Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness. – Jean Vanier
Her name was Marguerite Ann Calnan Giza. Most people called her Bunny, except for my grandmother who called her by her given name. I called her Mum, unless I was sick or hurting, then it was Mumma. Today marks the third anniversary of her death. The ache feels almost as fresh as it did the day she died. I miss her beyond words. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about her, and there are other days when I forget she is gone and reach for the phone to call her. Sometimes when I’m driving on the long rural roads where I live, I think of something happening in my life I and I want to call her and share it. Except I can’t. Those are the times when I cry the most -in the car. I’m usually by myself and it’s often then that I pray and think of her. Sometimes I’ll hear a song that reminds me of her and that will encourage the tears. Mum loved music. From the time I can remember there was always music in our home. I remember she always tuned into WBZ radio in Boston in the kitchen early in the morning as she made coffee and breakfast. If a song came on that she liked, she’d turn it up and start singing. There was always a radio in the kitchen. Always. She loved Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nat King Cole. In fact, she loved all kinds of music. When I was a teenager and I’d be in my room listening to Aretha Franklin, sometimes she’d yell up from the bottom of the stairs, “Turn it up!” She watched American Bandstand every Saturday afternoon when I was growing up. I recall her teaching me how to dance in our living room while we watched. When I would watch Soul Train in as a teen, sometimes she’d watch with me and we would try out new dance steps together.
She loved her children fiercely and there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do to encourage or protect us. Life in our home was chaotic for many years but my mother shielded us from as much as she could and I always, always felt safe. My Mum was like a lioness defending her cubs and she was our biggest cheerleader. If we were in a school play or musical, she would get there an hour early before anyone else so she could get a front seat. She wanted to make sure we could see her. She would smile the whole time and later tell us our performance was the best. Okay, one of her faults was that she lied a little. No matter what went wrong in my life I always felt that my Mum could make it better. Even if she couldn’t fix it, just hearing her say, “It will be alright,” was enough. She was always in our corner. She spoke the truth in love, and even if she was disappointed in a choice we might make, her love and support never waived. It wasn’t a blind love, she always made us own up to our mistakes, but it was an unconditional love.
She had a wicked sense of humor, kind of dark actually, and I’m proud to say my sisters and I inherited it. When life would throw my Mum lemons, she would sing sarcastically, “Life is just a bowl of cherries.” If we came home from school and she was singing that, we knew something was up. We may not have known what, but it was something. And then she’d address whatever it was and move on.
She was stunningly beautiful. I always thought she looked like Grace Kelly. I loved watching her get ready to go out in the evening as she applied her makeup and put on a dress. Elegant and sophisticated. That was her style. Even when we had very little money, my mother knew how to stretch a tight budget and she always looked pulled together.
My Mum never finished high school but she was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known. She was a avid reader and an extremely well-informed public citizen. She was a member of the League of Women voters for a long time. Education was a high priority in our home and our successes in school were always celebrated. She always told us we could be anything we wanted to be. She said she didn’t care what we chose to do for a career or job, but whatever it was, do it to the best of our ability.
I remember when I was being bullied in school and came home crying saying I wanted to fit in and be like everyone else, my mother said to me, “Why be like everyone else? Be different because you are. Be you, and be the best you that you can be. Be the good person that you are.” And when kids would make fun of me and gossip about me or my family, she would say this, “Robin, you can’t control what other people say or think. You can only control your own actions and thoughts. You know what the truth is. Sometimes that is all you will have and that will have to be enough. If you know you’ve done your best, when you lay your head on the pillow at night, if you’re right with God, that’s all that matters.” That last piece of wisdom has carried me more times than I can count and that’s no lie. And then she would say, “Usually people who hurt other people, are in pain and are hurt themselves. Always remember that.”
My Mum was strong and independent. She was a survivor, but her greatest strength and gift was her ability to mother and to love. There have been times in my life when people have told me that I am a good mother. It is a great compliment. But it is no accident. If I am a good mother, it is because I had one. No, she wasn’t just a good mother, she was an amazing mother. She taught me what love looks like and that is her greatest legacy to me and the rest of us who knew and loved her.
I don’t know what heaven looks like, but if God gave her a home to live in, I know it’s clean. She was compulsive that way. And I hope she has a radio. Sing on, Mum. Sing on.