Today is Flag Day for those of a certain age. But in my family, it’s Esther Armstrong’s birthday. Mom has been gone seven years now. Gone but not forgotten.

Painting by Judi Bartnicki

Painting by Judi Bartnicki

Esther Letticia Armstrong was a special woman. Wife of William Benfield Armstrong. Mother of Garry, Bill, and Anton Armstrong. I get top billing because I’m the oldest. Mom and Dad were married 61 years until Dad left us in 2002. They were a handsome couple!

I called my parents Mommy and Daddy for most of my life and it always seemed natural. Even when I was a veteran TV news reporter with decades of experience it seemed natural.

One evening I was preparing to do a live news report in the TV studio. It was the lead story. A big deal. Breaking news! My thoughts were interrupted by a colleague who said I had a phone call. No way. Put it on hold. Garry, it’s your MOTHER!  The newsroom grew silent.

I took the call. The story waited.

My Mom was a force of nature. I had no sisters, so I learned to do household chores early in life. Whenever I objected, Mom stopped me dead in my tracks with a strong, clear voice. Baseball and other critical things were secondary no matter how strongly I felt about my manhood.

My Mother was always supportive of learning and creativity. We always had books and records. Lots of them. I read books that I wouldn’t fully understand for years. But somehow I felt comfortable with Eric Sevareid’s So Well Remembered.

Decades later, Mr. Sevareid was impressed by my adolescent tackling of his book. The books and music fired my imagination. Mom would smile when I played big band music or vocals by Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Sometimes she would sway in time with the music as if remembering a time when she was dancing.

I was Mom’s favorite movie date. Dad was usually tired. He often worked two jobs and just wanted to rest. So Mom and I went to the movies. Often three times a week. Yes, that’s how my love affair with movies was born and nurtured.

Mom seemed like a different person during our movie dates. She smiled and laughed. Those were the days of Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Gene Kelly and other legends who were still in their prime on the big screen. I remember Mom giggling when we scored big on dish and glass night events at our local movie theater.

I know we tend to look back on our youth with rose-colored glasses. It’s normal. But there were lots of good times.

So, today as I remember Esther Armstrong’s birthday, I wish I could crank up my hearing aids and hear it again …

Garry, your Mother is calling you!


We are passionate about Japanese food. We don’t go out to eat it (or anything else) every week … even every month … but when we can, we head for our favorite Japanese restaurant.

Sushi in Dunham

This is nothing new. I came back from Israel in 1987 and the first place my son and ex-husband took me for dinner was the local sushi joint.

“Raw fish?” I said, dubiously.

“It’s great. You know I usually hate fish, but sushi is different,” my son assured me.

“Okay,” I said, but I was unconvinced. Until dinner at which point I became a convert.

Turned out that Garry was a sushi aficionado and when we started living together, we hit the Boston sushi hot spots with a vengeance. There was one not far from our apartment where they had parking — a rarity in Boston proper — so we went there often.

I’m not sure why, but Asian restaurants typically assign the most recent immigrants with the least understanding of English as wait staff. Maybe that’s their way of getting them to learn English, by more or less dropping them into the deep end of the pool where they can sink or swim. Some swim. Many — as far as I can tell — sink.

It was a typical night out and we had finished our dinner. Nothing was left except a couple of shrimp tails and a few scraps of lettuce. We had consumed anything edible, including every grain of rice.

The waiter came to give us the bill and asked “You want anything else? Dessert?” In heavily accented English, of course. We were his deep end of the pool.

Garry, in his typically show biz breezy style, said “No, that’s it. Let’s wrap it up.”

The waiter looked puzzled, then collected our dishes and went off to the kitchen. He came back a few minutes later with a small brown paper bag, which he handed to us along with the bill.

Garry looked at me. “What … ?”

“You told him to wrap it up,” I pointed out. “He did.”

“But there was nothing left …” and he trailed off, remembering the two or three shrimp tails and the tiny scraps of lettuce. “Oh,” he said. “OH.”

“He took you literally,” I commented as I plunked a credit card on the table. “Wrapped it up.” I’m sure the waiter thought we were odd, perhaps typical Americans?

Garry was speechless as we tried to control an attack of the giggles. We put on our coats and stood up to leave. I looked at the table and said “Don’t forget your doggy bag.”

Never again have we said “Wrap it up” in a restaurant. Not even once.