Column Classic: Mother Mary Flunks Time Magazine

By Lisa Scottoline

You may have read the article in Time magazine, entitled “The Five Things Your Kids Will Remember About You.”  It was predictably sweetness and light, but none of it reminded me of Mother Mary, who was anything but sweetness and light. She’s been gone almost two years now, and she was more olive oil and vinegar.

In fact, I considered the five things that Time set forth and compared them to Mother Mary, to see how she measured up, magazine-wise.

You can play along, with your mother.

Or if you’ve read the previous books in this series, you could probably fill in the same blanks with Mother Mary stories.

But no spoilers.

So don’t tell anyone about the time Mother Mary refused to use the discount Batman bedsheets because she didn’t want a life-size Batman laying on top of her.

Or the time she took to wearing a lab coat because it gave her an air of authority, plus pockets for her cell phone and back scratcher.

Or the time she grabbed her doctor’s butt to prove that she was ready for cardiac rehab.

Nobody would believe those stories, anyway.

So, to stay on point about the Time magazine article, the first thing that your children are alleged to remember about you is “the times you made them feel safe.”

Awww.

How sweet.

Except that with Mother Mary, what I remember are the times she made me feel unsafe.

Because those were truly memorable.

And my general safety was a given, if less dramatic.

For example, when Brother Frank and I were little, we used to fight, which drove my mother crazy. I remember, one day, she yelled at us to stop fighting and we ignored her, so that she took off her shoe and threw it at us.

She missed, but that didn’t stop her.

Because she had another foot with another shoe.

So she took that shoe off and threw it at us, but she missed with that one, too.

We stopped fighting.

You’re probably thinking that she missed us intentionally, and I’ll let you think that, but you didn’t know Mother Mary.  She loved us in a fiercely Italian-American sort of way, which meant that motherhood and minor personal injury weren’t mutually exclusive.

So lighten up, Time.

The second thing in the article was that your children will supposedly remember “the times you gave them your undivided attention,” and the magazine advised parents to “stop what you’re doing to have a tea party” with your kids.

Again, growing up, I had no doubt that I had my mother’s attention, but it was never undivided and she wasn’t into tea parties.

But she chain-smoked.

Does that count?

Mother Mary was a real mom, busy doing laundry, cooking dinner, and cleaning the house, and though she was always available, she wasn’t staring deeply into our blue eyes.  But every night, the Flying Scottolines would sit on the couch and watch TV, giving it our undivided attention.

We all loved TV, so by the property of association, we all loved each other.

Good enough for me.

The third thing was, your kids will remember “the way you interacted with your children’s spouse.”

This doesn’t apply to The Flying Scottolines, since the statement assumes that the parents interacted.

You can’t win them all.

My parents barely talked to each other, but at least they never fought and nobody was surprised when they divorced. But happily, they both loved us to the marrow, and my brother and I knew that.

What I learned from growing up in a house with an unhappy marriage is that divorce is better.

And so I’m divorced twice.

Which I think is the good news, considering the alternative.

If I can’t have a happy marriage, I’ll have a happy house.

The fourth factor was, you kids will remember “your words of affirmation and your words of criticism.”

I don’t know if Italian-American families have things that can be characterized as words of affirmation, except “I love you.”

And as a child, I heard that at least ten times a day.

But I also heard, “Don’t be so fresh.”

So I grew up thinking that I was lovable and fresh, which might be true.

The last thing in the article was that children would remember “family traditions,” like vacation spots and/or game nights.

The Scottolines weren’t the kind to have “game nights,” but every summer, we did go on vacation to the same brick rowhouse in Atlantic City, New Jersey. All day long, we played on the beach while my parents smoked, and at night we sat on the front porch while assorted relatives dropped by and the adults talked, drank beer, and smoked into the night. When the mosquitoes got too bad, we all trundled inside the house, where the adults played pinochle until my brother and I fell asleep on the couch, to the sound of their gossiping and laughter, breathing in the smoke from their Pall Malls and unfiltered Camels.

We had no oxygen, but a lot of love.

And it wasn’t Norman Rockwell.

But it was perfect.

Looking back, I wouldn’t change a moment.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

I love you.

And I’m still fresh.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Mother Mary Gets An Idea

By Lisa Scottoline

Certain smells bring back memories of Mother Mary.

Among these are Estée Lauder Youth Dew perfume, More 100’s cigarette smoke – and mozzarella.

Not exactly sentimental, but there you have it.

You can trust that all the memories of The Flying Scottolines will be relate to carbohydrates.

Let me explain.

The other day, I was walking through the food court in the mall and I caught a width of a distinctive aroma.

Bad pizza.

Specifically, frozen pizza.

By way of background, my mother was a terrific cook, especially of Italian food. She made us homemade spaghetti, ravioli, and gnocchi from scratch. As a child, I spent hours watching her.

And it took hours.

If you’ve ever watched anybody make homemade spaghetti, it’s a domestic miracle. A loaf of dough that somehow ends up being rolled out and then fed into a spaghetti maker, coming out like flour-y tinsel.

Same with ravioli, because she mixed the ricotta cheese and seasonings according to her own secret recipe that had a tangy cheesy salty taste I could never duplicate and wouldn’t even try.

And when she made gnocchi’s, she started with the dough, but rolled it out into long skinny tubes, cut it into little chunks, and then floured her fingers and pinched each chunk, making the special dimpling that marks the best gnocchis – made by hand, dimpled by fingertips.

The problem was pizza.

When we were growing up, I wanted to be like the other kids, who got pizza delivered or had somebody go pick up pizza and brought it home. We never did that, because Mother Mary felt that since it was Italian food, it would be heresy to buy it at a restaurant. But she had no interest in making homemade pizza, and who could blame her, so she would buy it frozen at the Acme.

Or as we say in South Philly, the Ac-a-me.

She bought a no-name brand in a plastic bag, with ten small pizzas stacked on each other, as appetizing as hockey pucks.

She cooked it at home.

For three hours.

Okay, I’m exaggerating, but she overcooked the pizza every time, refusing to follow the directions. She wouldn’t even let me follow the directions. It was her kitchen, so she did the cooking, which meant that our pizza always sucked.

And let’s be real, back then, it was the dark ages of frozen pizza.

In fairness to Mother Mary, overcooking was the only chance that frozen pizza had of drying out, otherwise the crust stayed soggy and the tomato sauce distilled to hot ketchup.

So as I entered high school, I ended up at a friend’s house and they ordered pizza from a great neighborhood pizza place, Marrone’s.

I was hooked.

So one night, when Mother Mary wanted to make frozen pizza, I told her about the magic of store-bought pizza at Marrone’s, but she wasn’t having any. We fussed about it, but amazingly I persuaded her to give it a try.

Mother Mary was delightfully stubborn. You could move the Mummers up Broad Street easier.

So I went to Marrone’s, bought an actual take-out pizza, and brought it home.

Mother Mary opened the box, and we all waited in suspense while she slid out the first piece and cut the mozzarella strings with the gravity of a surgeon servering an umbilical cord. She took a bite, chewed, swallowed, and then said with a wink:

“I knew it would be better than frozen.”

From that day forward, we ordered from Marrone’s.

And I forgot all about that story until I walked through the mall the other day, and smelled the mozzarella.

I knew that somewhere, Mother Mary was winking.

Grief is funny that way, bringing back the good and the bad, the funny foods and the dumb fights.

And most of all, the love.

That never goes away.

And the best of it is homemade.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline