My Mother’s Birthday is November 30th. She will be 92 years old that day. I have been thinking a lot about her life lately. She is in the last stages of Parkinson’ Disease, and that terrible illness has taken away most of what I knew to be my Mom.
I have chosen today to write about what has been, rather than what is. Perhaps as a way to cope with the loss of so much of this vibrant woman, I want to remember the strengths and the foibles, the charm and the outrageousness of Arlene Ruth.
My Mother was born in 1923 to Italian immigrants who had come to America around 1910 and had settled in the small farming community of Pittsfield, Maine. My grandmother, who already had three children when my Mother was born, reportedly said” I’m glad that’s over with”, only to be told by the Doctor “It’s not over yet”. That was the moment when my Nana found out she was having twins! My Uncle Bill was then born, and the two of them were forever held fast by that special bond that twins have. My Mother absolutely idolized her brother. He was, according to her, the protector and watchdog until she was a young adult.
Life on a small farm during the Depression years was admittedly not easy, but my Mother always maintained that they did not feel deprived. There was enough food and plenty of love to go around.
World War II loomed on the horizon while Arlene attended High School. She joined the Navy in 1944, and spent her time as a Wave on Naval bases in the States. My favorite story of hers is one that might be material for the Guinness Book of Records. She told me one place where she was stationed had about 5,000 Sailors and only 125 Waves. This pretty girl with the dazzling smile was there for 61 days, and had 59 different dates! (Can you say smorgasbord?) I have always been impressed with those stats. Never broke that record. Well done, Mom.
There was apparently one major form of entertainment back then. Everyone went dancing. Energetic, athletic, exhausting Jitterbug dancing.My Mom joked for years that she would “rather dance than Eat, but you can see what I have been doing more of”. She LOVED to dance. She had a wonderful sense of rhythm, and could “cut a rug” with the best of them. She taught me a few steps early in my childhood, and we would always jitterbug when the music was right wherever we were, from that day forward.
She met my Dad, they married in 1949, and I was born a year later.When I was less than two years old, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. There was no chemo or radiation back then, so they did a hysterectomy. Remarkably, she was saved. No more children, but she survived.
She went on to raise me, operate her own Floral Shop, work at numerous other Floral jobs, and developed an Estate Sale business. After my parents divorced, she moved to Florida where she had a consignment shop, ran a small counter-service restaurant, and wrote a cookbook and a children’s book. Her boundless energy was almost overwhelming. She never seemed to slow down. If you walked anywhere with her, she was always yards ahead of you. She was, in all ways, a true force to be reckoned with!
My Mom would come to visit for a week, and clean the entire house, rearrange the cupboards, and wash and iron the curtains. I cannot remember her ever sitting still for very long; she seemed in constant motion.
Arlene never measured her words. For better or worse, she was outspoken and opinionated. She was often outrageous, always straightforward, and very assertive by nature. She was also soft-hearted and generous to her friends and family. Her sense of humor was irrepressible, and her love of laughter apparent.She was once waiting for an overdue flight in Antigua. Standing in line at the airport for some time, she noticed just behind her was the famous stylist, Vidal Sassoon. My Mother turned to Mr. Sassoon, and quipped” If I had known we were going to have to wait this long, I ‘d have asked you to do my hair!”. That’s my Mom.
She loved clothes. I mean, she really loved clothes. She was an inveterate shopper, and would always have new outfits to show me whenever we saw each other. Shoes, hats, handbags to match. The original Fashionista.
She cannot hear much now. Those talented artistic hands that created so many floral arrangements, cooked like a chef, and decorated so many homes don’t work well enough to even feed her now. She is safety strapped into a wheel chair, so there is no dancing now. Her pale blue-green eyes are often looking off into places I cannot go. Her voice is garbled by the Parkinson’s Disease, so that it is difficult to even understand what she is trying to say. No more quick punch lines or saucy retorts now.
But I think that somewhere, perhaps on another plane of a parallel universe, some part of each day Arlene Ruth is dancing. Dancing with a handsome Sailor to a Glenn Miller song. In fact, I am sure that is where she is.