Mom’s gift of home

A news show on TV a few weeks back lamented a bit on the trend of twentysomethings moving back in with their parents — hunkering down in a tough economy.

One mom bucked the notion that it was bad, saying proudly that after raising her daughter through all the tough child and teen issues and pressures, their time together now as adults was rewarding.

“I get to enjoy having an adulthood with my child,” she said.

The thought resonates with me this Mother’s Day.

I needed or depended on or always knew my mom was there for me (as was Pops).

But I can’t always say that I recognized or appreciated my mom the way I do now as a 40something.

As a child and teen, you’re not blessed to know all of what mom means. When I hit my 20s, it was all about blazing my own plan and path. And in my 30s, it was about settling into that plan.

That plan is in force as I hit the midway point of my 40s — and I suppose and hope — the midway point of my life.

And that my parents are with me today, as my boys become young men, is rewarding.

And this Mother’s Day is unique for us in that my mom is officially finished working for others, as she retired last week. And at the end of this summer, my wife and I will walk amid the ruins of her parents’ homestead in Goleen, County Cork, Ireland. There’s a book written about the place titled “Next Parish America.” It’s the last bit of Ireland rock the emigrants saw as their ships headed to America.

My grandfather was one. So was my grandmother’s father. They both came from the rugged terrain around Goleen.

My wife’s diligent work on the Internet yielded names and towns in Ireland. I then emailed some folks in those towns — just randomly grabbing at civic leaders such as the town editor, the town historian, and the secretary of the church where my grandfather was christened.

Within a couple of emails, I was on the phone with Kathleen and Jimmy Downey. The three of us connected dots amid the faded records and memories, and it was true: Jimmy and my mom are first cousins who have never had the pleasure to meet.

My mom’s dad hopped on a liner in 1922 and headed for America. (His steamer trunk is in our living room and holds all our family photo albums.) He returned just once to his homeland before he died in 1967. I have one photo of him holding a much smaller me.

His brother — Jimmy’s dad — never left Ireland.

And like thousands of other Irish — one family became two distinct parts, never to be whole again.

I’ve had three conversations with Jimmy and Kathleen, who are a couple of years older than my mom. Patiently on the phone, Jimmy, Kathleen and I have been able to piece together bits of the family that neither side ever knew. They’re easy people to talk to, and seem as interested and enchanted in the “other family” as we are.

Said Kathleen of her husband: “Jimmy would often wonder whatever became of his American family, and wonder why they never came home.”

And every tidbit of these calls I share with my mom, she clings to with the same fervor she has for her thrift store gems. While it’s a treat for me and my wife to have the chance to walk ancestral grounds, it’s become a remarkable treasure for my mom.

We’re still working on getting her to go with us. But she’s strong-willed Irish, with lots of reasons and deflections.

But today, as a Mother’s Day surprise, my fourth call to Jimmy and Kathleen will have my mom on the other end of the line.

I have no idea what will be said.

But I’m pretty comfortable what will be felt as two parts become one.

I said earlier my mom retired from working.

Truth is, like most moms, her real work has been us. And for her, “us” includes the many nieces, nephews and friends she’s adopted over the years upon the death of their mom or grandma.

She knows enough birthdays, suit lengths and shoe sizes that you could accuse her of stalking. But that memory and loyalty typically yields thrift-store gems that astound every one. In my closet are plenty of nice shirts, shoes, jackets and ties. Some I’ve paid some decent dollars for. And others are from my mom. I honestly don’t know which is which, and no one ever would. My mom does, though — down to the price and the store, in most situations.

She’s become so good that her thrift-store gems that she bought all year have become an annual Christmas hit for 20-plus relatives.

She’ll likely work for us till her last days on Earth. I cherish it as much as I’d like to change it. It’s what makes her happy.

I’m equally happy to have the chance to connect her to a part of the Earth she truly calls home.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. E-mail him at He blogs, too, on

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