Mom, baptized Margaret Mary Howard, "Peg" to family and friends, was born March 20, 1932, in Fauleighter (pronounced Fall-ay- [clear throat]-ther), County Mayo, Ireland, to John and Margaret Howard, the third of five children. She spent her first 15 years in Ireland. In 1947, she sailed to America with her older brother Jack to meet up with her parents, who had come to New York ahead of her. She lived on 600 West 204th Street in Manhattan. She and Dad met on a blind date, dinner at Del Rio in Yonkers, and married nearly 2 years later at Good Shepherd Church, New York. Their first place was a chilly apartment in Hastings on the Hudson. A few years later, they moved their growing brood to Ridgefield, Connecticut, where they live today.
I asked my siblings (there are eight of us) to share their thoughts on Mom.
"I'm profoundly grateful for Mom," offered my oldest sister Cathy. "The main thing I am thankful for is her passing on of the Catholic faith. Daily Masses, nightly rosaries, Lenten devotions, visiting shut-ins were things that she did regularly and were beyond the minimum requirement. She tried to instill in us how to live out love of neighbor and love of God in our life. It has affected all of us because we know to put God first, pray, and all else follows.
"Mom was always present to us, she was always home," continued Cathy. "This to me is an incredible sacrifice, because being a mom myself, I know how much I need a break from duties, and she did not do that. Mom also had a saying, 'There but for the love of God go us.' She constantly reminded us children of the less fortunate and how we ought to care for them."
I have two brothers who are missionary priests, one in Argentina, one in the Philippines. Both have told me that Mom's (and Dad's) faith and prayer life contributed to their vocations.
Priest brother Greg also noted Mom's bravery. "She made us all learn how to swim and took us kids every summer day to the lake, even though she didn't know how to swim herself. That could not have been relaxing for her."
My brother Bill credits Mom with instilling a good work ethic in her children. "We were all encouraged in our early teens to get odd jobs to earn money and then to deposit our pay religiously in our own savings accounts," remembered Bill. "Work ethic and husbanding resources were important to Mom, as was our education. She regularly visited our school administrators a couple of days into the new school year and completely disrupted our already settled schedules for the sole purpose of ensuring that we were with the best teachers for each subject."
"I'd like to thank Mom for my deep and abiding love of the bargain," joked my sister Meg. "Mom gifted me with a sense of frugality which enabled my husband and I to go through law school on a part-time income."
My sister Nancy also had humorous memories of Mom. "I love Mom's abbreviations -- 'delish' for delicious, 'marvey' for marvelous, 'muff' for muffin -- and funny names for things -- 'googie' for egg, 'Himself' for any male relative, and 'whosy-whatsy' for anything."
Nancy added, "She saves little 'biteens' of muffins and chocolates and hides them about the house. She said this traces back to her childhood when treats were hard to come by, and she would save her Christmas candy in a matchbox and treasure it for months. It makes me think of how small her treats must have been."
To me, Mom has always epitomized strength and determination. She had no running water in her home in Ireland, no bathroom, none of the amenities we take for granted. Those deprivations made Mom strong and grateful for the simple pleasures of life. She finds great joy in a good spot of tea with a "muff" and a "googie."
I too share my siblings' gratitude for the way Mom raised us. I feel doubly blessed and grateful, because for the last eight years my mother (and father) have spent a month or two of every winter with my family here in San Diego. My children have grown to love her as much as I do. And in addition to being my mom, she has become a great friend. Happy Mother's Day, Mom. We love you.