A MOTHER'S LOVE…
I cannot even begin to explain to you how much I hated that dirty, filthy apartment! As long as I live, I will ever forget the smells...or the cracked plaster and peeling paint in those horrid halls or the dark staircase that led up from the dirty street.
The walls were as thin as paper. That’s how I knew she was crying at night. It broke my heart. I was just a young boy…what could I say? What could I do? Nothing!
My father left us when I was two years old...before I really even knew who he was. My mother wouldn’t talk about him much but what she did tell me was that he lived well. He had a big house in the suburbs and drove an expensive car. To be honest with you, I don’t remember that much about him. It may be intentional...I don’t know, but what I do recall is not very good.
I remember him being an impatient man...one who waited for very little. He took a lot and gave back less than nothing. With him gone, and no support coming in, my mother and I had to live in a pretty bad neighborhood.
She collected welfare and worked two jobs, cleaning other people’s houses. But it never seemed to be enough. She had to work miracles every month to make ends meet. There was never anything left over. She worried about getting caught making money under the table, fearing they’d take away our food stamps. Or something worse.
I first heard the music in 1964 when I was 10 years old...
Oh, yeah, I'll tell you something I think you'll understand When I say that something I wanna hold your hand
It was playing on a radio, blaring from an open window of a neighbor’s apartment somewhere on a floor above us. It was the single most amazing sound I’d ever heard! I was hooked by the time the chorus came around...
And when I touch you, I feel happy inside
It's such a feeling that, my love
I can't hide
I cant hide
I cant hide
I just could not get enough of The Fab Four! I remember sitting by my window, waiting patiently...hoping that for whomever owned that radio, they would turn it on again.
When I went to bed at night, before I’d fall asleep, I’d get down on my knees and say my prayers. I’d talk out loud to God. I’d say...
“Oh, what I would do for a transistor radio of my own!”
Now I would never have known it...you see, young boys are oblivious to such things, but my mother must have seen the look on my face every time the music came on. And she no doubt could hear my prayers through those paper-thin walls. But she never said a word.
She always taught me I must be satisfied with how God answered my prayers. But I wasn't! I just could not understand why God didn’t want me to have a radio of my own.
I was a good boy.
I went to church.
I did what I was told to do.
Was he just too busy to listen to the prayers of a poor kid from the projects? It didn’t stop me from asking each night.
But like my mother always told me...
God works in mysterious ways!
I was in for a surprise. It came about two weeks or so later, when I came home from school.
I got about halfway up the six flights of steps to our apartment when I could faintly hear the music again...
I give her all my love
That’s all I do
And if you saw my love
You’d love her too
I started running...taking two steps at a time, hoping the song would last long enough for me to make out more of the words. I unlocked our door, dropped my books and lunch box on the couch and ran right to my room. I opened the window and sat down on the edge of my bed to listen.
I will admit now that I didn’t even see my surprise until the song was over…not until I stood up to go to the bathroom. And there it was…right on top of my dresser beside my baseball glove!
A small, used red transistor radio was sitting right there for the whole world to see! I remember picking it up and holding it in my hands…in awe and not understanding at first why it was there.
Still holding it in my hand, I ran out of my room calling for my mother. I found her sitting at the kitchen table, reading a magazine and drinking a cup of tea.
“Mom,” I asked curiously. “Is this mine? Where did it come from? Where did you get the money?”
“I had a little saved,” she said. “And God told me you wanted one. Now why didn’t you just come to me and ask?”
That’s when I noticed the small bandage taped to the inside of her forearm, just below her elbow…a small, bright red dot in the middle of the white gauze. I didn’t know what to say. All I knew was that I was going to start crying.
You see, I saw the bandage on her arm, and I knew exactly what it meant. I knew she’d sold her blood to the Red Cross to get the money for my radio. She wouldn’t admit that to me…but I knew.
“Now I don’t want you listening to that thing all the time,” she said. “I want you to study and do your homework. Your education is everything...so much more than any music! Don’t ever forget that. Now tell me...are you hungry?”
She opened the refrigerator and took out a casserole dish of cold rigatoni along with what was left of the sausage from Sunday dinner…
“I want you to get a good education,” she said, lighting the stove to heat the pasta. “I want you to graduate from high school and go to college. I don't want you to ever have to live like this again. Do you understand me?”
