When you’re a ten year old fanatical Met fan Sunday afternoons are all about baseball and nothing to do with Mother’s Day. On this particular Sunday back in 1970, myself, and my brother were glued to the Mets/Giants first game of an afternoon doubleheader. Tom Seaver, was 3-1 already in a season he would end up 25-7 as he and his teammates basked in the glow of their amazing 1969 World Championship season. But on this Mother’s Day Seaver was in a jam. The bases were loaded in the first with no Giants out. Heading to the plate were three of the best hitters in baseball (Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Jim Ray Hart. As Mays stepped into the batter’s box I heard a 1967 Ford Convertible come rumbling down the steep driveway leading to my house. A woman with all the accouterments of the “Little Old Lady from Pasedena” pounded the breaks just before nearly slamming into our garage doors. ‘Hey Gar, did you hear Grandma pull in the driveway?’ “Yeah, I’ll go out, Seaver’s getting bombed anyway.” Gary and me were blessed with two special, yet very different, grandmother’s. We went down to the car where we knew Grandma had the goods that were far more satisfying than the Mets. “Happy Mother’s Day” we shouted to the beaming white haired granny who was finding her way out of her ride. Her hands were filled with 20 dollar bills and a bag filled with our favorite Easter Peeps. In the backseat was the biggest bouquet of flowers for her only daughter. My Grandma, mother, and Gary were on our way to a very memorable Mother’s Day.
Every Sunday, in good weather, Grandma would drive over the Old Storm King Mountain Highway which overlooks the United States Military Academy at West Point enroute to our family’s home in New Paltz. My Grandmother and mom would sit at our kitchen table and have what they called their “secret mommy daughter talks”. Gary and me never discussed it but as the years passed we became familiar with some typical family dysfunctions. Our guess was that the main topic of their conversations centered around the men in their lives. Gary and me went back to my room to discover that while we were gone, my favorite baseball player of all time, Tom Terrific, struck out Mays, McCovey and Hart to end the Giants threat in the first. Oh what our heroes could do. On her usual Sunday visits Grandma would leave our house around 3:00 pm, head towards the Bear Mountain Bridge, then make a pit stop at her favorite restaurant. Her routine was consistent: two straight up Beefeater’s (gin) martinis to go along with her one two pound lobster. On this Mother’s Day in the year 1970 the plan was for our family to follow Grandma over the river and through the woods, all the way to Milton New York to encounter a dining experience at ‘The Ship’s Lantern Inn’. Our grandmother had told us all about the vibrations, the professional wait staff, the oak bar, and the fabulous food. The two mates hopped into the back of my Mother’s bomb of a Buick off to the Ship.
Before that day I hadn’t given much of a thought about Mother’s Day, or why it was given more than one look. There wasn’t a moment of my life that I ever doubted the greatness of my mom. But a full day to celebrate her doing the job that I assumed she was put on this earth to do seemed excessive. My excitement on our way to the restaurant had less to do with Mother’s Day then the idea of me having a lobster in a fancy restaurant I had heard so much about. I am less than 100% sure but I would speculate myself and my brother were dressed in some style of Sears kids suits. I had not yet heard the expression “ignorance is bliss” allowing me to present myself with adult dignity. The highlights when dining at ‘The Ship’ were plentiful for a young lad with delusions of fame and fortune. ‘Why don’t they have waitresses here?’ I whispered in my mom’s ear. My mother leaned down and lightly said “because males are better servers.” It would be years before I understood how married to “old wise tales” my mom was. Everything about my dining adventure that day was memorable; from the “table-side salad,” to all the “very good choices” George our waiter kept telling me I was making, to Grandma showing me how to crack a whole lobster, all the way to a fire lit dessert. Most of all I recall the hug my mom gave her mom when we went for our cars. Beyond the hug, the glow in my mom’s face was a painting for two boys…. a picture of Motherhood.
In the present , Mother’s day of 1970 puts a big grin on my face. That exact day didn’t start any traditions, more importantly it gave me a perspective of the way I perceived the person formally known as “Mother”. I sat in both awe and embarrassment as my grandmother dissected a two pound lobster, sucking the last minuscule of meat out of each leg. My vision will forever be etched seeing ole gramma balancing sips of her martinis between bites of her, oh so good, morsels. She handled her martini like one of her lover’s from the jazzage, sizing it up, staring it down before taking control. She caressed the rim of the stemmed class gently before pressing the rim to her lips enough to take a few nibbles. My grandmother, the so-called pampered rich girl who was only guilty of allowing her husband to piss on her dreams. Seeing opportunity in gloomy times 45 year old Winnie Vail stood tall and pursued new found dreams (college, teacher, administrator). She didn’t say much that day at the Ship’s Lantern’, her smile and her eyes displayed a proud independent woman who never expected to get to this moment. It was easy to witness the pride in her face and the smile she wore. It was even easier to see the kinda of love my mom and grandma had for each other. It was the kind of love myself and my brother grew up around. The little old lady from Peekskill always found her way home despite her intake of a wee bit of high octane. I watched her drive off in the very automobile that I would be making high school memories in seven years later.
The car ride home from our fancy dining experience was quiet. It was Gary who broke a long silence “Hey mom, I forgot to tell you Happy Mother’s Day”. Not one to be left out. ‘Yeah Happy Mother’s,’ I quickly stated before making a request. ‘Mom can you put on the Mets?’ It was normal procedure for my mom to oblige nearly any request without fanfare, or ever looking for something beyond thank you in return. ‘Why did grandpa die Mom,’ I blurted out. My mother looked perplexed, after a pause she started to speak. “Your grandfather was quite the individual, he had so much love in him….. Richie you and him are two peas from the same pod. I loved my dad more than anything in the world. He let the demons he possessed (gambling, hard drinking, smoking and women) destroy him. The lessons I was learning on this Mother’s Day 1970 were aplenty as I reflect back. That day was the first time I ventured into contemplation in regard to how fortunate I was that my mom was my mom. There is no one in this life who gave me more unconditionally. My mom didn’t say much that had to do with introspection or philosophy of life, but when she did I usually stored it away in the brain compartment marked ‘don’t forget’. “Richie always be patient and kind to others, especially those not as fortunate. But it is also important to put yourself first. It is impossible to help and love others until you understand and love yourself.”
The “oldwise tales” tells us that we marry a woman that meets the approval of our Mother. In selecting a bride I never for one second put “what kind of mother they will make” into my formula. I was looking for a tall, hot, smart, ambitious girl, never once speculating about what kind of mom they might become. I eventually chose a girl named Donna Susan Burnham, or as she will probably more correctly say, “I chose him.” While Donna had all the traits I was looking for, neither one of us were unselfish enough to even mention kids. Both, without trying, or preventing, Donna became pregnant twice without us having one conversation mentioning parenthood. Donna, the stunningly independent career woman took to motherhood like a duck takes to water. Hopefully both parents play equally important roles in raising children. That said, a daughters’s relationship with her mother is priority one or two. The greatest gift Donna gave our girls was the example of herself. All Laura and Mary Kate had to do for 18 years was watch how their mom lived her life. My two girls had the perfect role model who they ended up mimicking instead of repelling. My daughters only needed to observe the work ethic, her commitment to family, and her financial and emotional independence. On this day, Mother’s Day 2022, my two independent daughters will be doing their thing in Atlanta and New York City respectively. Myself and their mother will have a lobster tonight, sleep late tomorrow, and go our separate ways in the afternoon. There will be several times tomorrow I will take a breath and appreciate all my blessings so far in this crazy universe. There is will be plenty of thanks to go around for the women in my life who gave me everything.