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Friday, June 17, 2011

Another tough personal loss

It's been a while since I had the time and the wherewithal (God, I love that term, a complete 25-cent word) to sit down and write another blog, but I was inspired today since I'm able to sit in front of the PC instead of the laptop.

Anyway, I received word that my mother's best and dearest friend, Alice Stark, passed away yesterday. She was 92, so she lived a long life and really a healthy life, until her passing.

Mrs. Stark was a wonderful, sweet, kind and loving woman who spent countless hours with my mother for the last 25 years of my mother's life. With Alice's twin sister, Ann, right along side, the three ladies were known around St. Paul's of Greenville as "The Golden Girls," much like the TV show. Some people even thought that all three were sisters, even though they weren't. It was evident that Alice and Ann were, because they were identical twins.

But you could not go anywhere in the neighborhood without seeing my mother and Alice Stark together. They were inseparable. They were two widows, two mothers, two close friends who would do anything for each other.

We should all have friends the way Helaine Hague and Alice Stark were. I loved the way that Alice was able to deal with my mother and handle her like no one else could, especially me. Alice was the calming influence my mother desperately needed.

The two would travel all over together, with Alice taking her life into her hands getting into the car with my mother behind the wheel. My mother never drove until my father passed away. How she got a driver's license is a complete miracle. She failed the driver's test three times before she got the license, I think out of pity. She was clearly the worst driver that ever lived.

But it didn't stop Alice from getting in the car with Helaine and then dragging Ann along. They went to the movies together, went shopping, went to eat out. One of their favorite things to do was to go to either Roy Rogers and spend hours there or to a Jersey City diner called Grandma's (now the IHOP).

They were very active together with the St. Paul's Senior Citizens, the Columbianettes, the Teresians, you name it. They really went everywhere together.

I have some funny memories, stories of the relationship between the two.

One happened about 15 years ago or so. I was receiving an award at the late Pete DiNardo's
annual picnic at Liberty State Park. I was there with my friend Margie Wizowaty Smisaski, who unfortunately was killed in a horrific fire last year.

Being as thoughtful as Margie was, she saw all the senior citizens that were there and thought it would be nice if my mother was there. It was a good idea. I left Margie at the picnic to go get my mother. When I got home, my mother asked if Alice could come as well. So I called Mrs. Stark and asked if she wanted to go. Sure enough, she said yes.

My mother always wanted to dress to the nines wherever she went. That was her thing. But she took about 45 minutes to get ready. Mrs. Stark didn't want to wait for me to come pick her up, so she walked around the corner to my house. She sat in the living room, waiting for my mother, until she had enough. "Will you hurry up already, Helaine?"

Finally, we got back to the picnic and I missed getting the award. Margie was livid that I was away so long and missed the award. She then stormed off (as Margie would sometimes do) and I was left there with the two ladies.

It got worse. An elderly man was excited to meet me, said that he read my articles all the time in the Dispatch and the Hudson Reporter. He got so excited that he literally dropped dead while shaking my hand. I tried to do CPR on the man (at that time, I was certified), but to no avail. He was gone. His name escapes me, but he was a little Italian fellow from the Marion section. Aren't they all?

Anyway, with all this chaos and the heat, I asked the ladies if they wanted a drink. At the time, I still lived at home and was not allowed to drink in front of my mother. Sure, I did plenty away from my mother, but never in front of her. Just one of her things.

Well, Mrs. Stark said, ``I'm a little thirsty and it's hot. I can go for a nice cold beer."

No better words were ever said. "Mrs. Stark, you got it." And I was able to have several beers with her, right under my mother's nose. It definitely took the edge off.

My mother was also very conscientious and coy about her age. She never told the truth about her age. It must have been a trait through all of her sisters. Hell, her middle sister Jean shaved off six years of her life in death. On her tombstone, it says 1923-1990, but Chucha Jean was born in 1917.

Anyway, my mother was so worried about letting people know her age and there was one person in particular she never wanted to let know _ namely Alice Stark.

"Don't you dare tell Alice how old I am," she said. "I know I'm older, but I want her to think I'm younger."

I mean, my mother lying about her age was a constant. When I was five, my brother, who was 21 years older than me, came to visit. I was playing with my friends in front of my house, saw him, ran and jumped in his arms and gave him a hug and a kiss, yelling, "Jackie".

One of my friends asked, "Hey, who's that big guy?"

"That's my brother," I said.

"He can't be your brother," my friend said. "He's too old. How old is he?"

I didn't know. "Well, go ask him."

So I ran inside the house and said, ``Jackie, how old are you?" He said, "Twenty-six." So I went back and told my friends I had a 26-year-old brother.

"He's 26? Well, then, how old is your mother?"

I didn't know. "Well, go ask her."

I ran back inside and said, "Mommy, how old are you?" She said, "I'm 29."

I went back and told my friends my mother was 29. What did I know?

"You can't have a brother who is 26 and a mother who is 29," the obviously older and wiser friend said.

For many years, my mother was like Jack Benny. She was 39 every year.

When I turned 39, my mother was in the hospital and still a little confused and disheveled after a bout with septsis. But she finally recognized me that day and I told her it was my birthday.

She said, "Really? How old are you?" I said, "I'm 39, Mom." She said, "Well, you finally caught up to me."

When my mother got sick and moved out of her home and eventually into a nursing home, I would drive the twins to visit my mother. In 2002, I almost bought a pick-up truck, until I realized that the truck had no seats for the twins for our journey out to Phillipsburg, so I bought a Durango instead. I loved the Durango dearly, my favorite vehicle ever. I owe it to the twins for getting it.

One time, I went with just Mrs. Stark to visit my mom. Mrs. Doyle (Ann) wasn't feeling well that day, so it was just me and Alice. And Mom was really out of it that day, not recognizing anyone. It really upset Alice tremendously and on the way home, she said, ``James, I don't think I can come here anymore." I said, "I understand, Mrs. Stark."

No one wanted to see my Mom that way. It was heartbreaking every time I left that nursing home. I can't imagine how Alice Stark felt watching the demise of her best friend.

Well, my mother never told her best friend her age. Never once. It remained that way until Mom passed away in September of 2006.

A few years ago, I called Alice and Ann on their birthday to wish them a Happy Birthday. At that time, Alice Stark fessed up.

"James, you know Ann and I turned 90 today," she said. After all those years, I learned that Alice Stark was indeed older than Helcha. If only Mom really knew.

I owe such a tremendous debt of gratitude to Alice Stark for being there for my mom. The two were a joy to see interact. I always said that I wished I had a videocam back then, because that would have been reality TV at its finest. They were absolutely hysterical together.

Rest in peace, Mrs. Stark. Thanks for everything over the last 40 or so years. Thanks for the laughs, the love, and the adoration you had for Mom. She wasn't an easy person to love, but you loved her so.

Now, take her to the movies today and please let some angel drive. I hope there are no cars in heaven.

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