The date was Nov. 9, 1930. President Herbert Hoover was in office, the must-see movie was “Morocco” starring Gary Cooper and Marlene Deitrich, and ice cream was a nickel. It was also the day my Mom, Dolores, came into the world.
She was the first of six children born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Frank and Anna Riggs.
Anna was tiny, with fiery red hair and a matching sense of humor. My mother calls her one of the funniest people she has ever known, whose laughter saw the family through some extremely hard times.
“When there was no food, or no heat, which was often, she would begin telling stories by kerosene lamp. I look back and realize how strong she was with what little she had,” my mother said.
In this case, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Growing up in Brooklyn holds fond memories for Mom. Playing “potsy,” the ice man, the fish man, and when it was too hot to sleep indoors, relief could be found on the sixth floor fire escape, a magical place to sit and watch the neighbors or count the stars until it was cool enough to go inside.
That little one-bedroom apartment now sells for $1.6 million, much to my mother’s astonishment.
Some years later, the family packed up and moved to Elizabeth, a far cry from Brooklyn in those days.
“I remember seeing empty lots and highways. I wanted to go back to Brooklyn,” Mom said.
While attending Battin High School, my Mom got a part-time job at H. L. Green, a five and dime store where she had the cool job, working downstairs in the record department. Years later Mom entered a record contest, won, and heard herself on the radio in a pharmacy.
“Nobody believed it was me, especially the pharmacist,” she said.
One day my Father walked downstairs to check out my Mom before their blind date; a date that led to a 50-year marriage.
Soon after my Mom met my Dad, my grandmother Anna died at the age of 42 from cancer, leaving my 19-year-old Mom to care for herself and her four sisters.
“We had a small wedding at City Hall, I was in such grief,” she said.
The following year my sister Donna was born, and six years later my Dad’s job brought them to Nashville, Tenn., while my mother was pregnant with me.
“This was before Nashville was built up, so there I was, stuck in a house way up on top of a hill, with cows on the lawn and pigs running in the basement!” she said.
The final straw was a large poisonous snake curled up in the living room, prompting my Mom to book the next flight back to Elizabeth as my Dad stayed behind to sell the house.
A few years later, Mom got a job as the head clerk of Elizabeth General Hospital’s emergency room. She stayed there for 20 years.
“The stories I could tell you, I should write a book!” she said.
And then came the grandchildren upon retirement, and the great-grandchildren, and trying to face life without “the best man in the world, your Father.”
These days my Mom lives nearby and our days mostly consist of going food shopping and eating a slice of pizza whenever possible.
She makes us laugh with her political incorrectness (we’ll leave it at that) and her sense of humor has gotten even funnier. I often tell her that if she tweeted we would be in trouble. She cooks the best food, is a shoulder to lean on and to cry on, and she still offers the best advice, even though I may argue it at first.
I marvel at her strength, her courage and her kindness to others. She is the epitome of making lemonade out of lemons, and when I asked her if she had to do it all over again what career she would have chosen, without missing a beat she said, “show biz.”
I have heard the stories of how the room would fall silent when she sang and how she gave up a record contract to get married and raise her family and her sisters.
“I did get to meet Sinatra in New York, though; I couldn’t say a word, I could kick myself!” she said.
So on this Mother’s Day, first I would like to send a special thank you to all the beautiful moms and grandmas. You are the glue that holds it all together, the backbone of our families.
As for you, Mom, we are so blessed to still have you in our lives. We have been though the good times and Lord knows, the really, really hard times. You have given me strength, courage, patience and laughter.
You always say your family is your greatest gift, but you need to know you are also ours. And if I live to be 100, I will never make meatballs as good as yours.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.
Lisa Anderson is a Greater Media radio personality who writes occasional columns for Greater Media Newspapers. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org