HAPPY MOTHERS DAY
MY THREE MOMS
I grew up with what I believe is a fantastic example of love and sacrifice.
Let me give you some background. I grew up with three moms. Now, I wasn’t living in some kind of hippie
commune or in some alternative household. I shared our house with my mom and dad, my sister, my maternal grandfather,
and my Aunt Tessie. My real mom, Anna, and Aunt Tessie were sisters. Aunt Tessie was the matriarch of the family.
She was one of the oldest of the sisters, and she had never married and was very religious. She had wanted to be a nun
in her younger days, but, as customary in a lot of Italian households, stayed home to assist my grandmother and take care
of the family. Aunt Tessie was everyone’s godmother. She was so holy. She taught us all how to pray before
we could walk. She would teach us to make the sign of the cross, and say amen. I think every child in our family
learned their prayers on Aunt Tessie’s lap. She had a thousand novenas she would say each morning at her
bedside before going to work, and tons more when she came home.
I had another Aunt Tessie, who we called
Aunt Tessie Junior. Aunt Tessie Junior had almost the same exact name as the other Aunt Tessie- Teresa DePalo (but she
spelled her first name with an “h”- Theresa, and she was the wife of my mother’s and Aunt Tessie’s
brother, my Uncle Happy. Yes, I know. What kind of name is Happy? His real name was Patsy or Pat or Pasquale.
But we all knew him as Uncle Happy. Aunt Tessie Junior was very different than Aunt Tessie Senior. She was a wild
blonde that had gotten my uncle’s eye when she was very young. In her younger days she was a flapper, was a lot
of fun, and loved to entertain and dance. She was always the life of the party, playing pranks and entertaining everyone.
Aunt Tessie Junior was everyone’s best friend.
When I was about 5 years old, my grandfather got sick. He could no longer
walk. My mother and two Aunt Tessies decided they would take care of him, and they did so every day. They sacrificed
so much in their lives. Every day I was surrounded by these three wonderful women, and saw the great sacrifices they
made for their father and father in law. It was a life long lesson.
I could never pick a favorite among them. Mom was mom, nurturing, caring,
and when needed, the disciplinarian. I had a soft place in my heart for Aunt Tessie, because she never married. I always
felt that because of this she was “alone”, although I realized that, because of the love she had for all of us,
she was never really alone. She was so proud of me when I was ordained a priest. Aunt Tessie Junior
was special. She was a friend. When I cried and cried on my first day of school at Saint Catharine’s in Brooklyn,
Reverend Mother Veronica told my mother to take me home. My mother was furious about this, as she had prepped me for months
about going to school. Every day that summer Mom would buy something for me for school. “Joseph’s
got a new lunchbox,” she’d announce.
“Joseph’s got a new pencil case.”
“Joseph’s got a new school bag.”
Joseph excited about going to school? And he’s not even going to kindergarten. He’s going right into
the first grade.”
By the way, my mother always called me Joseph. And she insisted that everyone else call me Joseph,
saying this was my given name, not Joe or Joey or anything else.
Anyway, I know this embarrassed her - especially with Mother Veronica yelling
at her in front of all the other mothers. Mom bit her finger all the way home. That’s what she’d do
when she was angry…it’s an Italian thing, I guess. When we got back, mom let me have it, in her own
way. Boy was she mad.
The next day I decreed – since I already knew at the tender age of 5 that I would one day
be a pastor (I was already issuing decrees), that I would only go back to school with Aunt Tessie Junior. This burnt
mom up even more. So, every morning for that whole year, Aunt Tessie Junior would take me to school in the morning and
pick me up in the afternoon. I loved her so much.
We know that in life, no relationship can be sustained unless there is a willingness
to sacrifice. I tell couples when I perform their weddings, that from now on, their spouse must be the most important person
in their lives, even more important than themselves. In any relationship, be it husband and wife, parents and children,
or friends, we must be willing to give up things - to sacrifice for one another.
The example of my three moms is one that has guided
me as a priest. We must be willing to sacrifice for each other if we really love one another.
Happy Mothers Day to my three moms.
I miss you so much.