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Looking Back

family-05A person is a sum of many parts, of all the lives they’ve touched. There is no all good, all bad, we are many spirits interwoven into one giant one. My mother had a giant spirit. Personality Plus. A lot of heartache and drama; also a lot of joy even if she wasn’t always aware of it. And sometimes we weren’t.

But looking back, I remember the way my two year old son’s eyes lit up, overjoyed to see my parents walking towards us at the county fair — a surprise trip from Cape Cod to Vermont.

My mother and I fought a lot, said cruel things, but there was always love, a connection that I couldn’t break no matter how hard I tried to break the apron strings. Heck, I’m still tied to my Dad’s and I’ve never even seen him in an apron.

But my mom. I was lucky to have her. I had her for fifty more years than she had her mother. She was seven when my grandmother Lottie Mae died. It defined her life and it defined ours. She was fierce, possessive, couldn’t let anything go, perhaps because she lost the most precious thing to a child at a very young age.

Rhody — “A Swell Gal”

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Rhoda Jane Hurley died the evening of Friday, July 22 surrounded by many loving family members. To be honest it was a shock. She was very much like the Energizer Bunny, always rallying and roaring back stronger than ever. Not this time.

She was born in Claremont, NH on October 8, 1938 to Lottie Mae and Clifford A. Densmore, the fourth “surprise” with much older siblings. Her fondest childhood memories were of her mother’s beautiful home and gardens, and she used to reminisce about the fresh garden vegetables — tomato sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches, radish and butter sandwiches and gorgeous salad plates her mother would lay out. She had a pet pig, who would meet her after school and she was allowed to shoot at cans for recreation. Her parents’ deaths in her eighth year haunted her all of her life, but she persevered, raised by her older sister, Carol, and traveled to a bigger world than Claremont. Her sister was married to a Navy man, and they lived on Chicago’s North Shore in a striking Art Deco apartment building at 5200 Sheridan Road for a few years. When she was 11, she traveled by plane to her maternal Grammy Angela’s in Maine, a place she felt cared for and well-loved. She had deep roots throughout New England, with ancestors having fought at Bunker Hill and in Shay’s Rebellion.

Rhoda finished her school years in Rhode Island, graduating from No. Kingstown High School in 1956, where she was known as “Rhody,” a swell gal with a terrific personality, the nicest girl in the senior class or any other class. Just a blue-eyed blonde, never known to wear a frown, her sunny disposition won her many friends. She planned on entering the nursing field, but met a dashing young Marine named Bill Hurley at the Hingham Marine Barracks pool, and nursing school became a distant memory. Roller coaster rides at Nantasket Beach, followed by Bill’s many trips to RI while courting, led to marriage on January 16, 1957 in E. Greenwich, RI. They had no real honeymoon, but in March of 1957, they were off to NC and the journey began.

Within six years, there were many moves to various bases throughout the South. Four daughters were born, and her husband was off to the Mediterranean and the Caribbean for the Cuban Missile Crisis, and other assignments. Through it all, she held home base together while her husband did his job, all this by the age of 25, with four girls, ages 5 and under.

In Quantico, life settled down for a bit, with Bill back on base. She pursued Altar Rosary, ceramics classes and decorating her home as the girls grew a bit.

In the summer of 1967, after a Cape Cod vacation, Bill moved her to a house in a brand new Hyannis neighborhood. Within a week, he was off to Vietnam and Rhoda settled into an unfinished house with her girls, ages 3 through 9. Throughout his “tour,” she set about finishing their house, had a midnight sled ride one snowy night with neighbors down the only hill around, and set about worrying about Bill during the Siege of Khe Sahn while caring for their daughters. Her girls were her life and she particularly loved their school vacations when they were home with her. The winter of 1968, she finally had that honeymoon in Hawaii with Bill when he had his R and R from Vietnam. When he returned for good that summer of 1968, the next move was to Ohio Steel Country to run the Marine Recruiting Center. It was the turbulent times of Kent State and Vietnam protests, but after two years they returned to the Cape for a couple of years so Bill could finish college, before it was off for another tour, this one in California. In 1974, they returned to the cape for good, with Bill doing tours of duty that didn’t require moving the family.

