This is what I wrote for my mom’s celebration on Tuesday:
Fearless, positive, brilliant and with a smile and laugh that could melt hearts, my mom was a woman that so many admired … most of all, we, her family.
Like her mother before her, Mom was a very modern woman for her era. Without a college degree and under a bit of a family cloud, Mom pulled up her bootstraps and embarked on a journalism career to support the family when she was in her mid-30s.
After several years as a reporter with the Middletown Journal, Mom spent the next 25 years with the Cincinnati Enquirer, where she became the newspaper’s first female bureau chief, covering Middletown and Butler County. She received many awards for her writing, was named to the Who’s Who of American Women and became president of both the Ohio State Women’s Newspaper Association and Ohio Professional Writers. To top that off, she was named an Ohio Buckeye Colonel and received commendations from the Ohio House of Representatives.
A writer, actor, painter, model … she was an incredibly gifted woman. And what a life she led.
Brother Scott reminded me the other day about the back seat of her car. While she always dressed in beautiful dresses, suits and heels for the job, she kept a pair of old boots in the back seat in case she needed to trod through fields to cover fires or train wrecks.
That back seat sure told a story.
It was strewn with notebooks, tape recorders and cameras.
Her purse was another story … it was more like a mini-suitcase… full of all the things she might need on the beat.
Admittedly, when I was younger, I didn’t really admire her so much. I was a kid that didn’t understand why she was working all the time while all the other moms were at home. I also didn’t particularly like it when she shared every silly thing we ever did in her column for the Enquirer … like when I won the Miss Ugly contest at girl scout camp or when Scott’s football team dressed in, well … dresses for Halloween … still don’t know what that was all about but it was in the paper. I know because I have the clippings to prove it.
I would go to school each day and I’d hear comments about mom and her latest article … all good comments, but I just didn’t appreciate it at the time. I wanted her to be a “typical” mom in the PTA or something.
As an adult, that opinion of my mom sure did change.
I began to realize what an extraordinary woman she was, balancing a career to support the family and making time to make sure each of us felt special. While she worked like crazy all week, she’d come home for an hour to feed us before she left to go back to work. The Enquirer was a morning paper, so her deadline ended around 10:30 p.m. My own kids still tease me because of how quickly I devour meals … but I think it stems from those days when mom rushed us to finish our meal so she could get back to work.
When working, life was frenzied for us all. When she was off, life slowed down and lasting memories were made.
Saturdays were always set aside for family. I am forever grateful that she made a point of enriching our lives with trips to the library, where she insisted we pick out books to read and she encouraged me to pick out musical albums to listen to at home. Her particular favorites were Man of La Mancha and Camelot. In fact, there were statues of Don Quixote all around the house … she kept gluing the skinny, broken legs on one poor old wooden Don Quixote that was a centerpiece of her life.
If it was a rainy Saturday, you can be sure she and I were watching musicals. For someone who worked with words and loved music, it was astonishing, though, that she couldn’t remember a lyric if she tried. Scott and I teased her mercilessly over that.
She often took us roller skating on Saturday mornings and she enrolled me in art classes and creative writing classes. She taught us how to play chess. She supported Scott in every musical endeavor, from learning to play the guitar on his own, even though she offered him lessons, to forming his first band … she even supported him when she was worried that his choice of songs might not be appropriate for Middletown’s 4th of July festivities during the height of the Cold War! He sang “Back in the U.S.S.R. ”
Saturday evenings were given over to steak night with shows like Emergency and the Love Boat on TV. On many occasions, we would head to Dillman’s so mom, with her wanderlust heart, could pick out exotic fare to fix for dinner … foods like … egg rolls. Yeah, back in the 70s, egg rolls were exotic. She loved the spicy wasabi mustard that made the tears stream down her face as she laughed at the ridiculousness of enjoying the pain of it so much.
And then … one day … she discovered the wok and tempura batter … she’d batter and fry up anything she could get her hands on. Personally, I loved it … but Dad and Scott had a VERY different opinion. Die hard meat and potatoes kinda guys, they rebelled every. single. time.
Each of us has different memories of mom, but she and I bonded over books, musicals, collecting fossils and sea glass, all things spiritual, gardening and … did I say movies? We had so much fun quoting lines from Steel Magnolias and Coal Miner’s Daughter, quotes like “Doolittle, quit growlin’ like an old bar,” from Loretta Lynn.
I also believe we were the first on the block to have two televisions. My dad, the die-hard sports fan, was always downstairs watching a game or a tournament, and mom was upstairs watching old movies and musicals … I would travel between the two TVs and the different offerings, loving both sports and film.
Each year, we’d spend several weeks up at Lakeside on Lake Erie. My absolute favorite memories reside there. Fishing on the rocks with my family. Heading to the lighthouse … she always dreamed of living in a lighthouse and I now share that love of hers. I remember sunbathing with mom on the dock as the pavilion clock tower tolled each slow, summer hour … life slowed down and it was dreamy. She was a voracious reader and loved to make things beautiful … she gardened and always had some project going on to make our house on Aberdeen Drive or the cottage at Lake Erie more beautiful.
I also appreciate that she would drop everything when needed. I suffered … still do … from migraines, and she would rush home from work at any hour of the day to rub my head or big toe to relieve the pain — something she learned during an interview with some guy about acupressure back in the day. She wanted to try it out and, yes, it worked. I still long for her to be here to rub my big toe when I have a headache.
