Memories of mom from a lucky guy


Published: Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 8, 2013 at 10:02 p.m.

Every time the phone rang, we knew it could be the call. It finally came Friday morning and the moment was cold, dark and sad.

My mother was gone. And so I wept like sons do. And then I cried some more.

And then I smiled.

Because I'm the luckiest guy I know.

I had a mother for more than 58 years.

Some guys never get to know their moms. Some lose them at a young age. My wife lost her's way too young. So did my mom. Some guys have moms who don't treat them the right way or discourage their dreams or are never there for them.

But I was one of the lucky ones.

I had one of those special moms and I had her for a long time. Love? Come on. It was ridiculous how much she loved her kids and their kids. In the end, she had a hard time with the grandchildren's names. Dementia had taken over. But just a few weeks before she went, my daughter, Kelsey, called me on the phone with a giddiness in her voice.

“Gammy remembered me, Daddy,” she said.

She was Gammy to all the grandkids, a trend that began when my oldest daughter, Jennifer, was born. Gammy and Gamp — that was the way she pronounced her grandparents' names, so those were their names for all Dooleys that would follow.

Christmas Eve belonged to Mom. The older she got, the faster she wanted it to move along, but it was her holiday. She hung stockings and filled them when we were way too old to be getting them. The house was full of joy and delightful smells — the way it's supposed to be on Christmas.

The backyard of the St. Augustine house I grew up in was her movie theater. She'd sit and watch the squirrels go after the bird seed she had laid out as if it were the opening scene in “Saving Private Ryan.”

Our friends were treated like extensions of our family. How many trips did she make with a car full of kids to a basketball court or the golf course?

She went through so much. Breast cancer, open heart surgery, hot flashes, cold flashes. The doctors kept her alive so many times, and for that I am eternally grateful because I got 58 years.

She saw it in me when I didn't. When I was a high school student with no direction and a penchant for mischief, she saw it. She knew I would one day grow up and write about sports for a living. She would tell her friends the story about the scrapbook I collected with pictures of Florida's 1972 season and the cutlines I wrote for each one. That's when she knew.

She was married to a huge sports fan and had three sons who followed in his footsteps, so she knew a thing or two about sports, if only enough to know when to cheer and when to order another round.

She loved The Beach Boys. She loved the beach. She loved to tell stories, especially if they would make her kids blush.

I can shut my eyes and hear her voice.

“Did I ever tell you about the time Pat fell off the garbage truck and banged his head so hard we had to take him to the emergency room? He had this huge sack of fluid hanging off the back of his head and we're all worried, and the doctor looks at me and asks me what happened. I told him he fell off the garbage truck. And the doctor asks, ‘Who threw him away?'”

She loved that one. She loved to brag on her kids, too. There were times I would be embarrassed because she would usher me around the bar at the Elks Club introducing me as her son, the writer, the way some mothers introduce their son, the doctor.

Again, I am lucky. Lucky to have had her for so long and lucky to have so many great memories. The UF-Miami game, 1968, when I was finished selling hot dogs and she made room in the bleachers for me to sit and watch. My First Communion when she patched me together so I could wear a white suit despite a skin-stealing bicycle wreck minutes before we left the house. The way she saw the good in me even when I was bad.

Always a hot meal. Always a packed lunch. Always a hug and a kiss.

I miss her already, but she has been gone for awhile now. The dementia and a bad fall made our last visits painful, but I will remember forever playing a few songs on the guitar for her, including “Surfin' USA.” She sang in a feeble voice. It was the last thing I ever heard from her.

But that's not the way I will remember her. I will remember her chasing me into a closet with a broom after I'd done something wrong. I'll remember dancing some awful '70s dance with her at a party. I'll remember her smile, the sparkle in her eyes when one of her children did something well and the way she would drive you crazy making sure you had enough to eat when she could barely make it from the refrigerator to the sink.

I'll remember her always wanting the best for me and doing whatever she could to help make it happen.

And I will always remember her touch when I was sick, her voice when I was down and her compassion when I was falling in or out of love.

Like I said, lucky me.

On my desk at home is a picture of a young couple in their Gainesville home holding a young boy and a baby on a couch in front of some cheap wood paneling. The woman is drop-dead gorgeous. She has no idea what a great life she's about to have, but you can see the love for her family in her face.

That, my friends, is the mom I will remember.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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