Some may wonder why my sign off on every blog is ‘Here’s up to it!’ Many that are close to me already know. They are the lucky, lucky ones and not because they are close to me but because they likely know the origin of the phrase from my mother herself: the one, the only, my beloved Pamela McLaughlin. Those of you not lucky enough to have had my mother in your world deserve a small piece of her because you’ll just be better for it. That’s not delusion or arrogance, that is fact. This is her story from my perspective.
My mother was born in Montgomery, Alabama, a half Italian beauty. Her father, my beloved Papa…Michael Mascia, was instrumental in building housing in the city where I grew up…Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Many might know the story of Oak Ridge, the Secret City built as part of the Manhattan Project during the war. Mom grew up in Oak Ridge where she met my father, Victor, her high school sweetheart. They both graduated then got married after Dad had started medical school in Memphis, Tennessee. Ultimately my father’s Cardiology practice returned him to Oak Ridge after years of training in Virginia and Ohio so I grew up in Oak Ridge until I graduated high school.
Her upbringing is important because it’s part of her story but the relevance of my mother…besides the obvious fact that she was my first best friend, my hero and the love of my life…was her presence, her personality. It is widely acknowledged that Pamela, or Pammie as those of us in her world called her, was one of the finest women that anyone had ever known. There are SO many facets to her personality and greatness I can only pretend to scratch the surface describing her. But I’m sufficiently tenacious as my mother’s daughter that I am going to try.
Mom had the greatest sense of humor you could imagine. She loved a good joke. And she was naughty. SO naughty. It was part of her dichotomy. Mom was always perfectly dressed and always with beautiful jewelry. You might think she was a diva at first glance: a ladies’ lady. And she could certainly be that. But she really lit up when the chance arose to show her naughty side. She was truly the love child of a Southern Belle and a sailor. Imagine the brilliance of telling a joke that would make grown men blush and doing it in a St. John suit. When I would call to tell her a dirty joke she always said, ‘tell me again!’ as she would try to be sure she remembered the punch line to tell it again later.
I remember when she saw the first Jackass movie. As I recall she was travelling somewhere and it seems like I recall she was with my sister. They might have even watched it in a hotel room somewhere. She called to ask me if I’d seen it and I hadn’t yet. Didn't even really know what it was about at the time. She was laughing so hard on the phone…’you have to see it’, she said. When I did see it, while I was in tears laughing, I recall just wishing she was sitting next to me, hand in hand. I treasure that my mother dug the Jackass franchise. Who can say that?
I talked to Mom on the phone at least 6 times a day. I do not recall why I would have ever gone a day without talking to her. I called her when I woke up, I called her when I left the house, and I called her when I was driving between hospitals. It was just part of my routine. We talked about nothing…it was just a stream of consciousness. After I lost her, it was months before I stopped picking up the phone to dial her.
One of my most favorite memories was the mail. Good old fashioned snail mail. My mother would send letters, mailer envelopes, boxes to myself and my sister and brother every day. The mail was covered in stickers, hand written notes, drawings, and jokes. Before you even opened the mail you smiled. The mail carrier smiled. You would smile the next day when the open letter was still on the desk. She would send cartoons, coupons, stories from the paper. She was the master of the hand written note and we would get them all the time but for no other reason that we were on her mind. I cannot describe the joy of going to the mailbox knowing there was a little surprise there. I would give anything, ANYTHING in my life to have that surprise again.
My mother loved so hard you felt it from a distance. Her voice was a hug, her laugh was a kiss. She did this thing with us that was so precious to me: eyelid kisses. Sounds odd but it is the most precious experience I can imagine: very gentle kisses where her soft Italian lips would fill up your entire orbit. It makes me tear as I type thinking about it. My mother had multiple orthopedic procedures over the years and was plagued with debilitating pain from stenosis in her neck. She was the most fragile piece of iron you could imagine….I wanted to hug her until I would fear I would break her, truly concerned I might break or hurt her. That’s break her physical self, never her spirit.
Mom was the person that never met a stranger. She and Dad traveled all over the world before her health became more fragile. After every trip, she would tell stories of the driver that took them around the city. By the end of the trip, she knew the driver’s family and story and continued to receive cards and communication from these people through the years. She didn’t even realize that she was doing this…touching strangers that just ‘got’ her and wanted to be part of her world moving forward. She was completely unpretentious, totally approachable, and magnificently kind. She had the quickest wit I have ever encountered. She had apples on her cheeks when she smiled and a grin that made your heart warm. Many tell me now that I closely resemble my mother physically. I hear often that my personality most closely channels hers. There is simply nothing more flattering that anyone could ever say to me than that.
I lost my mother 6 and a half years ago. There is no reason for any details of how or why because it changes nothing. Suffice it to say it is and will forever remain the darkest, most awful loss I have endured and there are parts of me that will never recover. For many years after I lost her, which happened 4 days after my 40th birthday, I chose to not celebrate my birthday. It eventually occurred to me that I only have a birthday because of her and she would have never tolerated that behavior from me. She loved wine, laughter, love…that is her legacy and that is how I will honor her.
I recall longing for a sign from her after I lost her. Two things happened that I will never forget. Shortly after I lost her I was at a meeting in California with Jeff. We were at dinner at a restaurant on the coast. I was watching the waves and walked toward the water. I heard her voice in my head: ‘I’m OK’. I cried. I have listened in the wind for another message since and have never heard it again. I am grateful that I heard what I did. The second time I felt her was on a motorcycle. This story makes my father crazy…he’s not a fan of motorcycles. I did not grow up on bikes, never really had an interest. My husband is a fan so I started riding with him. It was again not long after I lost her that we were on a road trip somewhere. I was on the back of Jeff’s bike that time; it was before I had my own bike. As the passenger, I was able to close my eyes, stretch out my arms and feel the wind all over me. In my mind I was completely surrounded by Mom…as if I was traveling through a cloud of her. When we stopped after that moment for fuel, I recall all the hairs on my arms tingling. Every time I get on my bike and ride, I am riding with her, longing to feel her all around me again. She would have hated this perspective of mine but it is my truth.
As I write, this seems like such a futile objective: to describe the beautiful genius that was my beloved mother in a matter of paragraphs. It is absurd that someone that did not have the privilege of knowing her would understand her magnificence after reading this. My hope is that if this is read by anyone who knew her, they will reply with a story about her. This is a tribute from all of us to her. There are just SO many stories to tell. My mind is racing thinking of so many...too many to include here. So many I have omitted by necessity but none ever leave my mind.
Every time we talked to Mom, before she would hang up the phone she would say, ‘Have I told you today how much I love you?’ She said it so consistently that eventually all she had to say was, ‘Have I told you?’ There was never any question of her love for us. She was simply perfection and the best mother, companion, woman a girl could imagine.
Back to the toast and ‘Here’s up to it!’ At every gathering when we would raise our glasses, she would toast the group with her most favorite naughty toast. I will not write it here, I will let those that do not already know it decide for themselves what the rest is. Most who were familiar with her know her other infamous line, 'Hooray, hooray the first of May!' Inside jokes? Perhaps. Part of our good fortune to have had a piece of her? Definitely. Let that be part of her mystery. ‘Here’s up to it!’ is the first line, and that’s all that I often even need to say.
So to you, Pammie…
Here’s up to it!
I love you so much.