I had written poems for everyone, it seemed, but my mother. She asked me about it as she prepared for heart surgery. I promised to write “her” poem and it arrived, along with a beautiful, hand-made, triple-kaleidoscope, the day before she underwent surgery to have a defibrillator installed. She loved it.
Because poetry is so personal, I’ll offer a sketch to explain her biography as highlighted in this poem.
You could not meet a person more proud of her Irish heritage. Her father, William “Willie” Rankin, and mother, Helena “Lena” Tracey Rankin, never lost the Irishness. Thus, the triumvirate that gave Catherine “Kitty” Rankin her identity. The double meaning references her firm faith in the Trinity.
The family emigrated to America when she was seven years old. Her parents were hard-working. Her father owned and operated a pet store while her mother cleaned high schools. But at night, there was music lessons to be practiced, and my mother recalled that her mother would sing and dance, holding a broomstick. There were three girls: Maureen, Kitty and Josphine and the baby, Bobby, would become a lawyer to carry Willie and Lena’s ambitions for learning and higher education to fruition.
On May 16, her sixteenth birthday, Kitty came home from the hospital, where her father lay suffering from lung cancer. She sat at the kitchen table, put her head down on her hands, and fell asleep. She was awakened by the sound of wings, glanced up, and saw a white dove flying past the kitchen window. Above the window was a clock; she glanced up. In the hospital, her father had just drawn his last breath. And so, for the Rankins, a ‘new ranking’ of widow, and fatherless children.
The reference to spectators summarizes my mother’s great love for fine shoes, and snazzy dressing as she became a working girl. She modeled a little. Kenneth – the Kenneth of hair fame – tried to convince her to dye her hair red. He told her she could be a famous model if she did. She declined. Good girls did not dye their hair.
She dated many men; seven proposed. She had one faithful friend, Kay Ernst, and Mom’s dearest friend throughout her entire life. Life at home became a sorority of sorts: Lena and the three sisters pulling together to put Bobby through law school.
My father met Kitty and fell. (See “First Anniversary” Blog.)
Paul and Kitty loved to go horseback riding and went on one very special moonlight ride. Paul served in the Italian front during World War II and when he returned they married right away, on Feb 23, 1946. They raised a family of five sons and three daughters. Those were the darling decades.
Living in Columbus, Ohio, the focus became celestial because we buried our two brothers, Rob and Steve, who were killed in a head-on car crash at the ages of 22 and 19. Nothing was ever the same. The recessional at Rob and Steve’s funeral Mass was “When You Wish Upon A Star.” Our family looked upward from then on.
One of my mother’s signature phrases was, “You’re such a good egg.” The good eggs tried to help Kitty and Paul mend. Kitty said it was like losing an arm: life went on but it was never the same. Unable to tolerate being in the house, they fled south to Florida to begin a new life.
This is the era of grandparent-hood. Baby Birds coming – Paul Richard, Brittany, Kelly – and The Little Ones – the pet name for Patti and Suzy, two youngest Postons – learning to fly on their own.
At the age of 65 my mother discovered she could paint. Moving to Texas to be near #2 son Paul, Jr., my mother is diagnosed with throat cancer and endures a hemi-laryngectomy. She recuperates only to learn she must have heart surgery. While recovering, Paul, Jr. is broad-sided and killed at the age of 50.
My father, devastated, basically just gives up on life. Kitty and I make him a surprise for his Christmas present: a movie of their life together. He is delighted. He finds out three months later he is dying of cancer. He passes away on October 14, 2000. My mother never stopped yearning for him. The rest of her life was a pale imitation of what she knew by his side.
Theirs was a true love story. They endured not only with their love and marital commitment but also in their faith. My mother wept, and mourned, but did not accuse, question, or challenge God. Her devotion to Mary, St. Jude, St. Anthony, St. Joseph, and the Trinity never wavered. She died strong in her faith. She is dearly loved and will be sorely missed.