My Mother

Mary, Mommy, Me (l-r); Easter 1956

My Mother would have celebrated her 97th birthday this weekend. Like many mothers and daughters, our relationship was. . .interesting at times.

This photo on the left, from the simplest of times, was taken by my father on the streets of Paterson, New Jersey on Easter Sunday in 1956. I was 3, Mary was 5, and my mother  was 43, pregnant and glowing. We were on our way to an Easter visit with her family.
She lost the baby a few weeks later, and much of the glow dimmed for a long time….
I write today to remember, to honor, to express my love, and my perpetual confusion about what made this beautiful and vibrant woman — intelligent, witty, experienced in moving through the world — limit her life in so many ways.
What fears and demons drove her, literally, to drink? In what ways did we all collaborate for so many years to keep this unmanageable truth secret? Where is she in me?
My sister and I were blessed and honored to be an active part of my mother’s death in 1995. She’d been sober for 17 years — since the birth of my son in 1978. But she’d never allowed for open discussion of the past, preferring to think it didn’t matter once she stopped drinking.
Mary and I knew better — our lives have been shaped (and distorted) by her alcoholism. Our strength, our laughter, and our love tempered by it; our fears and frailties exacerbated. Our children’s lives have in part been shaped by our experiences, as will be their childrens’ in their turn.
My mother’s legacy hovers over the two sweet girls in the photo: looking like all that is proper, dainty, and acceptable, but with an anxious smile, a yearning to please, and many doubts about the future.
Her courage ultimately triumphed over demons, drinks, dread and doubt. My Mother, Ruth Elizabeth Holster Fusco, died at peace, bravely and with all the demons vanquished. 

I loved “the divil out of her.”


4 thoughts on “My Mother

  1. My mother, who would have been 95 this June, lived in Paterson for many years, but had moved to Totowa before she married and gave birth to my brother and me. We were both born in Paterson General Hospital. I recently have returned to Paterson, in a way, teaching English at Passaic County Community College in the middle of the downtown area. The photo posted here has a familiar feel to it.

    More important than any of that, I was moved by your expression of the continuum of family experience and by your unconditional love for your mother. Thank you for sharing that.

    • Thank you for your very kind comment.

      Paterson is pretty distinctive, isn’t it? I think my grandparents living in the area of East 20th Street.

      Take care!


  2. My mother battled mental illness soon after I turned 10. “Put Youtr Head on My Shoulder” by Paul Anka was a hit the year before she went in and out of institutions, eventually receiving “shock” treatments and spending her last 10 years on her own, but close by my brother who moved to San Francisco,Calif., from Philadelphia, PA.

    Never wanted to know about the problems she had while I was younger. Would have loved to discover something about them today.

    Maybe, that’s why I am Blogging now. To pass on something in writing that someone in a future generation might read and help them understand something more aboout themselves through my musings on the Internet.

    Musing. Ain’t that a great word?

    When we think about our moms, isn’t that exactly what we do as we get “closer to ther age?” Muse. Wonder.

    Thanks for stirring up this pot of mine. It’s been very “A Musing.”

    michael j

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