My mother was my best friend. Well, at least that's what she always said. I wasn't convinced until after she died -- a year ago on Wednesday, Oct. 2 -- and there was a huge void in my life.
I guess she was right all along.
She was right about a lot of other things, too, but my siblings and I -- and our father -- tried not to give her the satisfaction by telling her. There was no need for Mom to come back with, "See, I told you so" or "Always listen to your mother."
Mom was an ever-present force in our lives. She was cute, feisty and entertaining. She loved her family, and loved as much (or more, so it seemed sometimes) being the center of attention. Quick to tell a joke or sing a song, she found the spotlight even when she wasn't searching for one.
Born and raised in Southport, she was the youngest of 10. Mom was born in a house at 251 Old Post Road (now gone), and often repeated how she was tossed in the air upon being born because she was a "blue baby." Mom was dramatic even then.
She was a 1944 graduate of Roger Ludlowe High School, and years later helped to plan two reunions, with meetings taking place at the Shaughnessy-Banks Funeral Home on Reef Road. The late Tom Shaughnessy was one of my mother's high school classmates. As were other familiar Fairfield-Southport names -- Fingelly, Russell, Wrabel, Garofalo, Seirup, Wakeman. Mom herself was a Renzulli (on my grandfather's side) and a DeMattia (on Grandma's). Renzullis and DeMattias still live throughout Fairfield, Southport and Westport.
She was an athlete, too (that's probably where my sister got it from) playing softball and basketball when she was a girl. In high school, she was in the bowling club and was a baton twirler -- a skill she taught me, though I never had quite the same flair. I remember as a kid watching her twirl, throwing the baton up into the air and catching it flawlessly. And always with a sly smile on her face.
I miss Mom's smile. Sometimes it was a quick grin; other times a full-fledged smile, which was usually accompanied by bend-at-the-waist laughter. Mom liked to laugh -- all part of her penchant for having a good time.
In the year since she died, a day doesn't go by without me thinking about her. I don't dwell on those last few weeks of her life, but rather on the decades before. And the fun, the nurturing. She and Dad gave us a safe and secure childhood. Dinnertime was indeed a family affair. Mom was an exceptional cook, and the five of us always had dinner together each night. Those memories are vivid.
There were vacations to places within driving distance of our house when we were young, and then by airplane to farther-away destinations, as well as trips to the local beaches -- Southport among them -- and picnics at extended family's houses. Mom was at the center of all that action.
While all of those are important memories, what I remember more are the last few years, especially the ones after my father died in 2007 and Mom was left alone for the first time in 60 years. Mom kept herself busy with activities with her senior cronies (or "your kind," as I used to kid her) but I made sure I spent time with her and called her frequently.
I miss our nightly phone call (made before 6:30 p.m. so she could watch "World News with Diane Sawyer," then "Jeopardy") and our day together every Saturday. On those Saturdays, we ran errands for her, but the highlight was going out for lunch. A diner in Shelton was our usual stop, but she was game to try other places. Sometimes after returning from lunch, we would just sit in her assisted-living apartment and watch a movie or sports. She loved the UConn women's basketball team. Or we would just talk.
In the first few months after she died, I hadn't a clue what to do with myself on Saturdays. But I could hear Mom's voice reverberating in my head, "You have to find a new normal." She was right, of course.
But, most of all, I miss talking to her. There have been so many times in the past year when I have wanted to call her to tell her about some event in my life or someone else's in the family, to discuss the UConn basketball games (the team's winning the national championship in the spring was bittersweet) or ask her advice. I turned to Mom often to hash out a problem or how to handle a situation. More often than not, she had the right answer. Of course.
The past year has not been easy, and while Mom is not with me (although I do feel she "visits" me some days), I can honor her legacy with what she taught me -- be a good person, work hard, take care of myself and have fun.
Or, in words she often liked to use, "Remember who you are and where you came from."
Patricia A. Hines is a Fairfield writer, and her "Hines Sight" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at email@example.com. She also can be followed @patricia_hines on Twitter.