Editor’s note: Anthony Romeo’s mom Terry passed away recently.
Two crisp twenty-dollar bills pushed into lumpy 13-year-old fingers, Mom pushed me into my uncle Kenny’s car. “You don’t say a word about this, you hear me?”
It was August 3, 1997 and I was, technically, still grounded. I was supposed to be going to WWE’s SummerSlam pay-per-view event, at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J. But I had misbehaved, and my stepfather had decided that, as a punishment, there would be no wrestling.
But little did he know, in stepped my mom. Knowing that wrestling was my absolute favorite thing in the world. Knowing that Bret Hart, my favorite wrestler ever, was going to have a chance to win the championship from The Undertaker. She knew, in her heart, that I just had to go. So off I went, three hours away in a car with my uncle and my cousin, to live my dream from Row 17, Seat 6, sworn to secrecy that I was being given a reprieve from my punishment.
That $40 went to the merchandise stand, where I bought myself my very first Bret “The Hitman” Hart T-shirt. It’s a shirt that you’ll find if you look into my middle school yearbooks, because I wore it for picture day, every year, an unspoken secret between a mother and her son.
Those are the things that moms do, I’ve realized. They save money by working terrible jobs where no one appreciates them, so that you’ll have spending money for something you really want. To give you $40 for a shirt you could get at Walmart for $8. That’s what moms do.
Moms are on their hands and knees, washing the floors at midnight because it’s the only time they can get it done without four people and a dog walking across it. They do it, and they think we won’t notice it. It might take us until we’re 30 to notice that there’s been someone keeping life clean underneath us, around us, but we do notice it. It must be hard to work so hard for so little praise. But that’s what moms do.
Moms make sure that every Sunday morning of your childhood, no matter what, you are listening to “Don Giovanni’s Italian Carousel” on the radio. It reminds them of their own childhood, and you get to share in those memories, even if moms don’t call attention to it. Years later, when you hear Dominick the Donkey or Pepino the Italian Mouse, you’ll realize that even after they’re gone, moms find ways to make you smile. Because that’s what moms do.
Moms have foods they make best, better than anyone. Not special foods, or fancy foods, but foods that are owned uniquely by moms. Full meals that are defined by the main ingredient. For example, if someone says you’re having chicken cutlets for dinner, you know that’s going to include a side of Rice-A-Roni and a side of green beans, stacked like a log cabin. If it’s seashells on the menu, you can expect a bed of lettuce on the bottom of your plate, a ring of sliced tomatoes circling the platter, and several hefty scoops of tuna salad and seashell noodles on top. And don’t even get me started on pepper steak. And when moms say you can have a snack after dinner, you know it’s either going to be Swiss Cake Rolls or a Cosmic Brownie. These tastes will stay with you for the rest of your life. And you’ll be happy. That’s what moms do.
But there will come a time when moms have completed all the things they’ve been given to do. And then they have to leave, and go away. They might be young, or they might get to be very, very old. But every mom who does, one day has to go. And if they’re lucky, there’s a grace in the going of it all. But you will be there for them, right up until, and even after, the end has come. That’s what children do, because that’s what moms did.
Those children will find themselves taking care of arrangements, when that end has come. And it will be the most surreal experience in the world. Those children will ask for the black Cadillac, and the nicer urn, and will write an obituary that can’t nearly scratch the surface of all the incredible stories there are to share. There will be a moment when those children realize there is no way to say thank you, not enough, even if there’d been another dozen years or more.
But moms teach children how to remember, how to share and how to play nice in a sandbox that only gets bigger as we do. They teach us how to tell stories by living those stories themselves. Moms make us ask ourselves if we can live a life that is half as devoted to others as theirs. And moms challenge us to grow up and become the dads they know we can be. To give, and give again.
And so the memories of a Bret Hart T-shirt carry with them an obligation. In 1997, it was to not say a word. In 2015, it is to say all of the words. And it’s in the telling of stories that long nights spent scrubbing floors are not forgotten, that sore backs and tired feet are remembered, celebrated. Treasured. And when there is a tiny baby who is ours, who becomes a toddler and then a teenager, the obligation is to tell the old stories of Dominick and Pepino, of seashells and Cosmic Brownies, of chicken cutlets. They are memories of a time that has come before, clutched tightly against the heart for as long as they’ll stay. And then it’s time for new stories, authored by a new set of writers, silently teaching, scrubbing, cooking, and aching.
So thank you, Moms, not just for what you’ve done, but for all the things you’ll help us do.
All the things these dads will do.