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Mother's Day

I get mixed emotions on Mother’s Day, the due date of my birth, which actually came a week later in 1937. To use an old New York expression, Mother was one “tough cookie.” Orphaned as a young girl, she and her sister Anne were raised by her aunt Lilly, who was also raising two daughters of her own of the same age.

Lilly, a widow, was also working as a waitress to feed and clothe the four girls. Mother fought hard for everything she ever attained, and she attained much, except for love, which she never got and therefore could never pass on. She was hot and cold, often stern and sometimes tender, and hard to please. Her one constant was her strong will and determination that she passed on to me. The following incident, which appears in my 2014 book, "Moments of Truth," occurred around Mother’s Day in 1956, illustrates her determination.

Emergency Overseas Call

During my Navy days I corresponded regularly with my grandfather, father, and Aunt Anne. Though I wrote to her every few weeks, Mother wrote to me only twice during my three and a half years of service with most of that time, 27 months, spent overseas. She did give me a subscription to Sports Illustrated that made me a popular guy in the barracks. Mother had a lot going on at the time – work, four children at home, and her leadership roles in the March of Dimes and the Girl Scouts of America. It bothered me somewhat, but hearing regularly from Grandpa Jim, Dad, and Aunt Anne kept me fully informed about what my three younger sisters, Carol, Rose, and Patricia, and brother Jimmy were up to.

One of mother’s letters came a few months after I was transferred from Guam to an Army Security Agency communications station on Okinawa in early 1956. In it, she requested that I consider buying her a strand of Mikimoto pearls. I thought about it and visited a booth at a shopping mall near Kadena Air Force Base. There I discovered that Mikimoto pearls were cultured, meaning they were not naturally produced by the oysters, but produced in oyster beds, the necessary pearl producing irritant introduced by human hands. A nodule of sand placed in the oyster had the effect of stimulating the oyster to secret a fluid that covered the sand with a smooth surface. Over time the secretions accumulated to create a large spherical pearl that was difficult to distinguish from a natural pearl.

I concluded that Mother would not be satisfied with anything but the real thing. But there was an affordable alternative. Since our china service at home was a combination of plates from gas station give-a-way’s and dish night odds and ends from the Hobart Theater, I ordered a decorative service for six in Noritake china and had it shipped home to New York. Since mother didn’t write me letters, I wasn’t expecting a note confirming that she had received the Noritake china and thought it wonderful.

About two months later, while on the day watch in the Operations Building my chief petty officer supervisor rushed up to my radio position and told me he was relieving me so that I could take an emergency telephone call from my mother. All sorts of alarming things raced through my mind. Had one of my siblings been seriously injured or killed? Was it Grandpa Jim or Dad? I rushed out of the Operations Building to a waiting Jeep that drove me to the Administration Building. An MP led me to the outer office of the base commander where an Army clerk pointed to an empty desk.

“Your mother is on line two. I hope that everything is fine with your family.”

With some hesitancy, I awaited the moment of truth as I picked up the phone.

“Hello, Mother.”

“Didn’t I tell you I wanted Mikimoto pearls?”

“Is everyone all right at home?”

“Of course they are. What about the pearls?”

“Did the china arrive?”

“Yes, but I didn’t want china. I wrote you and asked for Mikimoto pearls.”

“I know, I looked at them and did some research in the USO Library. They’re not natural; they’re only cultured. I thought you’d want the real thing, which I don’t have the money for.”

“I wanted the Mikimoto pearls because they are cultured. They have no flaws. They’re perfectly round. That’s why I want them.”

I was really pissed. I turned to the clerk who was listening to the conversation. I cupped my hand over the phone and said to him, “You won’t believe this conversation.”

“I gather it’s something about pearls.”

I nodded. “Yeah, all about her goddamn pearls.”

I resumed the conversation trying to control my anger. “Don’t you forget those pearls,” she was saying.

“Mother, I’m stationed on a very secure base half way around the world from you and you call me about pearls. You scared the hell out of me. I’ve got a chief petty officer manning my position a half mile away from here. He thinks I have a family emergency. I love you, but I gotta get back to work.”

“Don’t forget those pearls.”

“Yeah, sure, Mom. Goodbye, and please give my love to everyone.”

I turned to the clerk. “I’m sorry about this. I’d appreciate it if you’d not mention this to anyone.”

“Don’t worry about that. What puzzles me is how the hell did she get this number? You know, we rarely get calls from the States other than on official business.”

“She’s a bulldozer when she wants something, but one thing she’s not getting from me is a strand of Mikimoto pearls.”

She never did get those pearls, nor did she ever use the Noritake china, which almost 60 years later sits in the original shipping box in my basement.

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