The Gifted Underachiever

My life so far

Mom’s missing obit

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Gloria RitaI never read my mother’s obituary. I’m sure it was pretty standard fare for The Eunice News.

It probably went something like this:

Gloria Bollich Coleman, 44, died Monday, December 23, 1974 at Moosa Memorial Hospital in Eunice, La.

She is survived by her husband of 23 years, Luther B. Coleman and her six children, Thomas, Danny, David, Christopher, Marcia and Byron, two sisters, Sister Isidore Bollich and JoAnn Frey, and four brothers James, Charles, Elmo, and Al.

She is proceeded in death by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. A.J. Bollich, Sr., and three brothers, Edward, Andrew and Stephen.

A rosary was said Monday evening by the St. Lawrence Ladies Altar Society. A funeral Mass was held on Tuesday, December 24, at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Mowata, La.

Ardoin’s Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements.

Funny how someone’s life can be summed up in four paragraphs. We know differently. We know how many lives she’s touched, how many tears she’s shed, how many nights worrying about her children, especially the challenging one: me.

I can count the number of times I heard my parents arguing over money, or housing, or raising the kids: zero. There was never one cross word said between them in front of the children. Maybe they didn’t argue. I doubt that was the case. I reasoned that they saved the adult stuff when only adults could hear.

Everyone thinks their mom is an angel. Mine was pretty damn close, but I knew better.

I knew she would sneak a Ballantine’s beer or a glass of sherry some evenings after her mother went to bed. We lived with my Grandmother in the big farm house where my mother was born and raised. Apparently, Granny believed Mom was an angel, too, and Mom did not want her halo to tilt should Granny find out that she drank a little … and smoked!

Oh yes, she smoked. One cigarette a night – True Blue. Who knew she counted those things? We figured she wouldn’t miss one cigarette that we sneaked away to the barn to light on a little campfire we built in the dirt. Yes, we built a campfire in the barn. And yes, we we did manage to burn down a barn later, but if I remember correctly that was an accident.

The cousins and I were gathered around the little fire trying to light the cigarette. Memory fails trying to reason why we didn’t use the match to light the cigarette instead of the fire, but I imagine it was because at five-years-old we didn’t really know the mechanics of smoking cigarettes. We did know there was fire at one end and lips at the other.

The fire part we got, but our lips never touched it because a tall shadow in the barn door heralded the arrival of Mom who knew silence was not golden – it was a warning siren. She did notice a cigarette was missing along with me. She was good at math and put two and two together pretty quickly; too quickly for my tastes.

Lest you think I was the lone supplier of Mom grief, my younger brother had a habit of climbing the TV antenna to the roof of the house. This is not a roof to be trifled with, but a roof covering 15-foot ceilings and four feet of pilings beneath the house. This was a tall roof. But like a mountain goat the three-year old scaled the summit and looked to be relishing Mom’s consternation as she tried to remain calm while urging him to descend. Chris smiled and even giggled as brother Danny and I tried slowly to reach him. He did eventually come down, but he didn’t stay down.

Mom was legally blind. She rarely drove, and when she did it was a nerve-racking affair for everyone. She drove when necessary, and I will admit that I made some of those times necessary with my what-would-happen-if-I-try-this attitude. Dr. Benny’s office was the usual destination.

There was no question that Dad was the cook in the family. Mom could boil sausage and make spaghetti on Mondays and Wednesdays, respectively. But sometimes she made her “fancy salad,” a lettuce leaf topped with a pineapple slice and a dollop of mayonnaise sprinkled with shredded American cheese. That was usually reserved for special meals.

She dreamed of a brick house. Mom had picked out a few in Eunice, and today when I pass by those houses I am reminded of her dream.

Mom loved her big, crazy family. She was especially close to her little sister, my Aunt JoAnn. Granny told me a story of how close the two were growing up. The insurance agent came by to collect the monthly premium as usual, and Granny called the girls inside for some reason. When the two appeared the agent was shocked and said, “There’s two of them? I thought ‘Gloria JoAnn’ was one girl because I always heard you calling them together.”

There were also step-sibling and half-siblings in the mix, which made Granny’s house ground zero for all family happenings.

Like I said, it was a big family. I never stopped to count all of my cousins, but I counted on them often. There are secrets we share that I hope all of them take to the grave. I believe that if someone tried to emulate even a few of our antics they would likely not survive. Mom prayed up a powerful guardian angel for me that was granted early retirement for pulling triple shifts.

Mom became caretaker after Granny’s third stroke left her paralyzed. Caring for six kids and a bed-ridden mother would tax the strongest archangel. I was too young and narcissistic to notice, but the strain never showed if there was one.

She loved Mario Lanza, Dean Martin and Edwin Edwards. She sang constantly in the most angelic voice. Some of my earliest memories are of Mom doing Mom things around the house and singing tunes from the 40s. I doubt I ever tried to sing with her unless urged, but I have little doubt that she inspired my musical abilities. Every so often when I think of her I catch myself humming “Open the Door, Richard.” Google it.

Her brothers were artists, and she could draw a bit herself. She always encouraged me to express myself through art, and I proudly and constantly showed her my creations for her approval. To be fair, her approval was never difficult to obtain.

She recognized each of her children’s strengths and accommodated our weaknesses. Before first grade I knew I was going to college because Mom told me I was. My brothers were hunters, farmers, and mechanics. I dabbled, but never got as involved in those activities. Books and music were my thing. My sister was the only girl. She was the doll – an expression of my mother’s femininity, also her respite from the country-bred, adolescent testosterone.

Mom saw me complete college but never made it to my graduation. This beautiful woman had an illness hidden from even the brightest in the Eunice medical community. She succumbed to an aortic dissection, a result of Marfan’s Syndrome that was not only untreated but undiagnosed.

She was surrounded by family during those last hours. Two days before Christmas brothers and sisters were already arriving for the Christmas Eve party still held at Granny’s even though we lost Granny eight years earlier. Even her sister, a Medical Missionary nun was in for a rare visit. Mom was flanked by her sisters on the couch when she began feeling bad and got up to excuse herself so as to not embarrass anyone. She did not make it out of the room.

The Christmas Eve party was still held after the funeral. She would have felt awful to make us change our plans. She was like that.

As I feared, a page can hardly paint a life story any more than four paragraphs. Volumes could be filled with any mother’s stories.

One day I may fill one of those volumes. My memories are as alive today as ever. And as long as my memories persist, Mom will be alive within me.

Categories: What was I thinking?

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