Ten things I wish I had one more opportunity to share with Mom...
(1) A Monopoly game. I have so many fond memories of all-night family Monopoly sessions; they went on so long, I think, because none of us was a cut-throat player, so we never overloaded houses and hotels to such a point that other players were forced out of the game. We learned that from Mom, who never had the heart for wipe any of us out, evne when she could. Okay, maybe we didn't really get into the spirit of Monopoly per se, but the delightful evenings around the tattered board were all the better because everyone got to play until we finally agreed to call it quits and go to bed...
(2) A bowl of Irish stew. Mom made the most wonderful Irish stew in the world, and she knew it was a favorite of mine. After Susan and I got married, Mom shared her recipe with us, and it's one that we cherish even today. I still remember December 5th, 2002, when I spent the day in Rome using a digital camera and a close-up lens to recapture hundreds of family photos in digital format so that I could put together a slide show... and so that I could reminisce one more time with Mom and Dad, sharing stories about the photos. Oh, the stories... Mom and Dad told us so many fascinating stories behind those photos over the years, and I remember almost all of them—and I can even hear Mom's voice recounting some of those tales as I gaze at the photos one more time. That day, Mom supervised while Dad made Irish stew for the three of us; emphysema had already taken its toll, and she could no longer stand at the stove long enough to prepare a full meal. But she was so pleased when Dad followed her instructions perfectly, serving us all steaming bowls of Irish stew that tasted just like hers...
(3) David Letterman. Mom actually discovered the quirky pleasures of Dave before I did; she began watching his daytime show on NBC and dubbed off some of his funnier bits for me, knowing that I would appreciate the offbeat humor. When Dave moved to nighttime, she would record every episode, watching the monologues and opening bits, at least, no matter who the guests were. She never had any patience for Jay Leno; she was a Dave fan through and through.
(4) A wintry night ride to look at Christmas lights. Mom and Dad loved to take me and Kim out with them for an after-dinner ride, in a time when gas was so cheap and prevalent that no one thought anything of it; it was a wonderful way for the family to spend some time together. Nothing could surpass the evening rides to look at Christmas lights; Mom didn't like the ostentatious, garish light displays, preferring the humble, tastefully done decorations. When we were kids, we couldn't understand that... but later on, I came to share her preferences.
(5) Easter Eggs. No, not the painted or decorated boiled eggs--I'm talking about those brightly-colored candy-shelled egg-shaped delights with soft marshmallow fluff inside. Mom loved them as much as I did, even though the rest of the family couldn't really understand what we saw in them. During Easter season of 2001 and 2002, Mom couldn't find the eggs in Rome; for some reason, that particular confection fell out of favor at the local stores. To make sure that she didn't miss out, I would pick up ample supplies of them here in Marietta and take them to her. I was always amazed by her self-control; she would ration them out so that her supply lasted all the way into the pre-Christmas season.
(6) Dean Martin music. Mom loved to listen to Dean Martin; I can hear her melodious voice humming and sometimes singing along to the records that we owned. She joked occasionally about being named after him--although we knew she wasn't, since she was born long before Dean Martin was a celebrity. Even so, I really think the fact that her name was Dean led her to feel a sort of affinity with him that made him a favorite of hers. We all got to meet him once, when Dean Martin, Andy Williams, and other celebrities came to Rome for a celebrity golf tournament. I got to caddy, which is where I met Dean Martin; Mom and Dad met him at a dinner that evening... a dinner I didn't get to attend, since it was for grown-ups only. I envied her, not because I really was dying to share a meal with Dean Martin, but because I thought it must be something really wonderful to meet a celebrity whose work you enjoyed so much. I remembered her joy years later, when I spent almost an hour talking to Jack Kirby; I knew then what it must have been like for Mom to spend an evening in casual conversation with her favorite singer.
(7) A Scrabble game. Mom was one of the best Scrabble players I've ever sat across a table from; she had an unerring ability to find obscure words that added up to incredible numbers of points when linked to two or three other words on the board. I won from time to time, but none of us could beat Mom very often.
(8) You Don't Say. Mom and Dad loved watching the afternoon game show when I was a kid; Dad got home from the Rome News Tribune early enough that we could all watch the show together when I came home from school. Mom would always make a point of blocking out the answer so that she would have to guess from the clues; she was good at it, but not great. Her off-target answers were always great fun for Dad and me, though.
(9) Turkey and dressing. Mom made the best dressing in the world. She gave us all her recipe, but none of us have ever managed to get it quite right--probably because, as Mom always told us, a recipe offers a general direction, not a set of perfect instructions. She could tell when she needed to change things a little bit, adding a dash more sage or decreasing the amount of milk and turkey broth or working in a few more chopped onions and a half-piece more of celery, finely sliced. I could have passed up everything else at the table on Thanksgiving and Christmas, just so long as I had that dressing.
(10) One more kitchen table conversation. Our kitchen table was the hub of the house, a central gathering point. Friends would come over for coffee; games were played there; meals were eaten there. But most of all, it's where we would all sit and talk and laugh. Mom's laugh--melodious, dancing across the room--was an unforgettable joy, and I'd give almost anything to hear it once more with my ears rather than just hearing it with my heart.