By Cliff Ennico
[My mother, Ruth Frenz Ennico, passed away earlier this year at the age of 85. The following is taken from the eulogy I delivered at her memorial service last week.]
It’s never easy to lose your Mom. No matter how old or ill she was, no matter how prepared you think you are for her passing, the actual event always comes as a shock.
A friend of mine explained it best shortly after hearing of Mom’s passing: “virtually all of our early childhood memories are memories of our mothers.”
My Mom, like me, was an only child. A member of the Greatest Generation, she lived and suffered through the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War as they all did. But in my Mom’s case that suffering went much, much deeper. My Mom had a childhood that can truly be described as Dickensian.
My Mom’s early years were spent in a fourth-floor walkup apartment in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood. There were four apartments on that floor, with one shared bathroom. One of my Mom’s earliest memories was of her father going into that bathroom early in the morning and stamping his feet so that the rats would run for cover.
In 1936, when my Mom was eight years old, her father abandoned her and her mother, taking to the rails as an itinerant worker (translation: hobo or bum), never to be heard from again. Her mother could no longer afford the Harlem apartment, so she and my Mom packed up and moved in with a relative in the South Bronx. Mom had to give away all of her toys, dolls and clothing except for two or three outfits that would fit into a single desk drawer, because that was all the room available for her possessions.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for an eight year old to lose her father, her home and her possessions all at once, without any warning?
This is a sad story, but I tell it because it explains so much about my Mom, the woman she became, and the things she loved. Often, especially during her last decade, she would behave in ways that were eccentric at best, exasperating at worst. Whenever she did, I always tried to remember that little eight year old girl, and I always tried to cut her some slack.
So what were the things my Mom loved?
She Loved Her Possessions. When my Mom got hold of something, she never, ever let it go. Everything in my Mom’s apartment – over 12,000 items at the time of her death – had a deep personal meaning to her. She wouldn’t part with anything, and if you accidentally broke something in her apartment, she wouldn’t talk to you for weeks.
Whenever we would go to a restaurant to eat she would bring a huge empty leather purse, into which she would empty the entire contents of the salad bar. I know it sounds funny, but remember that eight year old girl.
She Loved Shopping. When I was a boy I dreaded shopping for clothes with my Mom. If there were 32 pairs of slacks available in my size, I had to try on each and every one to make sure I was getting the best possible pair. When my Mom bought you a gift, she would spend hours, even days, looking for that single, perfect gift you would cherish forever, as she herself would. I never saw her give a gift certificate to anyone, ever.
She Loved My Father. My Mom and Dad shared an amazing 50 year romance. They argued and squabbled just like anyone else, but they also made it a point to demonstrate their love for each other each and every day they were married, until my Dad’s passing in 2000. There was no way my Dad was going to end up riding the rails.
She Loved Me. I cannot say that I was spoiled the way many only children are. Mom expected much from me, and believed (I think correctly) that kids don’t push themselves to excel unless someone pushes them first. At the time I misunderstood her pushing as coldness, but I wouldn’t be where I am today if she hadn’t.
She Loved to Talk. My Mom loved to talk, for hours, on the telephone to people she hadn’t seen in years. If she felt she had a captive audience, she wouldn’t let you go. She could take a trip to the grocery store and turn it into an Icelandic Saga, talking for hours, without pausing for breath.
Today I speak about 40 to 50 times a year to business and professional groups throughout North America. I am known for my storytelling skills, my podium humor, and my ability to explain things so that a sixth grade child can understand them. Gee, I wonder where that came from?
Thanks, Mom. I love you. Rest in peace.
Cliff Ennico (www.succeedinginyourbusiness.com), a leading expert on small business law and taxes, is the author of “Small Business Survival Guide,” “The eBay Seller’s Tax and Legal Answer Book” and 15 other books.