REMEMBERING MOM ON HER 100TH BIRTHDAY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Seventy years ago today! I can see it clearly as yesterday even though I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday.

June 14th, 1947.

Harry Truman was President. Jackie Robinson had just broken Major League baseball’s color line. “Gentlemen’s Agreement” was a controversial new movie. In Jamaica, Queens, New York, P.S. 116 students were itching for the school year to end. The kindergarten class was distracted by music that filtered from other rooms as 6th graders practiced for graduation.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Mrs Hartley’s kindergarten class was trying to focus on a boring history lecture. This was a special day,  Mrs. Hartley told the class.  Why, she asked.  A few hands shot up. The shortest kid in the class, the one in the first row in a starched white shirt and pressed short pants raised both hands.  Mrs. Hartley looked around and then pointed to the little kid.

“Garry, why is this day special?”  Mrs. Hartley had mixed feelings about Garry who seemed bright but had issues. Earlier that year, She had to give Garry an F on his report card because he couldn’t properly buckle his galoshes or button his overcoat. Yes, I already carried a burden but was ready to seize this moment. I looked firmly at Mrs. Hartley, sure of the answer about the significance of the day.

1988

“Today is my Mommy’s birthday!!” I remember Mrs. Hartley looking  briefly confused before sternly answering me.

“Garry, today is Flag Day! An important day to celebrate our country’s history!!”

I answered quickly, “Maybe. But it’s my MOMMY’S birthday.”  We locked eyes as I sat down.  I could hear the other kids giggling as Mrs. Hartley stared at me. The bell rang and the class scattered quickly. Mrs. Hartley gave me “the look” as I skipped by a couple of the taller kids and out the door.

When I got home, I told Mom the story. She smiled and kissed me on the cheek. I was surprised because I thought she might be angry because I had “sassed” the teacher. No, not this time.

Sure, June 14th is Flag Day. But for me, it will always be my Mom’s birthday. Esther Letticia Armstrong would be celebrating her 100th birthday today if she hadn’t been called home 10 years ago. She lives on with her legacy : three sons. Anton, Billy, and Yours Truly.

I’ve written about Mom before. Days of my youth when Mom forged and nurtured my love of books, music, and movies. Our family library was full and varied. I remember reading Eric Sevareid’s “Not So Wild A Dream” when I was still in grade school. Mom made sure we listened to radio newscasts every day. Murrow, Sevareid, Gabriel Heater, Lowell Thomas and many other icons were familiar voices in our household. I didn’t know it then, but my career as a TV (and radio) news reporter was already mentally seeded.

1945 – Garry’s mom and dad … and Garry, too

Mom was a very forthright person. She didn’t suffer fools. She set the bar high for her sons and didn’t accept lame excuses for procrastination, mediocre school work, or social gaffes.  I was encouraged to pursue my dreams even if Mom didn’t always agree with some of my choices.

Through the years, I have snap shot memories of Mom and her wonderful voice, singing the “standards” that I’ve always loved. We would duet on Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jimmy Van Huesen and the hits of Sinatra, Crosby, Doris Day, Nat Cole. We shadow danced to big band music. Mom was graceful. I was not. Marilyn and my wedding song, “For Sentimental Reasons” had been a staple in the Armstrong house through the decades.

When I leaf through the photo albums and see pictures of Mom and Dad, I have a tinge of sadness because I didn’t know them when they were young, full of life and love, and part of the greatest generation in so many ways we cannot appreciate. I’m not sure how Mom would deal with our current political landscape. As I said earlier, she didn’t suffer fools.

I’m sure Mom is celebrating today, singing in  her beautiful voice and everyone is laughing, having the time of their lives.

Happy Birthday, Mom!! 100 years old and counting.



Categories: Family, Garry Armstrong, Music, Personal, Photography, Relationships

Tags: , , , , , ,

20 replies

  1. Garry, what a magnificent story about your folks! The birthday story is a hoot! And to think that your mom insisted on you listening to the news on the radio. Those were very good seeds that she had in her possession!

    Ron

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ron. My folks gave me a clear sense of ethics — right and wrong. It enabled me to navigate some of the complicated stories I would cover later in life. Ron, hope to see you at the next Old Farts lunch.

      Like

  2. I love this! Thanks Garry. Saw Anton and your cousins last month and as always, your wonderful “suffer no fools” mommy came up and smiles and laughs and understanding passed between us. I only met her once, but her significance, warmth and fire were obvious and infectious. I count it as a blessing that I was able to meet her. keep writing – I love you posts! blessings for a happy summer!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Karin. GLAD you spent time with Anton, Janelle and Elly. I rarely see them because of the geographical distance. Too bad. Anton liked my MOM piece. Praise from high!!!

      Like

  3. None of us were able to know our parents when they were young. I did get close, though. A few years ago, I sat down with my dad over a month’s time and was able to get some stories from him. I then put them together with photos of when he and my mother were young, how they met, when they wed, when he enlisted, etc. I’m glad I was able to do that. I found the book in his home after he died and have it still.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful memories and photos of your Mom. My Mom would have been 99 on June 10th. 🙂 I think your Mom might have some strong opinions about a lot of topics pertaining to this timeframe. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a wonderful tribute to your mom, Garry. I hope my children will be able to do the same for me someday.
    Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I bet your Mom has those angelic singers singing the right songs with verve and gusto 😀 Never has that choir sung so well.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Lovely.
    Every time I see that photo of you as a toddler and see that expression on your face, I wonder what you’re thinking 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Dral. I probably was thinking how great is was to be sitting on Dad’s lap. He had just come home from overseas and WW2. I probably also wanted to make sure the camera got my best side. I was a ham — even then.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. We should all be so blessed to be remembered this way. That was a beautiful tribute Garry.

    Liked by 2 people

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