My mother, Dorothy was born on August 20th, 1938. From the beginning her life was a struggle. She was born to an abusive father and a loving, but busy mother. She had nine brothers and seven sisters. My mother never completed high school. After the ninth grade, her father pulled her out of school and sent her to work, taking her pay check each week. At the age of 16, she had every tooth in her head kicked-out by one of her brothers and has worn dentures ever since. It was not long after this event that she struck-out to live on her own.
In the years that would follow, my mother worked butchering chickens for Perdue, coating rifles in cosmoline and packing them to be shipped off to the Army for an arms manufacturer, as a waitress, a secretary, a janitor and a housekeeper, all to make ends meet for her family. She raised two daughters in and around Philadelphia. When her second husband died in the late 70's, she (pregnant) decided to pack-up the kids and head south. The story goes that she ran out of gas in Essex, Maryland and so decided to stay. This is where I arrived on the scene in 1978. That's right... My mother was over 40 when she had me, a few months after my father's death.
Our early life in Maryland was happy. We didn't have much, but my mother was a resourceful woman who had a talent for making the most of what we did have. As a child, I wasn't aware we were poor. I knew my mother worked hard, and I remember having toys and dogs and a yard to play in, not much more a boy could ask for. By the time our family moved to Maryland, my oldest sister had a family of her own. She and her family lived in their own home and my mother, my middle sister and I lived together in a house on the bay. Later, my niece would be born into this same house. As it turned out, my mother had entered into an informal "rent-to-own" agreement for the home we were living in. Only after spending all of her savings fixing-up the house was she to find out that the owner of the home had sold the house and the land to someone else, and the new owners evicted us as quickly as legally permissible. My mother, whom I had never before seen suffer a defeat, was suddenly being thrown off her property for reasons that I (being a child) could not possibly understand.
Never one to wallow or surrender, she immediately packed-up all of our essentials into our station-wagon, for me this meant leaving all but a small bag of my toys behind, and we headed North. I would later find out that my mother had been told by my oldest sister that there "was no room at the inn" when my mother asked if we could stay with her until we got back on our feet. So after having been rejected by her oldest daughter, we set-off to stay with my Aunt Charlotte in New Jersey.
We stayed with Aunt Charlotte for a few weeks until it became clear that our presence was no-longer welcome, at which time we headed west to Philadelphia. Once we got to Philadelphia, my mother's real fight began. We started in Kensington / Fishtown. We went through periods of homelessness, living in her station-wagon, and later living in a shabby single-room apartment above a barbershop that had a shared bathroom. My mother worked multiple waitressing jobs at Diners around the city. She later got a job at a large local discount store called "The Dump". During this period of time my mother worked 2 - 3 jobs at a time, saving as much money as she could so that she could get us out of the neighborhood & situation we were in. After school, I would meet her at whichever diner she was working in that night and she would always give me a piece of pie and hot chocolate while I waited for her shift to end. Sometimes I got put to work refilling condiment bottles and salt & pepper shakers. Then we'd go home together at the end of the night, and while my mom would drink coffee and count whatever money she had made for the day, I would clean her white waitressing shoes for her, so she would be ready for the next shift.
Eventually, my mother got a job cleaning the office of a local periodontist. This would prove to be life changing. Through hard-work and word-of-mouth this would turn into my mother having her own janitorial business. Which is what she did for the next 16 years. My mother managed to move us from the worst parts of Kensington to a decent apartment in South Philadelphia. Eventually, in middle school, to a small (but nice) apartment in Center City Philadelphia. In the summers, and many evenings, I worked with my mother. One of the important things I learned from her was that even in the earliest (and hardest) days, if I worked, I got paid. She was a firm believer that a hard day's work deserved fair payment. She also believed that was the ONLY fair way to earn money. My mother NEVER took a penny of government subsidies, no food stamps, no section 8, nothing. We worked for what we received, or else we did not accept it. That was one of the earliest lessons I learned from my mother.
Today, I am a father with two sons of my own. I am a decorated veteran. I am a well-paid professional for a Fortune 50 Company and I am fortunate enough that my family and I do not want for anything. We count our blessings every day. Though we have worked very hard for all that we have, we are aware that we are fortunate to have it. I am acutely aware of it. I consider my success to really be my mother's. My mother... a woman without a high school education managed to raise a son who would not only rise to the highest enlisted ranks of the military, but also has earned a Bachelor's of Science Degree in Accounting and graduated as a member of two National Honors Societies. My mother gave me the ambition and the work ethic needed to achieve all that I have. My successes, which allow me to provide so well for my family, are the fruition of HER efforts, and for that I will be eternally grateful.
My mother lost her fight with breast Cancer yesterday, September 3rd, 2016. Although it brought me great relief to see her relieved of the suffering she had endured for the last few weeks of her life, it truly broke my heart to endure the passing of the strongest and bravest woman I have ever known. My mother loved her family with her whole heart and it was her family that filled her heart until her final moments. Ever the fighter, my mother outlasted the Doctor's best estimates by nearly a full week before finally crossing the final threshold. Even in death, my mother did things her own way and in her own time. She was as stubborn as a mule, and a tough old bird, and will be sorely missed. There remains a place in my heart that will be ever empty from here forward.
I love you toots!