My mother Virginia McGeehan O'Farrell was born this day in 1918 in New York City. She used to say she was born on Armistice Day. My mother was the fourth of six children, born when her mother Loretta was 42 years old. She was raised on Liberty Avenue in New Rochelle, New York. A grocery store now stands where their house was located. My mother often spoke fondly of her childhood in New Rochelle. She was close with her siblings and cousins who were just like siblings. She graduated from Blessed Sacrament School and after school worked on Wall Street. She was voted "best legs" in her high school class and used to brag that, on her swim team, she had a killer "ten beat flutter." Her sister Jeanne was just eleven months younger than my mother, and they were always the best of friends. They grew up in a time of greater social formality, noting that they'd never go in to New York, or to visit a friend in the hospital, or even go out to a movie without dressing up. It was a glamorous time during their coming-of-age years in the 30s and 40s, and there are beautiful pictures of my mother and Aunt Jeanne that attest to that fact. And it was a magical time when she met my father and fell in love. The Jimmy Dorsey band played at their engagement party. My parents were married in 1942, raised seven children and moved often. With each move, we were aware that our family was its own community and that we would face new challenges together.
There are many days throughout the year when I am reminded of my mother. After she first passed away in 2002, every day was filled with nostalgic remembrances. Seven years later, there are often moments when I am touched by her memory. Some are spontaneous and unexpected; others are deliberate efforts not to forget.
In my earliest memory of my mother, I see her from across the room, her dark hair framing her face so beautifully, her big blue eyes twinkling, and a huge smile directed right at me. I must have been a very little child, perhaps even a baby, but I still remember the joy of that moment. It came back to me with my own children, and now my grandson when, before there are words, there are connections that create a life-long bond. It is one of the most vivid memories of my life.
I miss my mother today. I want to call her up and say "Happy Birthday Mom!" I want to bake her a special cake, like I do for so many people to whom I am not so nearly attached. I want to tell her my joys and hear her happiness for me. I want to tell her my troubles and hear her words, "It will be alright." I want her to know Henry and to share grandmotherly wisdom.
I see my mother's face reflected in my daughter Meghan. I hear her voice when I speak with Aunt Jeanne. I realize her challenges as I face my own, some the same but some very different. My mother was a stay-at-home Mom with a husband who loved her unabashedly. He'd cradle her face in his hands and say the most affectionate things. There was no doubt that he adored her, and she him. I don't have that permanence in my life. As a divorced woman and a single mother, my life has taken a very different route, yet I benefit from witnessing my parents' love for each other. It gives me hope that my own children will experience long-lasting and nurturing relationships like their grandparents. It is a different world but I think there's room for that in their lives. Like my mother used to say "I'll say a little prayer."
Happy Birthday Mom!
Photo: Jeannie Eddy