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Mom Offers Memories, Lessons of a Lifetime

Family matriarch muses about her life past and the importance of moving forward.

Yes, I know Mother’s Day was yesterday, but I wanted the readers of my Monday column to know that I have a remarkable mom!

Rita Marie Ford Boylan will be 89 years old in a few short weeks and is the matriarch of our clan. Her basic facts are much the same as a lot of our moms: Born into a big Irish Catholic family, four boys and four girls living in a two-bedroom home in Highland Park in the shadow of St. Benedict Church and School. She waited until World War II ended before marrying fellow Highland Parker Bill Boylan, who returned from the Marines and Guadalcanal safely. 

They built a life that found its way to 707 Lawson St. in Royal Oak where they raised six children of their own. Mom was a registered nurse for more than 50 years, with many of those years working part time at Dr. Neumann’s office, a short walk up Sixth Street across from the fire station. I could fill a book, and might just do that, with stories of our mom, the 5-foot-tall song and dance gal who is our force of nature.

Life lessons passed down

My mom passed down many life lesson to her children, such as: Life is great and getting better! Look out for your neighbor – and that includes your brothers and sisters. Laugh out loud, a lot. Set the dining room table two days before holiday feasts. Be outgoing and kind with strangers and friends. Keep your friends forever. Laugh at yourself. Forgive regularly. When competing, win! Perform corny songs and skits and completely ignore that you can’t sing on key. Everyone really is created equally in God’s eyes.

Finally, she taught her children how to skip backward (which was remarkably similar to Michael Jackson’s moonwalk.)

Growing old gracefully

What has touched me most recently is how Mom has so bravely and gracefully and with such grand humor danced through the challenges of growing truly old.  As the saying goes, “Getting old isn’t for sissies” and it’s very true. She nursed the love of her life, her husband of 60 years, until he passed away five years ago at age 90. As we buried Bill Boylan, Mom was exhausted and very sad. I thought it was going to be a downhill march from there, but Mom rallied and with the help of wonderful caregivers Teresa Bryant and Rick Kain and all six children, she continues to live in her condo. She regularly says, “Boy, do I have it great. This place has everything I need –  cable TV, my books, my computer –  and my family hasn’t forgotten to visit!”

My mom announced several years ago that the term matriarch had a nice ring to it. She noted she “earned the title by default,” and that being the last living Ford made her sad. “When I think of all of the friends and family that are gone, it may be better than the alternative, but those people are my history. I miss them all.” But a drumbeat later she notes, “But each day brings something new to look forward to so I’m not going to feel too sorry for myself.”

Everyday is not a holiday as you approach 90 years of age. Physical ailments do not get better and pain is an everyday companion. Reflection is tinged with warm memories and melancholy. The transition from independence to reliance after a lifetime of looking after others is a walk down a thorny path. Mom hasn’t ignored the realities of this stage of life. Like all of us, she has good days and bad. But she has chosen to revel in the good days and not let the bad days get the best of her.

About a decade ago Mom bought a computer and joined the Internet age. It’s been a source of connectivity to the rest of the world, including her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends.

After just a few months she exclaimed, “This Internet is like the phone … times 10! How did I ever live without it?” More recently she noted, “I think Google is the best invention since television. I can be an expert on everything!”

Mom's emails

Since, Mom’s family emails are precious and treasure trove of head shaking laughter.

Here are a few of my mother's email gems from over the year (with my mom’s permission, of course):

Subject: No Yoga for Me

“I was remembering a Yoga class at St. Mary’s I was in a few years ago. When they told me to relax our ears I really cracked up laughing and never went back. Just too hyper and as my doctor says you can’t change the nature of the beast. I’m really thankful for my high energy level as someday I may have to slow down! Love, Mom"

Subject: Mom’s crazy events

"Sitting through a funeral and it was the wrong person

My brother John sending me over to a friend’s house for a bucket of steam.

Going over to the icehouse on 6 Mile with our wagon to get big hunks of ice for our icebox (remember we were poor.) My sister Marcella always went with me.

Taking a roast of beef back to Holiday Market after finishing our meal and demanding a refund as I didn’t think it was good enough for the money I spent.

Having the lead in the senior play and listening to my brothers and friends laughing hysterically, not at me, but because my leading man’s zipper was open. They closed the curtain and he quickly zipped it up.

I better quit while I’m ahead or some other crazy things may come up!

Love, Mom.”

Subject: A story from your mom:

"David, one day when I picked you up at Dondero, you said, “Dad was 51 when I was born, wasn’t he?”

And I said, “Yes, he was.”

Then you said, “I didn’t think you did it when you were that old.”

Happy Birthday David, We love you and we hope you can do it when you’re that old.

Love, Mom and Dad.

Nope, you can’t make this stuff up.

In closing

Mom, you’ve been our family’s mom starting with Mike’s birth 65 years ago. We know you won’t be here forever, but everything about you will be in our hearts and the lessons learned passed on to our kids and their kids and on and on. A grand mom is a gift for a lifetime.

I’ll end by performing this little ditty while skipping backward:

Heart of my heart, how I love that melody,
Heart of my heart, bring back those memories,
When we were kids, on the corner of the street,
We were rough and ready guys, but oh how we could harmonize
Heart of my heart, meant friends were dearer then,
Too bad we had to part,
I know a tear would glisten,
If once more I could listen,
To that gang that sang heart of my heart.

 I love you, mom!

Gerry Boylan is the author of two books, "Getting There," a novel and "Gerry Tales," a collection of short stories. Both books are available at Amazon.com.  In addition, they are available for download for Kindle and Nook at Smashwords.com, Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com.

Lynne Cobb May 10, 2011 at 10:55 AM
What a wonderful tribute!
Jerry McEntee May 10, 2011 at 03:07 PM
Very Nice GB. Thanks Again.
Gerry Boylan May 11, 2011 at 12:02 AM
Thanks, all....but I have a confession to make...I never did learn to successfully skip backwards!
Marg September 28, 2011 at 03:02 AM
Enjoying your articles and came across this one - wonderful! I remember playing in your yard in Royal Oak with all the kids while our parents played cards and what a wonderful life-long friendship my parents had with yours. So happy to know you still have your mom and hope you will give her a hug from Mary Margaret and Paul's "kids"! She is very special!:)
Gerry Boylan September 28, 2011 at 01:29 PM
Thanks Peggy, the hug has been delivered! My sisters Sue, Maryanne and I took my Mom to the Tiger's game last night...had a grand time!

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