Mary DeLuca Maurillo of Syracuse NY — is 88 years old, she’s raised eight successful children practically on her own, and we all adore her. You know how some kids argue over who “has to take Mom?” We argue over who GETS to take Mom. Everyone wants her around! In our family, she’s called “Ever-Ready Mary,” “The Energizer Bunny,” or “Mary the Wild Woman.” No wedding celebration is complete unless Mom has been twirled on the dance floor to her favorite “New York, New York.” The young guys literally fight over her. Here she is at her granddaughter’s wedding last summer.
Mom is funny. She got into my sister’s car, looked down at the floor, and said, “I have shoes just like those!” My sister said, “Mom, those are your shoes. You’re wearing them.”
When she was still working (she retired at 70), she saw two of the managers named Richard coming down the hallway. She blurted out, “Here come my two favorite Dicks!”
I called her a few weeks ago, after Syracuse had some nasty snow.
“Mom, did you get hit by the blizzard?” “No, I got my flu shot.” “No, I mean, did you get a lot of snow?” “I didn’t catch a cold, either.” “Mom, do you have your hearing aid in?” “I don’t need it that much.”
One day she complained to my daughter that she was feeling dizzy. My daughter said, “Grandma, when did this start?” “About 20 minutes ago.” “What were you doing just before that?” “Nothing much. I just had a glass of blackberry brandy.”
We kids continually try to figure out who is her favorite. But she gives absolutely no clue. “My favorite is the one who’s always good,” she says. Which, of course, must mean all of us. (I’m sure that I am. I’m her firstborn.)
Mom is the daughter of Italian immigrants, born in the middle of a blizzard in 1925. She grew up in the Depression, learning how to make a dollar do a tap dance. She carried that lesson into her adult life and instilled it into all her kids. We often shopped at the St Vincent de Paul second-hand store, and she would come home to brag about the things she found “with the tags still on.” Today, I don’t think one of us kids is in debt because we learned her sense of values — both financial and emotional. She’s a giver… going to Mass each day and taking Communion to those who can’t get out. For a long time, she volunteered at the local Hospice-like home run by the nuns. She gave it up only after losing too many of the people she befriended.
Mom got orthodontic braces for my sister even though she couldn’t afford them. She struggled to send us all to Catholic schools so we’d have good, solid educations. She bought my sister and me new figure skates for Christmas when we were promised only $5 gifts that year. She ensured that we knew our grandparents intimately. Today I still savor the stories they told us about their youth in Italy. And when we found her long-lost cousins in our ancestral village, my daughter and I took Mom to Italy to meet them. It was a wild and memorable two weeks driving through the Italian countryside — a trip that we dubbed “Thelma, Louise, and Mom.”
Last summer, when all of us kids (and our own kids) were in Syracuse for a family wedding, we gathered one night at a restaurant for dinner. The banquet room was packed. My son stood up and said, “I want you all to realize that every single person in this room is here because of Grandma Mary. We are her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, her nieces and nephews, and the people who married into the family. Without this wonderful woman, none of us would be here tonight.” Until that moment, I don’t think any of us realized the impact she had on that entire room.
I can’t point to any big awards that my mother has won. She’s never been in the headlines. You’ve never heard her name. But just hang out at her dining room table, and you’ll see how many people show up at her house for homemade pasta fazool or to take her shopping or to include her in a family celebration. See how her grandchildren and great-grandchildren include her in their conversations and teach her how to hip-hop. See the fine people she’s added to the world. To all of us, she’s “Mother Mary.”