I first wrote this column on Mothers' Day 12 years ago. It was an award-winner and received more positive feedback in terms of cards and letters than any other column I've written in my 30-year career. It's also the only column I've ever written in my 21 years at the HUDSON REPORTER that was ever re-published, first on Mother's Day, 2003 and then again in October, 2006, after the subject of the column, Helaine Hague (my Mom) died.
I figured it was worthy to be republished again here on the blog today as a tribute to my Mom and to all Moms. Enjoy.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This column was first printed in The Hudson Reporter Newspapers on May 14, 2000, which was Mother's Day. At the time, the column received such a positive response (more than 40 letters and cards), easily the highest response total for any column written here over the last 15 years. It was reprinted in May, 2003 as a tribute to Moms everywhere.
This week, it gets republished as a tribute to Helaine Hague, who died Friday, Sept. 22, 2006.
It's Mother's Day, the first of the new millennium. It's a day to lavish Mom with gifts of appreciation, flowers, cards, candy, maybe a trip to her favorite restaurant. It's an occasion for children to truly remember what Mom really meant to them through the years.
Although it shouldn't take the second Sunday in May to think about Mom, we are all forced to do so on a day like this. And that's good. We should all take the time and remember Mom. After all, we wouldn't be here without her, right?
But it's far more than that. Every successful person - and for that matter, every successful athlete on any level, from Little League to the pros - has been inspired and touched by the dedication and love of his or her mother.
As a sportswriter, I've witnessed the importance of mothers on their aspiring athletic children so many times, both behind the scenes and in full view. There can not be a single athlete alive who said that he or she wasn't affected by the love and care and concern of their mother. Impossible.
Some people may have disagreements with their mothers and may not want to admit it. But here's a little refresher course, just in case you've forgotten.
Who was the one to wash the Little League uniform and make sure it was as close to lily white as possible for the next game? When practices ran late, who was the one who made sure that there was some semblance of a hot meal on the table?
When you were ravaged by cold and flu, who was the first one to come with the aspirins and cold compresses? When you had the upset stomach, who was the first to offer the "old family secret?" When you had the little cut on the finger, who had the handy Band-Aid already opened?
When you needed a ride from basketball practice to baseball tryouts to soccer games, who was the one who already had her keys in hand? And when that soccer game was being played in a steady downpour, who was the one standing on the sidelines with the bright, broad smile?
And who was the one who went to the football games to cheer you on, even when she had no clue what was going on? Sitting in the stands at those cold, frosty football games, closing her eyes with every opportunity that her "little baby" could actually get hurt? How about the endless baseball games they watched you play in the hot, summer sun, just to see your last at-bat in a 23-2 loss?
Sure, Dad was there, but no one loved you more than Mom. Dad might have been the inspiration and the one you wanted to prove something to, but Mom was there with her undying devotion and love, from cleaning the uniforms to cleaning the scrapes and cuts.
Being your mom was a thankless job, but someone had to do it. You weren't about to wash your own uniform and make it sparkle in time for game day. And face it, you always got the sticky end of the Band-Aid mangled and twisted.
I know about Moms, because I had one and still have one, although she's now a mere shell of what she used to be. But Helaine Hague is still my Mom. And today's her day.
Fate wasn't kind to Helaine Hague nearly 30 years ago, when cancer took her husband far too early, before Jack and Helaine could grow old together. Fate left Helaine Hague with the task of raising a moody 15-year-old daughter and a demanding 10-year-old son, without the man she had been totally devoted to for 33 years. She didn't plan on being both father and mother to two growing children, but she had no choice.
We all could have totally fallen apart after the death of my father. I mean, my father was the breadwinner and the backbone of our family. We all fed off him. His loss could have been devastating to the point of destruction.
But because of my mother's strong will and dedication to her children, she did her best to make sure that my sister and I never wanted for anything. She made sure that we received the best possible education (my sister's at Holy Family Academy and Montclair State and mine at St. Peter's Prep and Marquette). We weren't exactly rich and there were times where we wondered where the next dollar would come from. But we never wanted or lacked anything.
And that's a credit to my mother, who did it all on her own. I adore my father and cherish his memory and what he stood for, but the reason why I have anything today is Helaine Hague. You read these words today because she was strict and loving and stubborn and unwavering and belligerent and caring. Although she never wanted that role, she was father and mother wrapped into one. And she did a good job.
My mother was a dutiful servant to the Jersey City Board of Education for 20 years, serving as a teacher's aide at three schools, the last being Rafael Cordero School (P.S. 37) in downtown Jersey City. She looked forward to getting up every day and spending the day with the youngsters who made her feel young.
As a woman, she was one of the most active people I knew, volunteering her time for several organizations, like the Cub Scouts, Catholic Daughters, St. Paul's Rosary Society, St. Paul's Senior Citizens, the All Sorrows soup kitchen, the Columbianettes, et al. I mean, she was constantly on the go, going from one meeting to another. I marveled at her energy.
As a mother, she was always there for me, in everything I did. After my father's death, it had to be emotionally hard to return to the Little League fields where my father and I spent every Saturday, but she was there to watch her little boy. She remained that chubby kid's biggest fan throughout Babe Ruth and high school, always asking me to "make her a home run." There were some Babe Ruth games where she was the only parent attending the game - and she had no idea what she was watching.
She never wanted to watch football games or wrestling matches, for fear I would get hurt. More than often, that indeed happened. But she was there, probably closing her eyes and clutching the rosaries.
When I went off to college, she wrote me a letter every single day and sealed the letter with a dollar bill inside. Every single day. You have no idea how far those dollars went and how far the love traveled from Jersey City to Milwaukee. With every note of news from home, I felt like I was there with her.
When I came home after college, I had a job delivering meats for a meat purveyor, and received a good salary. After four months of the madness, my mother had enough.
One morning, she stood over my bed as I woke, and asked me one question.
"James, what you do every day, does that have anything to do with journalism? I mean, the bloody coats and stink, is that journalism?"
I answered with a stupid laugh, "Of course not, Mom. Why do you ask?"
"Well, I suggest you do something with your life in journalism," and she walked away. I got the hint. I quit the meat delivery job that week and started a new job writing obituaries for $100 a week, $600 a week less than what I had getting delivering meat.
That was 17 years ago. I've been involved in a life of journalism ever since.
For years, my friends have always given me abuse, saying that I was a "Mama's boy," because I lived with my mother for 34 years, until she was moved to a nursing home, when her battle with Paget's disease became too unmanageable.
You know what? They were right. I was a Mama's boy - my Mama's boy.
She's getting up in years now, spending her days in a nursing home 90 miles away. She's wheelchair-bound and can't hear much at all. Her eyesight, previously ravaged by cataracts, is poor. So is her memory on selected days. Helaine Hague deserved to live her golden years in better fashion. In that respect, fate has never been particularly kind to her. Cancer took her husband, and old age took her grace and dignity.
But she's still here and still my mommy. I miss the feisty, pain-in-the-rear Polack who drove me crazy and battled with me for most of my life. I have that as a memory.
I still have my mother, the one who made me what I am today, who gave me every opportunity to be able to express my opinion in words. I don't know what I would have done without her. I owe everything I have today to my mother.
Today will be her day, in whatever fashion that may be. I know I'm not going to have many more. It could very well be the last one. We never know.
To all those who have mothers and have the ability to enjoy the day, please do so. While you can.
And to all those mothers who have toiled behind the scenes, happy Mother's Day. You're appreciated in these parts. I know what you all do. And you do it well.