Rhoda loved interior design, refinishing furniture, and making a home. She was a long-time subscriber to Better Homes and Gardens, she loved reading, especially history, biographies and mysteries, and she was an avid map collector. Her love of geography she shared with her son-in-law, Patrick with a yearly subscription to National Geographic. Although a homemaker, she was also very much a business manager, keeping a meticulous household and records. She dressed impeccably, and Kathleen Needham used to tell Rhoda’s daughter “your mother was always so glamorous.”

Her daughters’ friends all loved her as she did them, particularly Holly Murzic Romotsky, who predeceased her in 1986. She swapped her car for Holly’s 1960’s battered Rambler wagon one weekend so daughter “Patti Ann” and her friend Holly, would have a safe, reliable vehicle to travel off-cape in. She knew what she was in for and loved to tell the story, as sometimes you had to lift the Rambler’s hood and use a wrench on the choke to get it to start.

Rhoda was a great storyteller, and she could tell you a good one, full of colorful details if you had the time to listen. A smart, independent woman with a sharp tongue and a memory like an elephant’s, she had a sense of humor, loads of personality and was known as a “hoot,” “feisty,” and a “cool lady.” She adored dogs, particularly Bucky, her beloved Obi (with his own room and loveseat), Joey, Bob, and numerous Sullivan canines. It was a mutual admiration society.

It was hard letting go of her daughters as they left home, but fortunately there were grandchildren to sustain her for a few more decades.

Daughter Jacqueline remembers most “my mother calling me JJ, how much she loved me, how much she loved her son-in-law Patrick, and how much she loved our daughters Meredith and Caroline. I will always know these things to be true.” Betsy recalls the time when she was three and Rhoda left her at the Base Nursery Care while she shopped once. Afterwards, in the car Betsy stood in the back seat, ranting at her mother, “Don’t you ever leave me. I am not ready for you to leave me!” Betsy remembered “Oh I was mad at her. She was so flustered I think that was the time she ran a red light and got a ticket.”

Niece Debbie recalls wild times — “one that immediately comes to mind includes flying dishes,” and her mother, Patsy, Rhoda’s older sister — but also healing times. “Reconnecting with your mother was a wonderful thing. It helped me in dealing with my mother’s death, and it helped with some of my unresolved anger. I love your mother as if she were my own, but without the hurtful baggage.” Spirited Densmore girls, flying dishes, sisterly shenanigans, but always love in the end.

A few years before she died, Rhoda reminisced, about Betsy’s birth, life in Chicago, her mother’s garden, her own beautiful penmanship and how daughter Kathleen’s penmanship was just as beautiful. She’d cry sometimes, saying how much she was going to miss her children when she was gone.

According to Marty, Patricia’s mate, “We never agreed on anything. She was a conservative Republican. I was a liberal Democrat. She loved the Mannings. I loathed the Mannings. She loved horse racing and hated baseball. Quite the opposite for me. The one thing we did have in common is that we would never concede defeat when we got in an argument. After a time, we tended to avoid hot topics, knowing that it was futile to think that either one of us would concede to the other. More recently I would call her on a regular basis, usually in the evening. Rhoda tended to take her frustrations out on Patricia so I decided I would take up some of the burden. After a short while I ended up enjoying our conversations. We eventually were able to even talk politics, as she became a disgruntled Republican and I a disillusioned Democrat. We found a common ground. I miss our evening chats already. I suspect we’ll resume them in a future life — another place, another time, but never recalling our past. Until we meet again.”

As granddaughter Molly writes,” To my best friend, spirit animal, and the woman who gave me all my sass, style and sweet tooth, my heart is in a million pieces without you. Wherever you are, Gram, I hope the decor is impeccable and the Manishewitz is flowing. I’ll meet you there someday. I’ll miss you forever. I’ll love you for always.”

Besides her daughters Patricia (mate Marty Gravelle), Kathleen, Jacqueline (Patrick Sullivan) and Elizabeth (mate Vincent D’Olympio), Rhoda leaves behind her grandchildren Anthony and Molly Pizzo, Sophie Larios, Helen, Mairead and Albert Hurley, Meredith and Caroline Sullivan, great-grandson Isaac, niece Debra Coderre Woodman, and numerous friends and relatives.

