuse, and too often she sought refuge at the end of a bottle. But through it all there was a constant, a devotion to her children and their success in making it in a hostile world.
Mom no longer has the inquisitive and sometimes scolding eyes; she sees her world with an indescribable emptiness and often vacant expression. Her face is kinder now, exposed to a brave new world. Her mind and body dwindle, ravaged by Alzheimer’s Disease and cancer. Her biggest comfort comes from the further mind-numbing effects of pain medication in the nursing home, not from the visits of caring friends and family. Nobody should have to live as she does, and she deserves five words which she hears but cannot remember. So, if you can, tell your Mom “I love you” and “thank you”, while she still knows you care and she knows your name.