The Greatest Gift


Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my mom. The lingering scent of Chanel No. 5, a reference to Gone with the Wind, a sip of scotch and water and now baking Christmas cookies—those and a million other prompts bring her top-of-mind even though she’s been gone nearly two decades.

I think of how much she’d love her great-grandchildren. She adored our daughters for the too short number of years she knew them. She was as wonderful a grandmother as she was a mom. My niece who has a handful of years over my oldest daughter remembers her the way I do. To share memories of her with my niece is priceless. She’s a reminder that those recollections are real and not just exaggerated reminiscence of the years when I, too, had the title of daughter.

Everything I know about being a mom and a grandmother are from lessons I learned from my mom. She had a huge heart, and she shared it mightily and without condition. Maybe that’s because she was so close to her mom, my grandma Toto. Toto left her husband when my mom was very young. He hit her, once. She wasn’t going to wait and see if there was more to come. Instead, she got a job in the men’s department at Sears Roebuck & Co. on States Street in Chicago and kept it over 25 years, eventually transferring to a mall in the suburbs when she moved in with us. One day my mom and Toto went downtown to cash in some of the Sears stock she’d been accumulating. It happened to be on a day the stock split. My mom and I got new cars, my sister a down-payment for a house. And Toto still had money left. They laughed about that day all their lives. Sharing it was never in question. It’s what they did.

My mom and Toto lived together most of their lives. During the war when all the husbands and dads were gone they had a studio apartment on Hampton Court in Lincoln Park. After that, Toto went back to Sycamore to live with her mom, my great-grandma Mama, until she got ill. Then they both moved in with our family in the suburbs of Chicago.

“Room in the heart, room in the home” is a saying I grew up hearing and my family exemplified day in and day out all of my life together with them.

Sometimes I’m sad my girls didn’t get a chance to really know my mom—and my my dad whose heart was just as large. I know they’d understand me better. And I’m sure they’d have a clearer idea of what I miss so much some times, particularly around the holidays. But then they too would feel that big hole in their hearts, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

It’s bittersweet to be blessed with such wonderful family only to loose them too early. Yet, I wouldn’t give up the memories and the lessons I learned from Sycamore and Glenview for anything. Funny how life works. Their loss is indescribably painful, but everything about their lives was soothing, healing. I was blessed to be born into that family and the cousins who remain are powerful reminders of my great fortune.

I only hope I can do justice to those who filled my life with so much compassion and helped guide me into my future with such a strong moral compass. While the first to admit they were far from perfect, they were the first to offer all they had to those they loved. What more can we ask from our parents? As if that alone isn’t an incredible gift. Now as a veteran parent I understand I lucked out big time. If I can be half as missed and memorable I’ll have succeeded. Even at that measure, those are huge shoes to fill.

Maybe that’s why not a day goes by when I don’t miss my mom and dad, Toto and Mama, and all the others who loved and laughed and made the most of every day they had.

Once you get started…


it’s so much easier to be nice and not nasty. Sadly, that works both ways. Once you get started on the nasty route, it’s often too easy to stay on that and not quickly get your foot on the brake and turn yourself around.

We live in a scary, contentious world. Long before we put our condo up for sale, I wrote in marker over the closet (the first place you see when your eyes spring open) “Wake up with joy, then take it with you wherever you go.”

My granddaughter was mortified. Her very own grandmother wrote on the wall with a marker?!?! I finally completely understand the concept, “being beside one’s self.”

After convincing her it was erasable and that she should never think about doing it herself because I was the only one on the planet that owned that particular kind of marker, she slowly got back to the point of the message—but I must add this was traumatizing. It took quite awhile for her to get her head around what Grandma did before she could think about what Grandma was trying to point out.

We laugh about it now. After all, she was only a young, unknowing 6-year old then. She’s all of 7 now, she gets it, and we talk about it often because she likes to sleep w/me when she stays over. The house didn’t sell, but we had to paint the room so the message no longer exists―physically. It remains as real and concrete as I imagine an algorithm is in a techies head.

Wouldn’t it be great if some similar thought could be implanted in everyone’s thoughts when they are most vulnerable and remain as tangible? We could shake them up enough so they wouldn’t forget and keep tcait+grammahe message alive so they wouldn’t forget.

Think about it. They’d get started on the right foot. Default is “kind.” Whenever that doesn’t power up, we know to call in a technician to fix the problem immediately because we know beyond any question something’s amiss. We’re able to catch it and bring someone in to fix it right away, and we’re right back to waking up with joy.

A little naÏve? No, a LOT naÏve, but worth thinking about every now and then.