It was my second try in two days to make chocolate chip cherry bread. I stood in Mom’s kitchen, kneading the dough in a bowl. Normally I’d do it on the counter, but that was covered with everything needed to prep Mom’s morphine, and cross contamination seemed like a bad idea. We didn’t need bread, and we certainly didn’t need chocolate cherry bread, but I needed something to do.
This is Mom in the navy. If you only knew Mom during her actual time as a parent, this picture probably looks odd. I mean, she’s smoking a cigarette! Even stranger: she’s wearing a dress with buttons, and probably sleeves! WHERE IS HER NORMAL UNIFORM?
But she’s also being silly, and Mom was good at silly. A song I learned from Mom:
Rattle up a tin can, Johnny shot a bear! Shot him in the poop hole- didn't touch a hair.
And of course, this classic:
Oh, the liquor was spilled on the bar room floor and the bar was closed for the night When out of the wall came a little gray mouse who sat in the pale moonlight. He lapped up the liquor on the bar room floor and back on his haunches he sat. And all through the night you could hear him roar: "BRING ON THAT DOGGONE CAT!"
Mom was in her bed in the living room, her caregiver Lita holding her hand. Since the morning, Mom was investing all of her energy into breathing. No movement, no talking. Just breathing. It was my turn to stay with her. I had a pattern. Mix some ingredients, then check on Mom. Do a little kneading, then check on Mom. Prep the fillings, then check on Mom.
That’s me on Mom’s lap.
I stopped kneading, washed my hands, and sat by Mom. All day her breathing pattern had been changing as her body tried to find the right combination of muscles to keep the air moving. Right after I sat down, her body moved to try and draw a breath, but this time it didn’t work. She didn’t struggle, gasp, or twitch; she just tried to draw a breath and couldn’t get the air to move, so she stopped. Exactly what I’d expect from Mom. Simple, practical: “That’s not working? Okay, show’s over.”
I was not quite that practical- the first thing I said was “did she just DIE?” exactly the way an offended person might say “did she just call me a WHORE?” – but a couple of hours later, with the help of my siblings, the Gattuso in me had reawakened. We were all sad, but we weren’t afraid to laugh.
Mom was not afraid to get things done, even if it meant bending the rules a bit.
She worked for twenty years at Humphreys Avenue Elementary School, 37 miles from our house in East LA. A few years in she was moved to a new classroom. The room was in desperate need of a paint job, but thanks to LAUSD’s constant budget challenges wasn’t scheduled to be painted for years. So one weekend our family went down to the school and painted it ourselves.
Teachers aren’t allowed to do that! There are union rules, and safety concerns, and specific required paint vendors, and budget issues, and equity issues, and so much more. It was easily grounds to be fired.
Mom didn’t care. The room needed paint. We knew how to paint. We painted. And when mom retired, her room was in such good shape that the staff argued over who would get to move into it.
Anyone who knew Mom would tell you that she was direct, honest, and most of all generous and kind. If you had a goal, she would support it. If you had a need, she would help you satisfy it. And she always had a hug ready for you.
Immediately after she passed, I wasn’t sure what to do. Lita was taking care of her body, Steve was taking care of the paperwork, and I had called the people who I needed to call. Then I remembered the kitchen. Mom wouldn’t have wanted that dough to go to waste. Came out pretty good.