Starting this Christmas I am returning to my abandoned blog and podcast.
I sort of lost a bit a inspiration due to business and family issues, and like many of us during the COVID years felt a lost of motivation. In a way I didn’t stopped the blog, but quietly quit my effort to it.
Andrew gave me a subscription to “Storyworth” which allows for my kids to submit questions to me that they would like me to write a response to in the blog. I felt inspired by the idea- and motivated to answer their questions.
So as long as they keep the questions coming – I will make a commitment to a once a week blog entry and a weekly podcast starting the second week of 2023.
Nothing is off limits and I will try to answer the questions as completely as possible.
The first question was asking what my Mom was like when I was a child… I try to keep on topic but as usual I follow my own drumbeat . I hope I can share more of these stories with my kids ( and grandkids) and make the blog meaningful to them.
What was your Mom like when you were a child?
I am a child of the 60’s and 70’s – a late generation baby boomer with my earliest complete memories coming in late 1960’s around when I was about 5. Most of those earliest memories were centered around my mom- Peggy.
My mom was a true 60’s-70’s mom- experiencing everything that era has from studio 54 in New York to hosting Tupperware parties. She had an outgoing, friendly personality that was hard not to like. I know of no friend or family member that has a bad memory of Peggy Hill. She was just that type of genuinely kind person that drew others to her for warmth. When she passed in 2000 the many hundreds that paid their respects had stories of kindness and love.
She was born to less than perfect circumstances with an alcoholic father (John Mulligan), and a fragile mother Elizabeth (Potts) who passed away only 16 months after she was born. The 5 Mulligan children were left on their own after father became increasingly lost to abusive behavior and drink. Two ended in Philadelphia orphanages, and fortunately a maternal uncle took my mom in when my mom’s older sister (Aunt Skeets) agreed to care for her needs.
Mom had fragile health as well, including an early bout of rheumatic fever/ St Vitus Dance which likely impacted her neuroglial condition, and may have contributed to her early Alzheimer’s disease. But by all measure her early life was hard.
She told me a story that she never knew her dad, and that one day her and her sister were going by a stoop in South Philly and saw a couple drunks passed out. Her sister said that “that’s you Dad” and she struggled to figure out which one was him. John Mulligan died in April 1947 when mom was 12.
Not a great start for any child.
Mom went to Catholic school and was a very good student. She was very proud of the fact that she graduated salutatorian of her high school class and seldom mentioned that there were only 30 kids in the class. For a poor girl from Philly with no family support or resources, college was not even a remote option, and she went to work for the Phone company. I always believed that mom had the intellect and drive to have succeeded in anything she tired, and I credit her drive and intelligence as the force that made me reach for more in life.
In my childhood mom was an involved with all the things a 6o’s housewife would gravitate to if you were writing a sitcom character. She was in the women’s bowling league, President of the Junior Women’s League and constantly hosting either Tupperware parties or game nights with “the girls of the neighborhood”.
My mom had deep friendships with neighbors and hasdus call them names like “Aunt Joan” or ” Aunt Eliane “. She found deep friendships and built a network in the neighborhood and church that was made of connections and trust.
The church was very important to her, and my sister and I attended mass at the catholic church regularly. Even though I was asked to leave the ” catholic education system” in the 3rd grade due to a stutter and behavioral problems, mom pushed religious education on me through CCD. She even taught CCD for 5 or 6 years while my sister and I were attending.
When I turned 10 and could be an altar boy, she demanded that I be allowed to service mass even though I was not in a Catholic School. As the only non-parochial altar boy, I got the 6 am masses – and she would get up and make sure I was there on-time at 5:45. Damn if the church was going to keep her boy from that experience.
She was like that in everything she touched – from running a cub scout den to taking me to try virtually every sport (I sucked at all of them)- she was my advocate and champion in the world. I was chubby, shy and had a stutter, but she would not have me denied any opportunity. She pushed me in spite of my short comings to do more and be more.
She wasn’t a saint and had a short fuse when frustrated. She had used ” nerve pills’ to get through the challenging days and would become overwhelmed from time to time. She was human and had her limits and could be angry and upset. But generally, she maintained a positive attitude.
My dad traveled at least three times a month for trips as short as three days to one’s lasting over two months. The burden of raising kids fell largely to her. I rarely heard her complain but these absences had to place a burden on a woman without her own mother or mother-in-law to lean on.
When I was about 11 she started working outside the home- first at as a line packer for the old Harriet Carter gifts, then as a teller in a local bank. She liked working and was proud of the job she did, eventually moving to more responsibility within a collateral loans department of a bank. She was loved by her peers and had a committed work ethic that has earned the respect of others including senior management. Even though she worked every day she never missed a performance or event – she was a consistent cheerleader, even when my dad travelled.
In the late 1980’s, when I was finishing college, she started to notice slippages in physical health, memory and processing. It would not be till the early 1990’s that this was called something, with my sister recognizing the symptoms before my dad and I would accept it. The disease took much from my mom- her job and slowly her cheerful personality.
In the 90’s I was buried in a challenging marriage, raising 4 small children and building a career. It is my greatest regret in life that I left the noise of life take me from being there when she needed me most. She never complained to me, it wasn’t her style, but the pain I caused her was real, and unforgivable. I try to live my life in a way that would make her proud, and hope that she realized how grateful I was for her being there for me.
As I think of the lessons that she taught me the ones that influenced me most are about attitude and resilience. She always moved forward and pushed her children to reach their potential. It’s that constant moving forward that I took as the most important message. She had so many reasons to fail and give up- yet she never did and through it taught her children the importance of pushing forward.
Her birthday is on December 19th and growing up poor she often had her birthday combined with Christmas. As an adult she fought to have her birthday celebrated distinct from Christmas. Remembering her on that day through a prayer, a toast or just a kind word -she would consider it a perfect Birthday gift.