Making one last toast to Mom
My mother was gone, but I still felt her presence. A tale of martinis and coincidences.
The day my mom died, my head was filled with questions, from the mundane (what to do with everything she had in the nursing home) to the abstract — how will I live in a world without her? But I knew one thing with absolute certainty, and that was where my husband and I would have dinner that night. We were going to the Ninety Nine.
The restaurant was 200 miles from my house but less than a mile from my mom’s apartment in Salem, New Hampshire. It had special meaning to all of us. It was where we went for her last birthday. It was where my husband took her to dinner after his quarterly business trips to Massachusetts. She’d be giddy when I talked to her afterward, filled with her love for Glenn and the martini she always had with dinner.
That was another given: In her honor, one of us was going to have a martini.
We sat at the bar. We had spent the day packing up Mom’s clothes for the Salvation Army, scouring her apartment for paperwork, and shopping for a shirt for her to be buried in. We needed company other than our own.
I can’t remember what Glenn had to eat, but I know he ordered a martini. I opted for a lobster roll — my mom and I had shared one the last time we went to Hampton Beach — and a glass of wine, another of her favorites. Our drinks came, and we toasted Mom.
The couple on the left of us asked what we were drinking to. I told them that my mom had just died, and we were commemorating her life. As we talked, we learned that the woman went to the same church as my mother. She promised to say a prayer for her.
A Red Sox game was playing on the television sets around the bar. They were winning. Mom would have been glad.
An older man and his middle-aged son sat down on our right. We began talking. Their family lived in Salem. The dad asked if I did as well.
“No. I live in New York. My mom lived in Salem, but she died today.”
“I’m so sorry,” he said.
“Me, too. But she’d be happy we’re here celebrating her life,” I said. “She loved this place, especially the martinis.”
He nodded toward my nearly empty wineglass. “Can I buy you a drink to toast your mother?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “She — I — would love that.”
He introduced us to his son. We talked about jobs and families and cars and traveling. I asked the father if he’d lived in Salem all his life.
“No,” he said. “When my parents emigrated from Italy, they settled in Everett. That’s where I was born and raised.”
“Everett? My mom lived there for years,” I said. “We grew up in Medford, but she moved to Everett when we were grown.”
“My wife grew up in Medford!” he said. “In fact, hold on. She was out when we left for dinner. Maybe she’s home now.” He called and told her he’d met a lovely couple from New York and asked her to join us.
“OK,” he said. “But here, at least say hello.” He handed me his phone. After a brief conversation, I handed it back.
“We never properly introduced ourselves,” I said. “I’m Jeannette.”
“Yes. My parents faced so much discrimination when they came here. People would drive by our house and yell ‘wop.’ They didn’t want to give me an Italian name.”
I smiled. “My mom’s name was Mary Patricia. Everyone called her Patsy.”
I’m heartbroken that I can no longer visit my mother or pick up the phone and call her, but I no longer ask myself how I can live in a world without her. She showed me that day that she will always be with me.