A Mom Ramble

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:
Andy & Mom (in her proper uniform) making fun of me & Katherine. Also pictured: Blue Eye the dog.

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.

Bye, Mom.


  1. One more thing:
    This story may make you think I did all the heavy lifting caring for Mom, and that is absolutely not true. My amazing siblings- Andrea, Mike, Steve, and Andy- all did at least as much as I did to care for Mom. We worked as a family to help Mom, because Mom always worked to help all of us.

  2. There, now you did it. A cry and a laugh. I hope those bald eagles Tom saw out front on Friday really were Mom & Dad’s spirit animals, however unlikely that is! Beautifully done, Luke–thank you for all you did for her and thank you for this.

  3. Dear Gattuso Family,

    This is a wonderful celebration of an extraordinary woman. I didn’t know her well, but I recognized her quality through her marriage and her children. We are so glad you are all able to laugh through your tears. We are certain she is pleased.

    With great fondness,

    The Supancic Family

  4. Death sucks, but the good thing is that y’all got to be with her at the end, she had her kids near her, and that’s kind of important. I wish it could have been that way with my mom. You’re a good son, Luke.

  5. There’re not enough words in the English language to express the generosity and kindness of Charlotte. A
    giant of a human being, a kindred spirit to me, warm, loving and kind to all.

  6. Dear Luke, my sincerest condolences to you and your family. Your mom sounds like she was a, special, extraordinary woman. I am sorry I never got to meet her. Sending you my love and a big virtual hug that hopefully I will be able to give you in person sooner than later.

  7. Oh, Luke—What a gift!…a gift she was to you and your family— and a gift you have with words. What a beautiful tribute to your mother.
    Please, take care,

  8. Luke, such a moving tribute. I have never met your mom but with your pictures and words I feel like I know her a little. I am so very sorry for your loss.

  9. Luke, I wish I had known your mom better. She was a wonderful presence at your wedding, greeting everyone in her muu-muu. Thank you for showing us more about her.

  10. I met Charlotte in 1986 when I joined Humphreys Ave. staff. Her first words to me? “Where did you learn to speak Spanish?” I worked with her teaching 1st grade, until she retired, thankful for her help and generosity. We exchanged Christmas cards for years, and I loved her humorous writing about “Grandma”. She was a well loved teacher. Hugs to the Gattuso family.

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