Four Days to Family – Mom Leona (Chapter 6, part 2)
Another IM came up from AKRONOH. “Call your adopted Mom and ask her what your birth name was. I am going to email you a list of baby girls born on your date of birth.”
The momentum and urge to continue intensified. I had another name, a birth name. I looked at the time and realized it was early enough that my Mom would still be awake. She usually was up until at least eleven reading her giant stacks of Harlequin Romances. I found the phone in the room and started to dial, all the while watching for the email.
Leona was an ideal mother in every sense of the word. I cannot recall even one event or occasion at which my mother was not present, front and center, usually with a tape recorder and some sort of camera in hand to record the event for all posterity. Even after my father passed away and Mom had to leave being a full-time homemaker and enter the work world to provide for my brother and I, she still managed to juggle her schedules to be there for all of my life events.
My father’s sudden and unexpected death in May 1982 from an aneurysm on his brain had left us all shattered and lost, yet my Mom kept her pain and loneliness hidden from us, her teenage children. Instead, she was the rock we held on to rather than drown in our own sorrow. As an adult now, I often look back and am struck with the amazing strength and determination my mother had, even though I never realized it as a child.
For ten years, Leona was disowned by her family for marrying my father, as Bob was Syrian AND Orthodox, while my Mom was from a strict Catholic Croatian family. Her mother absolutely forbid such a “mixed” relationship. In fact, she solicited the help of the nuns to spy on my parents at the hospital where my Dad was studying Radiology and my Mom was studying Nursing. The constant observation and the interfering from the Sisters made it virtually impossible for them to complete their studies.
So, one afternoon after putting her day in at the hospital, my Mom boarded a bus to Cleveland, Ohio with the few items she could take from home unnoticed. Frightened as she had never even been out of state in her eighteen years on this earth, yet determined, she ran away and stayed with my Dad’s sister, Adele, until she was able to get a small apartment of her own. My Mom, confident in her decision and her love for my father, never looked back. Perhaps this is where I learned my tenacity. My Dad came a few months later when he secured a job in Radiology. They were married at a courthouse in the state of Indiana, with another of my Dad’s older sisters, Mar, and her husband as witnesses, while their baby Susan sat playing on the courthouse floor.
There were so many traits that I inherited from my Mom, Leona. My love of children and providing magical childhood memories; my devotion to my Orthodox faith; my strong beliefs in family ties and commitment; my love of cooking and opening my home to others – especially during the holidays; these were all definitely straight from Leona.
As each year passes, the more I admire my Mom and the sacrifices she made for our family. She left her own schooling to save my father from the persecution of the nuns. She followed her heart and always did what she believed to be the right thing. She often did without so that my brother and I could have things, go places, or be involved in activities. She went out of her way to make sure every birthday, every holiday, every occasion was magical for us. She suffered in silence at the passing of my Dad, her husband – her soul mate, while providing solace to us. There was never any doubt that at anytime, anywhere, no matter what it was, my Mom would move mountains to do what she could to provide for her children’s happiness.
“Hi honey. How are you? Budd and I helped make pirogi for the church picnic. We made another 240 dozen since we sold out last year.”
Normally, I enjoyed hearing the day to day playback from my Mom, but right now was different. I couldn’t shake the urging that time was of the essence, and wanted to get right to the point. And just how many pierogi is 240 dozen?!
“Mom, I have to ask you a question and I really need your help.”
“Okay”, my Mom replied with a question in her voice. “You know I will do whatever I can to help you.”
“Mom… what is my birth name?” I held my breath as I posed the question.
“Chrissy, your name is Christine Marie, after your Tita…”
I cut her off. “No, my birth name. The name I had when you adopted me.”