Our mother, Cindy, grew up on Mount Washington, and later, being raised mostly by her single mother, with the help of her aunts, in Dormont, along with her beloved sisters, Catherine and Kim. A fourth generation Pittsburgher, she spent most of her life on one side of the three rivers: south.
Reflecting on our mother’s youth, our great uncle laughs, “She was always ornery. Mischievous. I remember, as a kid, she always had a plot: up to something, a plan to carry out. She’d laugh inside of a McDonalds as she squirted ketchup packets at us.” Others, her dear lifelong friends Gail, Kelly or Alice will say, “threw a party like nobody knew. Truly, like nobody else. For anything. And she—your mother—knew how to have fun.” Our father, Tim, though, characterizes her most honorably, and with an astuteness that you only come to know after an entire lifetime together: “People sometimes misunderstood your mom. Some people thought, well, that she was a snob, so over-the-top. But the reality was that every single extra ribbon, gift bag, appetizer, down to the brooches she wore to the airport--she just wanted everyone’s lives to end up [He paused.] a little more special. Your mother just wanted to give everyone she ever met something out of life they might not have had, and to remind them they were worth it.”
Our mother was decadent. And our mother was elegant. But our mother was not frivolous. For the last 35 years, she worked at AT&T, where she began in the early 1980s as a telephone operator. She told the story often, “when I took home my first paycheck, I cried. I sat on the floor and cried.” Almost four decades later, having had only attended Carlow College briefly at around the time that her father died, she was making six figures as a subject matter expert in her professional domain, managing the service of oversees contracts. She ascended to this career purposefully, and with grace. She did this, I remind you, while raising twins, taking care of pets, nurturing a marriage to our father, and always preparing herself for the next short vacation or procession into a holiday which might involve—and we do not exaggerate—simultaneously scrubbing ceilings and floor vents while she baked off lamb and hundreds of pastries. To this day, when we go to any party, we look around: at the decorations, the food, the cleanliness of the venue and I think, “Cindy could outdo you. In just the hours she had left after work.”
She gave us the cello and violin. She gave us swimming, dance, karate, our first cars, birthday parties, vacations. She learned what our favorite foods were and executed them, garnished them, and served them “just because.” She taught us how to work, and throw yourself into it, and how to celebrate the lives we’re fortunate enough to lead with all of the pomp and delicacy available on this earth. We learned that from her, that no amount of time is enough, but that if you plan well and believe in your own abilities, you can do almost anything beautifully, thoughtfully, and under budget.
In the 57 short years that our mother lived, she knew challenges, and she knew paucity. And she added richness to every single frayed end. When we were young, and our mother had left her job serving cocktails at the Marriott to in order to commit to a less exciting job, and begin parenting two children born at the same time, she taught herself how to construct and sew our Halloween costumes. She taught us how to cook before we could read. She taught us who matters: namely, your family, and nobody’s opinions of you, unless their opinions of you are paying you a living wage. She taught us how, literally, to speak to others and command our own presence, and she taught us, importantly, what dedication and devotion look like in practice, and that these values do not need to compete with our ability to have a fun time: all the time.
The very last thing our mother told us directly was “that she had the most wonderful life.” That she was “so proud of us, and that she has had the most wonderful marriage a person could have asked for, to a man who treated her like she was a queen.” “I did everything in my life for you all,” she said.
She didn’t have to say that. We all know. We all knew every Christmas season as we passed by two colorfully decorated trees on our ways to taste the punch she chose from afternoons of research. We knew from the six burners lit on the kitchen stove, with the oven humming low, on Sundays as she danced around the kitchen sipping vanilla lattes. “What do you think?” is all she wanted to know?” And what we thought—her family—was enough for her.
Our mother was an absolutely breathtaking woman. She was smart, and she was ruthless, and she was always, every single day that we knew her, an absolute beauty: she presented herself, and her countless gifts, with a kind of hunger, and toughness, and cultivated flourish that left rooms unable to challenge her. She showed us, our entire lives, and until the last day that she could no longer stand upright because cancer had taken away her ability, that she loved us: by the ways that she fought to stay with us, and the strength that she wielded in order to protect us from our own grief as she suffered.
She was our champion always, and no remarks we type, speak, or know can do service to the love she wielded and shared with the people in her life.
We would like to ask our friends and families to consider a donation, in her spirit, for the American Cancer Society.
- Ben & Stephanie