Eulogy for My Mother

Eulogy For My Mother

(2013)

 When you still had your mother you often thought of the days when you would have her no longer. Now you will often think of days past when you had her. When you are used to this horrible thing that they will forever be cast into the past, then you will gently feel her revive, returning to take her place . . . beside you . . . . Let yourself be inert, wait till the incomprehensible power . . . that has broken you restores you a little, I say a little, for henceforth you will always keep something broken about you. Tell yourself this, too, for it is a kind of pleasure to know that you will never love less, that you will never be consoled . . . . —Marcel Proust

* * *

My mother’s name is Virginia. I called her Mom-O.

As everyone who ever met her knows, she was a people person. She loved people. Although Miller Lite, menthol cigarettes, and nachos were close to her heart, people were more treasured by her than any possession.

If you are one of her many friends, she knew your birthday and your children’s birthdays, and she would attend every graduation, funeral, and wedding. She would also go to see you in the hospital, drive you home, and visit you at your house until you were back on your feet.

On holidays, you would get a cake, a basket, or a poinsettia. At Christmas, she had someone dress up as Santa, and she would hold an all-night cookie-making party for all ages. Chris and Elaine would bring sacks of flower and sugar. The next day, every surface would have a crystal plate filled with cookies or fudge.

On Halloween, you were expected to stop by the house to show off your costume. She had spent untold hours putting together bags of candy for every trick-or-treater… children who were once driven across town for the annual event later drove their own children across town to see the house, the feast of treats, and the woman in the crazy costumes. People loved her.

When I was younger, my stepfather Charlie, her second husband, and I used to beg her to create friendship flashcards so we could keep up with all of the people in her life. She was the original social network. I don’t recall ever having a meal at our house that wasn’t shared by at least two of her friends who had stopped by. She would dash in with a bag of groceries and say, “Bill and Cheryl are on their way over, and I invited Chris.”

And I would say, “Oh, Chris. You mean, like, of Chris and Frank?”
“No,” she would reply. “Chris the dentist.”
“Who’s Chris the dentist?”
“He’s from San Angelo. He’s in for the weekend to look at a condo. I think I can sell him one of Ahn Lamb’s condos.”
“Anh has a condo for sale?”
“Not yet, but she needs to unload it. I can get Chuck to help fix it up.”
“Which condo is that?”
“You know, the one next to Keith’s.”
“Keith? Which Keith?”
“Prim, Keith Prim, the one who smokes the great briskets. That reminds me, I have to call him up. His birthday is Saturday. Now make yourself useful and go see if we have beer in the fridge in the garage.”

It didn’t matter who was at the table. Within the hour, they had a gourmet meal and were now best of friends. And Keith probably had a new neighbor and Anh had sold a condo.

* * *

It’s hard to imagine that this force of nature began life in Amherst County, Virginia. Born at home with her grandmother serving as a midwife, she was the youngest of five children and the smallest by almost a foot. What she lacked in size, however, she made up for in energy and volume. After graduating from high school, she lived in Philadelphia briefly, where she met my father. When my father graduated from law school, the three of us moved to Dallas. My mother became an adopted Texan. In later years, she would tell newcomers, “You will hate it here the first year and then you will never want to leave.” Our first house was on Wingate Drive near Love Field. A year later, we moved to Wateka in Greenway Parks.

Ever active, she earned a degree from college then began her career in real estate with Gion Gregg Realtors in Snider Plaza, while cheering on the rugby team during the weekends. In the mid-1970s, she formed Better Homes Realtors with a partner, Roy Leteer. Roy was the outgoing head of Secret Service in Dallas and Lyndon Johnson’s main man. As a result, she began to meet everyone who surrounded each of the presidents. Many of these men—they were all men—became some of her best friends:

Jim Delamore,
Frank Foster,
Jerry Tate,
Walt Couglin,
and Steve Beauchamp,

to name a few. To this day, at least one of them sends her a holiday ornament from the White House each Christmas.

The first real estate agent to join Better Homes was a “Todora,” Pete Todora. Pete’s family, one of the prominent families of Italian descent in the Dallas area (the producers of “The Sopranos” owe them royalty checks), adopted my mother as one of their own. She fit right in. So, while she was selling houses to Secret Service agents during the week, she was spending her weekends at the horse races or casinos in Las Vegas or Shreveport with guys named Sammy the Bull or Vinnie the Nose. Parties at the house—of which there were many—often had more Cadillacs and G-cars beached on the lawn than any mob funeral.

And anyone who ever bought a house from her became a friend for life. Years after a sale, if you called her and asked about a roofer, she would be over at your house on top of the roof, lining up contractors, and then overseeing their work. And if she happened to notice your kid—who was probably in diapers at the time she sold you the house—bouncing a ball in the backyard, you would find a basketball hoop attached to that new roof on the back of the house. That is how she was.

To her last day, if you expressed interest in something in her house, it would be in your car before you finished your last beer. And if it wouldn’t fit in your car, it would be delivered to your house the next week. One poor guy asked about the piano. I could only imagine his surprise when there was a knock on his door the following week…

Download the full eulogy in PDF here: Eulogy for My Mother.