Of Dandelions and Moms

Four to nothing.

That's the way my mom used to say "for nothing" in her broken English. And it was always followed by a smack across the back of my head when I, in flawless wise-guy style, would ask her who was winning the game. And I didn't stop there. She would often ask guests to get "coffee table" in the living room when entertaining and my response was "hey, ma, but we need the coffee table!" Another smack across the head.

My mom died in the mid 80s from the complications of Alzheimer's. I was the only one of the family to see her a few minutes after she passed, next to her hospital bed where she was being treated for a broken hip from a disease-related fall. Pneumonia got the better of her eventually, like it often does with victims of Alzheimer's.

We really didn't know exactly how old mom was, since in Greece they had a very different way of recording dates back in the 20s, but we figured she was in her mid 60s when she passed. Alzheimer's started claiming her memory when she was in her late 50s. Early onset, they said. A very slow death, I thought.

Alzheimer's and all, mom had her lucid moments, sometimes regaling us with stories from her childhood and even some rarer moments when she tried mightily to recognize the family she so loved and nurtured when she was well.

And did she ever nurture.

My brother and I went to a Greek American private school in the South Bronx for 8 years before we went on to college. Sounds OK, right, except for the fact that we lived in Astoria, Queens. Two hours on a school bus each way. And mom would be there, in the kitchen, each morning at 5 AM or earlier, making us breakfast before we had to venture out. And there was no arguing on what was on the menu. Well, my brother tried once but got a raw egg broken over his head for the effort. Everyone stayed away from him that day.

After breakfast she would grab our schoolbags, load them into one of those shopping carts people don't use anymore when they go shopping, and walk the 5-minute or so walk from the apartment building we lived in to the front of the project development for the bus to pick us up. Rain or shine, snow or slush, heat or cold, till eighth grade, mom would walk us there so we wouldn't have to lug our schoolbags to the stop. And every afternoon, there she was again, to pick us up.

And when mom was home (dad was the bread-winner, a barber in Manhattan), she cooked, and cooked, and cooked. I would come home to bags of curdling milk hanging from the ceiling, soon to be transformed into yogurt so she can mix it with rice for a fortified meal. And then there were dandelion nights from fresh dandelion weeds she picked weekly at Astoria Park. Yummy with olive oil, garlic, and lemon drizzled over them.

When she wasn't cooking, mom was making all of our clothes. A seamstress by trade, she never lost her skills and whipped out pants and jackets for us with the best of any Fashion District tradesman.

To my mom (who is up there with Dad probably huddled over a bowl of dandelions) and to every mom whose unconditional love stays with us for a lifetime, a very happy mother's day.