A closing note in her yearbook from high school pal Bub “Lanky” Ramstead read, “To Rhoda, If in heaven we don’t meet, hand in hand we’ll stand the heat. Lots of luck.”

The last word: If Rhoda were reading this she’d snap, “That’s not the way it happened!” and she’d proceed to set the record straight. The story never ends. We miss you, mama.

**We always pronounced it Mum or Mumma.
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Just a Hello and thinking of you

Hello Suzanne,

Perhaps you’ll have a chance to read this, no reply necessary. Just know that you are in my constant thoughts and however things turn out, I think of your kindness, Grace, love, dignity, courage and spirit…this is what I endeavor to share of the people who have been a part of my life, perhaps what most of us remember — the little things, the little glimpses and stories of a day in the life. Should we have grandchildren together, wherever you are I will make sure to include you so that they know their other grandmama well. We will set a place for you at our table always.

Much love for you .
Patricia

P.S. You have raised some remarkable boys, and your tribe will gather to embrace and support them however we can.

Time


For some reason, every year I look forward to Halloween (maybe it’s the magic of the season), want to dress up (this year I actually got as far as a costume), reminisce about returning to the Ted Williams Haunted House in Lakeville, and end up feeling disappointed at another Halloween gone by that I haven’t seized a new memory for; one I want to save for the archives. And I end up thinking the same thing — next year. I do this with a lot of things and the hard thing about it for me is that the years keep going by, I don’t get the moments back, and I have this thing about wanting to live full throttle, with no regrets, yet I allow things (people, opinions) to hold me back. After reading a Shutter Sisters post this morning, I was reminded of how often I have been able to say yes — to others; it’s time to say yes to me.

Today is All Soul’s Day, or Dia de Los Muertos, so I haven’t entirely missed the boat for this year’s Samhain celebrations, but I do have to create my own. Here in the northeast, we don’t have big celebrations today — as a Catholic, it is a Holy Day of Obligation I have long neglected. But today I will celebrate it in my own way. Lighting candles for my loved ones on the other side, taking a dance class tonight, and exploring ancient cemeteries here on the cape with a friend.

** I think my son’s makeup in the above photo is pretty cool for a Day of the Dead look, but I don’t think I’ll go quite that far today.

Grown Up


He’s actually a grown man now, one I am proud of. I know this, I recognize this — the time flies and it’s hard to believe that he is no longer my sweet rockin’ boy. Is this how my parents feel about me — that I am still their girl even though I am a grown woman of 51?

I am still so smitten with my kids, their charm, their humor, their humanity, the privilege of watching them grow into adults I enjoy being around. I am letting go — slowly, finding my way back to a life beyond motherhood, but man I cherish those memories like nobody’s business.

How It Is with My Mother

Sometimes if you want a relationship with someone badly enough, perhaps you have to settle for it on their terms, so long as it doesn’t mean allowing yourself to get beat up. This is how it is with my mother. I can’t totally shut her out of my life and yet her toxicity has had a huge affect on my life. I don’t want to blame, but I do want to break free and live a life of joy and wonder. But how do I find that life? I am still searching. In the meantime, I think I do not want to have regrets when my mother is gone — regrets that I could have done more, visited her more, called her more. I’ve tried at one time or another, and I have had some good memories with my mom, but there is also a lingering melancholy that persists and sometimes it drowns me. I want joy and wonder. I am not sure where to look for it. But this is how I feel today. Tomorrow I meet my childhood girlfriend and the sun is supposed to shine. And that is one place I will find that joy.

Channeling


Maundy Thursday. Holy Thursday. The Last Supper. I felt like I was channeling Evelyn as I baked biscotti dolci for the Easter holiday. Little round almond flavored cookies with a confectioner’s glaze and colored sprinkles. I remembered her in our little LaFountain Street kitchen making them so many years ago when Anthony was a little guy. Before Molly was even born. I think it’s how we hold people we’ve loved in our hearts – through our memories and sometimes our actions. So many of the memories are triggered by food. Our first nourishment, almost before the love comes, there’s the sharing of food that is so sacred. Mother and child. We are blessed when we have someone to share a meal with, whether it’s our first or our last, or somewhere in between.

** above images of homes across the street from our wee house from this site:
http://www.uvm.edu/~hp206/2002-1869/svukovic/Burl1869s9/