Yes, I did. I understood everything she was saying.
Now my mother wasn’t really the hugging type. She used to be, but something about marrying and living with the man who was my father had taken that from her…it damaged her somehow. But not me!
I was a hugger! I was a toucher. I still am. I loved to touch her…to feel her soft, smooth, warm skin. I put my hand on top of hers while we sat at the table...
“I love you Mamma,” I said to her. "I love you to the moon and back!"
"I love you too," she answered. "I love you ten times ten!"
She poured me the last of the milk and sat the bottle outside the door for Mr. Mosteller to take the next day. He was the milk man. I finished the rigatoni and drank the rest of my milk...
“Go and enjoy your radio already,” she said, picking up my plate and glass and taking them to the sink. “Then get busy with your homework.”
I saw my father twice a year…for an hour on Christmas and another on my birthday...that's if he remembered or had the time. Whenever he wanted to make me feel bad about myself, he would say something like...
“You sure are your mother’s boy!"
"You are just like her.”
But what he never knew was just how proud that made me feel. My mother was a good and noble thing to be a part of. He could just go to hell for all I cared.
The next night, after we’d eaten dinner, I turned on the radio and put it on the ledge right by the window. She took the two kitchen chairs and put them out on the fire escape balcony. She winked at me and motioned for me to join her out there.
Together we listened to Roll Over Beethoven. The sun was going down and the elevated train was going by...shaking the fire escape and drowning out the music for a few short moments.
As we watched the sun set, I could hear her singing along with Paul and John, George and Ringo...and me! It was a good night. It was one of many good nights I remember with her…
one of the many blessings of my life.
I must admit, I am being a bit selfish today. If any of you get anything out of my message...well, God bless you. But truth be told, what I am writing is really just for my own comfort.
I need you also to know that my story is a mix of fiction and truth.
The radio was real...but not how I received it.
My love of the Beatles was real...and is unembellished!
But we didn’t live in a tenement building. And the way I described what kind of man was father was, is strictly a product of my over-active imagination.
In reality, he was a good man...a great one as a matter of fact. When I was just a little guy growing up in rural Pennsylvania, it seemed he spent quite a bit of time working late or out at any one of his many meetings. He took his job as provider and bread winner very seriously. But it was that very attribute that kept him away from our little family much too much.
As a result, if we weren’t playing together, my sister and I spent a great deal of time with our mother. She’d read to us after dinner, from any manner of book or magazine...
from Readers Digest to Mark Twain!
By her voice alone, she could raise up the old stories from the bones of their words. She turned the world around us into a stage for our wildest imaginings.
She was my mother.
She was my teacher.
She was my very best friend.
Had any other woman in the world had that job, I would be a completely different person this day. Everything I have learned about love and life I learned from her.
I was given the great opportunity to spend her final moments in this world with her...kneeling at her side, beside her hospital bed. I held her soft hand and I spoke to her gently and lovingly...
pleading with her not to leave me.
Never before that day or that moment, as a matter of fact, had I ever looked at her as someone else...as anyone or anything other than my mother. But on that particular day I was so close to her that I could smell the subtle scent of her perfume from the day before. I could feel the clear, faint texture of her porcelain white skin. I could look into the depths of her coal-black eyes.
It was then I realized, for the very first time ever, that I was looking at another human being...
one who was very much complete within herself.
She was my mother, yes...but she was so much more than that. She was not just a loving and convenient extension of me and my needs...she was a woman with her own private and personal thoughts...her own dreams and goals, successes and failures, hopes and aspirations.
It would be in her passing that she would teach me the most important lesson of my young life...that we are all individual souls on individual journeys.
That lesson was branded into my heart that day and will forever remain etched in my memory. Years later, when I wrote my first book, of course, I chose to dedicate it to her...
“Most of all the other beautiful things in this world come to us by two's and three's...
by dozens and hundreds and more.
There are plenty of beautiful roses in the gardens, myriad stars in the sky,
aunts and cousins.
But for each of us children, there is but one mother in the whole world.”
My mother’s name was Mary...Mary Agnes Costanzo. She was born in the tiny western Pennsylvania town of Johnsonburg on 15 August 1924. She lived a short 52 years. Today she would have been 99 years old.
I love you Mom!