Monday, June 11, 2007

My Mother Was a Hard Act to Follow

(by my mother Mary Dowd)

she was so beautiful
so charming
so skilled in all the social graces

her clothes were perfect
her make-up was perfect
her house was perfect
and as we all know well, her hair was ALWAYS perfect!

She knew everyone and everyone knew her
we used to get sick of hearing
‘oh, you’re Rosalie Dowd’s daughter
she ‘s so lovely
she’s so nice
such a wonderful woman

but it was all true
she had a dazzling smile
and an inner radiance that drew people to her
and made her unforgettable
what was her secret?
how did she manage to make such a lasting impression?
I’ll tell you
her goal in any encounter
corny as it may sound,
was simply to make the other person happy

and she was a born politician
she was always planning and scheming
ways to get things done
on a large scale and a small scale

whether it was some trip or treat for us
or redecorating her house Day Nursery
or the Holyoke or Providence Hospitals
or the many other charities she was involved in
she always managed to accomplish what she set out to do
without ever offending anyone, or making a single enemy

we used to joke that if she had been born a decade later
she would have been mayor of Holyoke
a few decades later and she might even now be giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money

she had several favorite sayings when we were growing up

“no cross, no crown”, would alternate with “offer it up”
when we were being particularly mulish about doing something for somebody else
or when she was dealing with my often difficult father
and his monolithic mother
who moved in with them on the day they got married and never left

another one was “what you put into the lives of others comes back into your own”
and if we were being really obnoxious, she’d add

A favorite quote, which she attributed to Yeats was
“I have found glory in my friends”
and she did
she had a genius for friendship
she cared deeply about all her friends and their families
she was always thinking of ways to help them, to please them, to surprise them,
or to just have fun
she was always making new friends, of all ages
and she nurtured her old friendships with loving care over decades
Ruth Geanocopoulos, Helen Ann Cosgriff, Marie Walsh, Mary Dupree, Babe Mahoney, Helen Hayes, Mary Major, Lortta Fitzgerald…
the list goes on and on

in recent years with her memory gone and her body so frail and crippled with parkinson’s
she was still making friends
I felt at this time she in some ways became more truly herself,
all her worldly concerns and worries fell away
and that inner radiance shone even more brightly
the friends and aids who helped take care of her grew to love her. they always felt that they got more out any interaction than she did, just by seeing her smile.

But don’t let me leave you with the wrong impression,
my mother was no saint
she liked a stiff drink
a good gossip
a fine meal
followed by 2 or 3 fine deserts
and she always had a good laugh with my father
at the folly and foolishness of our fellow creatures
she enjoyed all the material and sensual pleasures of this world

but she knew that the secret to being happy was to make other people happy

and she managed to teach me and my sisters the only lesson worth learning in this life
the one about compassion

My mother’s favorite saying of all was a quote form the Wizard of Oz
when the tinman get’s his heart
the wizard tells him

“you don’t measure your heart by the number of people that you love, but by how many people love you.”

wherever she went in this life my mother left a crowd of people who loved her
and her heart is wider than the sky


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