At approximately 4pm on Sept. 11th, 2020, my mother passed away. Like too many in our nation and world right now, COVID-19 took her from us. She was a few days past her 68th birthday, and had been fighting cancer that had found its way into her lungs. She was the very definition of high risk, but that does not soften the blow. As I write this, my father is still fighting his own COVID-19 infection. His prognosis is better, but we are taking nothing for granted.
It seems proper to take some time to talk about the woman my mother was. Mom was the second oldest of five siblings. She had a rare life, by today’s standards. My father was her only husband, and she was a stay at home mom for me and my two older brothers, Mike and Anthony. Mom was absolutely everything a mother should be. Not just for me and my brothers, but for everyone she met. As Mike said during our last conversation with her, Mom was the mother of the entire neighborhood. People all over town called her mom, from other people in my class in school to grown men who worked in the autobody down the block. To some she was Lillian, to most she was Susan. To almost everyone, she was Mom.
She was, in a word, Momnipotent.
Our door was always open. Food was always on the table. More than one friend of ours, lacking a place to stay, found a home in the Lallo Household. One friend, when he slashed his hand on a piece of broken glass, came knocking on our door. He didn’t call an ambulance. He didn’t go to the doctor. He went to Mom Lallo. (At the time, he thought she was a registered nurse. She was not. Mom had just grown adept at patching people back together thanks to having three sons and two younger brothers, each with varying degrees of bone headedness.) Another friend, who had just returned from a tour of duty in the air force, arrived back in town at 3 AM. He didn’t go to his own house. He came to ours, because he knew we would answer, and that he could get something to eat and crash on the couch until his folks woke up.
Mom’s cooking was the stuff of legend, not just in quality but in quantity. She made homemade popcorn in a frying pan. One batch was approximately half a paper shopping bag. That stuff fueled every party I could remember from when I was barely able to walk until I graduated college. People still tell stories of the time a handful of my brother’s friends stayed over and she make a pancake breakfast for them. Over a hundred pancakes. She had more specialties than I could possibly list: Pepperoni-Bread, Pecan Pie. Mincemeat Pie. Chili. Rice Pudding. Her breaded, fried chicken cutlets were the standard by which all others shall be judged.
One of the last things I said to her was that I owed literally everything to her. Not only did she make me, she installed the software that runs my brain. In a time before the internet, she instituted the “Let’s Look it Up” policy whenever I asked a question she didn’t know the answer to. We had an old set of encyclopedias, and any bit of curiosity would lead to a mini-research session. It trained me to seek answers rather than simply shrugging and remaining ignorant. It made me curious. Hungry for knowledge.
Until a few years ago, the family had some land in Vermont. We would spend every August up there, even before a house was built. We would literally sleep in a barn. No TV. No radio. Just wilderness, campfires, and family. In order to make bedtime something of an event, Mom would ask us to come up with things we would like to hear a story about. Ostensibly it was for all of us, but my brothers are three and seven years older than me, so I dare say they were past the point of bedtime stories when this was happening. We would pick all sorts of topics for stories and she would put them together into a bedtime story, a new one each night, starring ALF (from the 1980s TV show). Completely improvised. It was my first introduction to building a story. That is a skill that has served me well. And because of that, even if you never met her, if you know my books, you know my mother. Her fingerprints are everywhere. She helped name characters like Oriech and Halfax. She actually typed some of the early pages of a book I’ve yet to publish, back when I wasn’t a good enough typist to do so myself. She also wrote stories of her own.
There’s a reason why the brightest and most nurturing character in any of my stories is called “Ma.”
Chronicling Mom’s virtues is an impossible task. The list of things I want to say about what she did for us keeps growing with every new sentence I write. Mom’s scavenger hunts she would put together for Easter morning. Her New Year’s Eve tradition of making a new appetizer every hour until the ball dropped. It doesn’t seem fair that a withering illness and a pandemic should rob her of so many years, and rob the world of her presence. But if one measures one’s life by the impact one has upon others, Mom lived a hundred lifetimes. She will live on in the hearts and minds of everyone who met her. And I can only hope that my brothers and I can pass on her lessons with half the skill and grace with which she taught them.
Goodbye Mom. Thanks for everything.