TO MOM ON YOUR 101st BIRTHDAY

Today is “Flag Day” throughout much of the world.  Here, it is much more. It’s my Mom’s birthday.

Happy Flag Day, America

Esther Letticia Holder Armstrong left us 11 years ago. But for me and my family, she’s very much alive in spirit and 101 years young. They were singing “You’re A Grand Old Flag” and “Over There” when Mom was born on that June 14th in 1917.  Mom’s father,  my grandfather,  was over there. He was a sailor in the Danish Navy during World War 1.

Gramps, a Barbados native, saw plenty of action as he would tell us many times in the years to come.

Esther Holder, as Aunts and Uncles would gleefully tell me, was a feisty child and teenager.  “Smart as a whip,” friends said about Mom. She graduated near the top of her Julia Richmond High School class of 1935.  My Mother once described herself to me as a “Jazz baby,” showing off pictures of herself as a young woman who liked to dance. I’m not sure how that resonated with some of the older folks in the family but none of them lived in a glass house – if you get my drift.

I guess Mom left a trail of broken hearts when she and my dad, William Benfield Armstrong, married in 1941.  It was one of the biggest social events of the year. However, modesty aside,  the glittering affair was just the warm up to my début on the world stage in April of 1942.  A star was born —  at least that’s how I’d see it in my private fantasies which Mom frequently punctured.

Mom was a single parent during my early years because Dad was away — in the Army – seeing some of the heaviest action of World War 2 in France and Germany as a Sargeant in the still-segregated armed forces.

We looked like a Hollywood family when Dad finally came home from the war. At least that’s what I thought. Mom was beautiful and Dad was such a handsome guy.

Over the years, my Mother was “the voice” of our family. She clearly set the parameters for right and wrong, good and bad for my two younger brothers and me. I tested her many times, especially as I got older and became a “man” in my immature mind.  I always lost those confrontations.

Mom was tough! She was also tender, in her own way. She encouraged me to read and write.  She actually read my first attempts at fiction and assured me I had talent. She told me I should pursue my dreams.

We weren’t big on outward displays of affection,  something that I would have to deal with in later years. However,  Mom always found quality time for me. She knew I had a huge passion for movies.  We’d go to the movies, 3 times a week.  I was “Mom’s date.” She would explain who the people on the big screen were.

They were Gable, Tracy, Hepburn, Cooper,  Grant and all the others who reigned over my fantasies through my many years of loving Hollywood.  Mom said she named me after her favorite star,  Gary Cooper.  There was a mixup in recording the birth certificate and Gary became Garry.

There would be frequent mixups later when I became a news guy on television. Actually, there are still frequent mixups. Some things never change.

I’m not sure my Mother was excited about my career choice.  She always said I should become a doctor, lawyer, or minister.  She agreed I talked well.  What she really said was,  “Garry,  you have a big mouth!”  I’d smirk when she said that.  The smirk usually quickly disappeared she gave me “the look.” Mom also thought I was too good for the women I dated. I think she left that impression with many of those women in my life. I got lots of feedback about it.

I remember Mom and Dad celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  I saw a look in their eyes I hadn’t seen too often.  The look of love.

Dementia took hold of Mom in her last few years. Dad had passed away.  Mom was alone with my middle brother Billy in the old family home on Long Island. Anton,  my youngest Brother, was busy with his blooming career as director of the St. Olaf Choir in Minnesota. I was the married, busy TV news guy up in Boston.  Family get-togethers were difficult.

In what would be her last coherent afternoon with me,  My Mom floored me when she admonished me to be a good husband, to find quality time with Marilyn, to show affection and not stonewall Marilyn with internalized emotions. Mom held my face close with her hands like I was that stupid teenager. She smiled with patience and compassion, counseling me to “… be good to your Wife … you are lucky to have her. Show her you appreciate her, that you love her.”

I’m still trying Mom.  I’m not there yet.

In the meantime,  Happy, Happy Birthday.  Mom.  You’re the best!

Author: Garry Armstrong

As a reporter for Channel 7 in Boston for 31 years, I was witness to most of the major events affecting the region. I met a lot of people ... politicians, actors, moguls, criminals and many regular folks caught up in extraordinary situations. Sometimes, I write about the people I've met and places I've been. Sometimes, I write about life, my family, my dogs and me. Or what might otherwise be called Life.

33 thoughts on “TO MOM ON YOUR 101st BIRTHDAY”

            1. Thanks, Steph. Have you used Bio in your professional career. Science and Math were my weak points.

              Anton is prominently featured in the St. Olaf holiday special. VERY proud of him.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Very cool for Anton, and you–fun to see. Yes, I got an MD, practiced traditional family medicine for about 15 years, then moved into somatic oriented psychotherapy, primarily working with trauma, so I use biology and neurobiology all the time. And since Carleton has that liberal arts bent for lifelong learning, critical thinking and being able to write, I use and continue to value this as well. The facts will change over time, so being able to think and learn is essential, as is so obvious today.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Thanks, Steph. Congratulations on following through with your career…and using your college education practically. Yay — for you!

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    1. Thanks, Slmret. It’s my way of saying, “Thanks, Mom”. I hope she can hear me. I was such a”know it all” brat.

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    1. Thanks, Donna. I really have lots of wonderful memories .I feel lucky when I hear others who didn’t have my good fortune. There are no rose-colored glasses in my memories. We had some tough times as did many families. Mom was a rock.

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  1. The woman of that era were strong, had to be, especially with the war and being single moms. You were lucky to have a woman that loved you and cared. It touches my heart when I hear stories such as yours. If you wrote an autobiography, I’d be the first in line to read it. It would be a unique and interesting take, history, commentary on what was. She was right, you do write well (big mouth or not) snicker at that remark.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. THANKS, covert. At least I put that “big mouth” to use professionally. (Towards the end, before the dementia fully took hold, Mom shared stories about growing up as a “strong woman”. It was difficult professionally and personally. It gave me insight into her which I wish I had earlier. I would have appreciated her personality more. We know so much and so little as children and teenagers.)

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      1. 😀 i think it would be wonderful if people could somehow magically experience our parents’ wedding. It would give us a totally new perspective to see two young people in love and full of hope. I guess these days a lot more couples already have shared domestic lives — and kids — before they marry, but for our generation parents’ marrying was a very clear beginning.

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        1. Su, you are so right. My brothers and I came across love letters from Dad and Mom when were cleaning out their things. We were fascinated to see our Parents as young people in love. The written endearments were so tender. Who knew?

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Su, I’m still fascinated by those love letters. Mom once shared a few stories about her “courting” days. Absolutely fascinating and so difficult for me to wrap my head around.

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