As I’ve mentioned already, she and I shared a love of musicals. After seeing the Sound of Music at the drive-in theater in the early 70s, I decided I wanted to take singing lessons and become Julie Andrews. We didn’t have a lot of money, but she made sure to provide those lessons for me every week for the next decade. She never missed a recital and always tried to attend each of my performances at school. I still have recordings she made of me singing at recitals and my graduation.
Mom was strong. I mean, physically, she was strong. I don’t know if it was because she had brothers or it was simply her competitiveness that made her like Hercules, but she could beat me every time in arm wrestling, even though I had a good 5 inches on her.
It reminds me that she could really relate to the Unsinkable Molly Brown, and lived by the motto: “I’m not down yet.”
On the job, I was always amazed how she would do anything to get the story. Several former colleagues have commented this week on how competitive she was. She proved that time and again by how she would set out to conquer anything that terrified her if it meant getting good copy for the paper.
For example, mom had a fear of heights. While that fear prevented her from jumping on a roller coaster with her family at King’s Island, she walked up the darn thing on press day when King’s Island first opened. She flew on fighter jets and chased tornadoes during the 1974 Xenia tornado outbreak. I mean, she was fearless when it came to the job. Such a dichotomy.
And she was tenacious. A perfect example is the story of Ed Asner. Ed Asner is the actor who played Lou Grant on the Mary Tyler Moore Show (which is another irony since mom always reminded me so much of Mary Richards in that show). Anyway, her brother, my Uncle Ed, was Ed Asner’s college roommate and friend. One year, mom decided she was going to get Ed Asner to speak at her Ohio Newspaper Woman’s Association convention. She pestered Uncle Ed to ask him to speak… something he was none too keen to do. She persisted … and persisted. Uncle Ed finally gave up trying to dissuade her and Ed Asner spoke at the convention. Mom was giddy as a schoolgirl.
One of my favorite Facebook comments this week about my mom was from Karen Garloch, who said, and I quote: “Irene was my first newspaper nemesis. When I started covering City Hall for the Middletown Journal, she was covering Middletown City Hall for the Cincinnati Enquirer. She beat me on so many stories. But she was so nice about it!”
I think that was her strength as a journalist. Her fairness, her kindness and her integrity enabled her to get the story. People trusted that she would report accurately so they didn’t fear telling her what was going on. That’s the gift of a true journalist and she was among the best of the best. I was so moved to see the comments from those who knew her in the day this week on Facebook, and I know she would have been so pleased.
The other characteristic that blew me away was her ability to befriend people. She’d visit me and my family in Paris or Korea when we lived there. She’d debark from the plane and introduce us to her brand new BFF that she’d met on the flight. She did that all the time! She made friends everywhere.
One thing my brother Scott wanted mentioned today was that Mom was one of the few women who could really pull off cat-eye sunglasses. Shoot, she could wear anything and make it look good. As my dad used to say over and over … just look at her … look how beautiful she is. And she was.
Honestly, I can’t look at Scott without thinking of Mom … their bond was so very special. She just lit up whenever he was around and she was his number one fan. Same thing with Mike, Debby and the boys, Tim, David, Tom. She loved us all and taught me to pray every night: God bless daddymommytimdavidmichaeltommydebbypammy and scotty… help make pammy a good girl and scotty a good boy.
She loved her family and especially loved the holidays when we would all get together. There was always much excitement in the house before my older siblings arrived for Thanksgiving or Christmas… and mom thrived on that excitement. So did we.
After my dad passed away, Mom married General Jim, as we affectionately called him. She was so proud of him and were we so lucky to have him in our lives. My own family and I stayed at Mom and Jim’s for several weeks every summer when we lived overseas. Those weeks were wonderful, spending time with them, sharing meals … Mom getting the kids involved in her projects and enjoying 4th of July parades, of which Jim was a key figure, riding in his jeep. They were idyllic summers, and I know my kids treasure those memories.
Mom weathered the storms with grace and the knowledge that it would always get better. She really was Pollyanna with rose-colored glasses and she always knew things would get better no matter what. Knowing how positive she always was made her last days in the grips of Alzheimer’s all the more brutal for those who knew her well.
Her smile and laughter were contagious and she could brighten any room. People truly loved and adored her.
As I drove up on Thursday, heartbroken and a little bit lost at the idea of a world without my mom in it, a vision came to me.
I was a very fearful child. For whatever reason, I could not go to sleep each night until she came home around 11 p.m. Dad would put us to bed around 8 or 9 and I would creep from my bed to the top of the stairs and sit there for several hours until the moment I heard the garage door open and I knew she was home safe and sound. It was only then that I could go back to bed and to sleep.
As I was driving up on Thursday, I envisioned my mom sitting at the top of the stairs of heaven, waiting for the day that I would come home … safe and sound. It was a beautiful thought that gave me a little bit of peace on a sad, difficult day.
We love you, Momma. You had a way of saying each of our names that cannot be duplicated, the only one who called me Pamela.
Rest easy now … you were a good mom … a wonderful, doting Nonnie to your grandchildren … and just a really, really lovely person. We were all so very lucky to have had you in our lives.
I love you, Mom.