My mom’s name is Mary Louise Cady Peacock. “Mary Lou” to family and friends. “Mom” to her children and “Ma Lou” to her grandchildren. My mom was named for her mom — Mary Angelus Diggs Cady. Angelus — because she was born when the Angelus bells were ringing. The bells that remind the faithful to bow their heads and say their Ave Marias. Hail Mary, so full of grace.
My mother, Mary Lou, I am sure said more than her share of Hail Mary’s in her lifetime. Round and round the Hail Mary’s go on the five decades of the rosary. Round and round they go with prayers full of sorrow and prayers full of joy. My mom was a woman of two poles and like everyone who walks this good earth, she had her share of sorrows. At the tender age of seventeen, she was pulled out of school to take care of her dad and her brother when her own mother took to her melancholy bed. She lost her dad, Benjamin Cady, just a week after my brother Tim was born. She really loved her dad, who none of us ever got to know. Mom told us the story of how he always told her that when he got home from work each day he would bring her a “solid gold wait-awhile”. And apparently he always did.
Born in 1926, my mom was a child of the depression. She grew up in a big, crazy, chaotic, extended family that included lots of her aunts and uncles as well as her singular brother. Granddaddy Cady was the plumber who supported them all. Everybody needs a plumber, even when times are tough:)
So when Mary Lou grew up she had a big, crazy, chaotic, Catholic family of her own. She and my dad met at St. Theresa’s Parochial School. A little young for dating at six and seven, they started courting when my dad was in college. Married in 1950, my mom gave birth to all six of us in just nine years (Yes, just nine years!). And hysterically we were practically born in pairs: girl boy, girl, boy, girl, boy. When calling any one of us for any reason whatsoever, our mom would recite the litany of all our names. The litany from the oldest to the youngest: Maureen, Timmy, Joani, Bernie, Clare, Joseph.
Mom loved to cook for her hungry horde. It was, I believe, her most creative outlet. She had a bazillion cook books but never really followed a recipe and never quite made exactly the same thing twice. While other kids sat down at dinner to eat meatloaf or spaghetti-os, we would sit down to Filet of Sole Almondine or Beef Stroganoff. Food that requires Capital Letters. And when her grandchildren came along, she took to cooking even more.
During football season, we’d gather in my parents’ recreation room to watch Redskin games. My mom would start cooking before eleven the food that would not quite be ready by seven. The ping-pong table (Yes, the ping-pong table!) nearly groaned from the weight. Not even Jesus, multiplying the loaves and the fishes, could compete with my mom in the kitchen.
Raising six kids in the suburbs in the sixties and seventies — along with being married to a workaholic doctor — is no walk in the park. And even in the best of circumstances, these circumstances would make just about anybody crazy. Our mother was no Blessed Mother — but given her temperament, she was the best mother that she could manage to be. Some days were certainly darker than others. And some days she shone as brightly as the sun.
Mary Lou could shop until she dropped. She could spend as much money in a drug store as she could in a jewelry store. She bought us both the best and the strangest of presents. Once I got a sweater from the local pro shop — embroidered all over with golf scenes like putting greens, fairways and flags. And I do not even like nor play golf.
Mary Lou could talk a blue streak. And she would talk to almost anyone about anything. Sometimes the grocery store clerk or the dental hygieinist would know more about our family than we did — our mother having made a recent visit:).
And in her day, Mary Lou was a knockout (as my dad would say!). With her auburn hair and freckled complexion, she was always beautifully dressed in that Jackie Kennedy sort of way. She had hats and shoes and pocketbooks to match her every outfit. She taught us that our socks should always match our shirt. Something I still do to this day:)
She was definitely a disciple of Better Homes and Gardens. She loved decorating and making our house a House Beautiful. Most especially I believe because she lived under her mother-in-law’s roof until after number three was born (That’s me.) She had kind of a Williamsburg flair when it came to furnishings. And sometimes she would stay up into all hours of the night rearranging the furniture — manically trying to get it just right.
Growing up with our mom was crazy but it was our crazy — our very own brand of loud, unpredictable, chaotic crazy. And all six of us have turned out remarkably okay. And some of us sometimes better than okay.
And even after all the difficulties of the last ten years — since my dad died — and all the while our mom lived at the Fairfax Nursing Center — mom still loved and embraced her big crazy family. She remembered all our birthdays – for all six of us children and all seven of her grandchildren. From visit to vist, she would remember every important detail of whatever we had talked about the month before. She always wanted to know everything about us — which included even our dogs, our cats, and our cars. And even more she wanted to know everything there was to know about her every grandchild — schools, sports, plays, graduations, jobs. She would even ask them embarrassing questions about their boyfriends and girlfriends who had come and gone. No detail was too small for her to care. Because she loved us — no matter what.
So mom, Mary Lou, may today and everyday– evermore– be your dancing day. No more pain. No more tears. Today may you be dancing with the saints and angels. Today may you be dancing with daddy. And today may you be cooking up a storm in God’s kitchen. (I am just sure that SHE has got to have one.) Mom, from stardust you came and to stardust you return. Thanks be to God for the life of Mary Louise Cady Peacock.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Note: A service in celebration of Mary Lou’s almost 88 years will be held at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 1608 Russell Rd, Alexandria VA 22301 on Saturday, June 21st at 10:00 am. The Rev. Joani Peacock and the Rev. Chuck McCoart Jr, presiding. Memorial gifts in honor of Mary Lou may be made to the charity of your choice.